Bethel Tapestry

Students Learn History of Blackface

Issue 19 | Spring/Summer 2010

Students Learn History of Blackface

What is the big deal about blackface? Nearly 300 students gathered in Bethel’s Underground on a Tuesday night in May for a forum on the topic. The event was organized by student leaders from United Cultures of Bethel and the Bethel Student Association after a student in a skit at Bethel used blackface paint to act as a rapper.

“We’ve been encouraged to see our student leaders respond to this situation. They saw a need for education and discussion in our community, and they quickly organized this event,” says Vice President for Student Life Edee Schulze.

The forum included a movie on the history and cultural impacts of blackface, a presentation by Assistant Professor of Education Keith Brooks, and time for reflection and discussion in small groups.

President Barnes addressed the incident in chapel and in an email to the community. “Intentional or not, the incident of racial insensitivity hurt members of our community and does not reflect the type of place we are trying to become. I am deeply sorry that this happened, that people were hurt, and that we live in a world where the sin of racism is still prevalent.”

The university has bias incident procedures in place to help guide the institutional response in terms of support, education, and communication in the event of such an incident. In addition to educating students on history and the  cultural impact of blackface specifically, there have also been many formal and informal discussions about how the Bethel community can better live out its core value of reconciliation.

“There are lessons here in repentance, redemption, and growing as ‘image bearers’ of God,” reflects Schulze. “There can be grace for those who were involved as well as for those who were affected. We’re all on a journey of learning together how to live justly and love mercy.”