Being black at Liberty University

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Over at Slate, Ruth Graham has a sobering piece on LeeQuan McLaurin, the Liberty University alum and employee who resigned in the wake of president Jerry Falwell Jr.’s racist blackface tweet. Since leaving Liberty, McLaurin has started the Liberty University Underground Railroad.

Here is a taste:

LeeQuan McLaurin thought it would be “the simplest of actions” for his department at Liberty University, the Office of Equity and Inclusion, to post something on social media in response to the ongoing nationwide protests against police brutality. But in this case, Liberty’s director of diversity retention says he encountered nothing but delays and confusion from colleagues when he tried to get approval for a post. According to McLaurin, his boss—the office’s director, Greg Dowell, who is also black—said a post was unnecessary. Then the topic came up at a larger meeting, still with no action. On June 1, McLaurin finally went ahead and posted something himself to the office’s account: a simple image reading “BLACK LIVES MATTER” and a caption citing six Bible verses backing up the slogan. Within an hour, McLaurin said, an administrator had removed the post. (McLaurin shared a screengrab of the post with Slate, but the administrator did not respond to a request for comment.)

McLaurin, who had worked at Liberty since he graduated from the school in 2015, resigned in early June, an act he described as the culmination of accumulated years of frustration at a school he loved. For him, the current moment is a time for both optimism and regret. He recalled feeling sick sitting as a chaperone to a mostly white student group at a “Blexit” event that black conservative activist Candace Owens held in Richmond, Virginia, last year—a rally intended to convince black voters to leave the Democratic Party. Liberty had offered the outing as a “cultural excursion.” McLaurin said that someone outside his department sent out an all-campus email about it from McLaurin’s Liberty email account without his permission. Backstage after the event, watching Owens surrounded by adoring white people, “it felt like I was in a horror movie.” “I cannot encourage students of color to go to that university the way that it is,” McLaurin said. “Our students deserve better. Our faculty deserve better. Our staff deserves better.” (A Liberty spokesman declined my request for interviews with Dowell and Jerry Falwell Jr. and did not respond to a detailed list of questions.)

Read the rest here.

What is happening to Liberty University? In the past year:

  • The school lost a star basketball player over Falwell Jr.’s racist tweet.
  • Prominent African-American alumni say that they cannot endorse the school.
  • The university dumped its philosophy department.
  • A vice-president wrote an op-ed in the alt-Right Breitbart News.
  • Falwell Jr. threatened a New York Times reporters with a late night phone message.
  • A former university executive says Falwell Jr. “doesn’t think anyone should be able to tell him what to do, and he’s going to do whatever he wants….”
  • At the height of the coronavirus pandemic, an English professor pleaded, “Please stop Jerry Falwell Jr. before it’s too late.”
  • When a parent questioned the president’s decision to keep the university open during the coronavirus, Falwell Jr. called him a “dummy.”
  • A new Liberty University think tank, created to promote Christian nationalism and Donald Trump, suggested that the biblical command to “turn the other cheek” is no longer sufficient in today’s political climate.
  • Perhaps the most well-known member of the Liberty faculty left.
  • When Politico published a piece critical of Falwell Jr. and his running of the university, he called it an “attempted coup” and “criminal conspiracy” against him.
  • Falwell Jr. admitted that he is not involved in the spiritual or Christian dimensions of Liberty University. The Liberty chaplain defended him.

Let’s remember that not all Christian colleges are the same.