Dr. Marcia Y. Riggs is the J. Erskine Love Professor of Christian Ethics, Columbia Theological Seminary (Decatur, GA) and the Founder of an applied ethics non-profit center called Still Waters: A Center for Ethical Formation and Practices, Inc.
Around the entire country, educational institutions, their leadership, and their boards are asking critical questions about how to further racial justice. Some educational institutions are also taking responsibility for examining the ways in which they contribute to racial violence and oppression rather than ending their presence in our world. At Columbia Seminary, we are committed to becoming an institution that continues to critically examine its structures and create new models for education that take seriously the flourishing of Black people in our community and beyond.
As we grieve the murders of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and Rayshard Brooks, we are reminded that being anti-racist requires more than performativity. Being anti-racist requires a commitment to interrogate historic systemic injustice and a determination to create new realities. Therefore, the Board of Columbia Seminary acknowledges and confesses, once again, that Columbia Theological Seminary came into being in the context of and participated in the subjugation and oppression of Black people. Today, Columbia Seminary condemns the violent racist injustice that has been and continues to be perpetuated against Black people and their communities. Furthermore, we refuse to nurture white supremacy and all other mindsets that further the insidious impacts of systemic racism against Black people. We also commit to the sacred task of working together to create new realities at Columbia and in our world. Furthermore, we pledge to deepen our commitment to the flourishing of Black people at Columbia by implementing the following measures to continue repairing the breach that has been caused by white supremacy:
1. In public recognition of her ground-breaking research, teaching, and dedication to this seminary that has often failed to appropriately appreciate and celebrate the contributions of black scholars, Columbia Seminary will name the NRH, Marcia Y. Riggs Hall (Riggs Commons) effective immediately.
2. Columbia Seminary will fully fund the cost of tuition and student fees for all Black students who apply and are admitted to the seminary’s Masters degree programs.
3. Columbia Seminary will expand our campus use policy to include Black Lives Matter and other organizations working to end racism against Black people. Such organizations will be granted free access to our campus to plan, strategize, organize, and offer care to one another and the broader community.
4. Columbia Seminary will develop and publicize a new grant program for community organizations working to end racism and police brutality against Black people.
5. Columbia will develop new agreements with Agnes Scott Public Safety and the City of Decatur Police Department to emphasize Columbia’s expectation that both departments commit to policies that immediately decrease the risk of harm to Black people on our campus and beyond. The seminary will also work to support and implement new paradigms for public and community safety that do not assume the necessity of police intervention or criminal charges as solutions.
At its Fall 2019 meeting, the Board of Trustees of Columbia Theological Seminary committed to engage in Transformative Community Conferencing (TCC). This comprehensive, seminary-wide process intends to guide all members of the community in cultivating a deeper awareness of the deep narrative of institutional racism at Columbia and create the possibility for new narratives to emerge in our community. Columbia Seminary reaffirms its commitment to the TCC process and will work with Dr. David Hooker to engage the process in a hybrid format this summer and fall. Additionally, Columbia Seminary will deepen its commitment to the following community work that is already underway:
1. The Intercultural Development Inventory (IDI) will be administered to all incoming students, graduating students, faculty, staff, and trustees in order to cultivate greater self-awareness, growth, and a deeper communal commitment to doing less harm when navigating across difference.
2. The Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Council will work with campus partners to to develop new strategies and resources for furthering racial justice on our campus.
3. The Seminary will expand its financial commitment to the Ombuds Office to create the possibility for additional community resources for education, conflict transformation, and healing.
4. The Columbia faculty will evaluate and revise the curriculum to more comprehensively and constructively empower students to engage across difference and combat systemic racism wherever it is present in the world.
5. The Equal Opportunity, Harassment, and Nondiscrimination Policy will be reviewed and revised to better address racial discrimination and violence at every level of our community.
While we hope this public statement demonstrates a deeper commitment to ending the oppression of Black people in our world, we know it is yet just another small step on the journey to ending racism. We recognize that we do not have the power to eradicate the global oppression of Black people. However, in the ongoing context of racist violence against Black people, we are determined to continue the work of challenging unjust systems and contributing to the flourishing of Black people at Columbia and beyond. Some may feel this statement does not go far enough. We agree. Thus, we commit to centering the voices and leadership of Black people. Those of us who are white and non-Black people of color are committed to becoming co-laborers and not perpetuating plantation politics that require our Black siblings to continue doing the heavy lifting alone or on our behalf. We all, together, commit to going the long road and creating a new narrative together.
The Board of Trustees
The President’s Council
Columbia Theological Seminary