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Nine University Presidents Gather with State, City and Civic Leaders for a Virtual Community Summit on Anti-Racism and Community Safety

HUNTINGTON, Ind. — The presidents of nine Indiana colleges and universities met remotely on Friday, July 10, along with dozens of Indiana state, city and civic leaders to listen, discuss mutual needs and better understand how to advance the work of racial justice and transformation. The nine presidents explain, “We lament the brutal deaths of innocent African-American men and women that have created such pain, anger and frustration for our communities. We grieve over the violence and division that threaten to tear apart the social fabric of our communities and our nation. As persons of faith, and leaders of Christ-centered universities, we wish to come together to do all we can do to promote the well-being of the people and communities we serve.”

The two-hour conversation took place among 60 northcentral Indiana leaders, including presidents, chancellors, politicians, mayors, law enforcement officers, NAACP leaders, academic leaders and other city and civic leaders, and reiterated the importance of collective action to rid Indiana of the effects of systemic racism.

“These conversations engage community leaders in crucial dialog around the issues of racism and social injustice in our region, state and nation,” said Dr. Sherilyn Emberton, president of Huntington University. “We are thankful for this first step in beginning a culture of listening and responding with intentionality for real change.”

President John Pistole of Anderson University (Anderson), President Sherilyn Emberton of Huntington University (Huntington), President Bill Katip of Grace College and Seminary (Winona Lake), President Gregg Chenoweth of Bethel University (Mishawaka), Interim President Paige Cunningham of Taylor University (Upland), President David McFadden of Manchester University (North Manchester), President Karl Einolf of Indiana Tech (Fort Wayne), President Rebecca Stoltzfus of Goshen College (Goshen) and President David Wright of Indiana Wesleyan University (Marion) each invited members of their local communities to participate in this conversation.

Dr. Emberton invited Huntington County Commissioner Tom Wall; Senator Andy Zay; Senator Travis Holdman; Chief of Police for the City of Huntington Chad Hacker; Dr. Ron Coffey, vice president for student life at Huntington University; Reverend Arthur Wilson; Chief of Police for Huntington University Keirsch Cochran; and Huntington Mayor Richard Strick.

“It’s an important step forward for regional leaders in law enforcement, local government, and higher education to gather together around issues of race and justice in America,” said Strick. “We have a long road ahead of us in the conversations and subsequent work but it’s a road worth traveling. I know Huntington will do our part to keeping taking a step forward each day.”

Taylor University Interim President Cunningham introduced a four-member panel of religious and academic leaders who spoke about the realities of living as Black professionals in a racially unjust world. Panelists shared insights about experiences of exclusion, concerns about personal and family safety and the need to address difficult issues through transformational conversations. They shared evidence in their communities of progress toward the goal of inclusion for all. More listening is needed. More self-inspection with the willingness to move along in the process of conquering racism needs to take place. More bridges in personal understanding and commitment need to be built.

President John Pistole of Anderson University introduced the second panel, which consisted of law enforcement officials from the FBI and from Madison County. Mr. Paul Keenan, special agent in charge of the Indiana Field Office of the FBI, provided clarity on the FBI's mandate to address civil rights issues and provided data on the number of hate crimes and color of law cases being reviewed at this present time. Local law enforcement leaders spoke candidly about the importance of providing better training for officers and accountability for supervisors as well as the importance of continuing to support local law enforcement efforts as they work toward education and reform. There were specific calls for empowered review boards and for meaningful reform of some police practices. Efforts that have been made to dialogue with people in their local communities have proven to be very helpful for all.

As a part of the panel on law enforcement reform, James Burgess, president of the Anderson-Madison NAACP, provided powerful insights into the ways in which the NAACP and activist organizations engage in much-needed discussions of appropriate law enforcement reforms. Burgess emphasized that the NAACP does not tolerate violence, nor are they interested in overthrowing existing government structures that serve local communities well. He did, however, emphasize the importance of continuing to work toward police reform, de-escalation training, a ban on knee-holds and the creation of citizen review boards with subpoena power present in all communities.

Lastly, President Katip of Grace College and Seminary facilitated a conversation with individuals in specific communities where significant change has taken place. Iric Headley of Fort Wayne United shared the compelling results they have seen in the city of Fort Wayne over the last four years through intentional conversations, building relationships through small group meetings, community forums and racial dialogues. Through the city administration’s proactive efforts, Fort Wayne has seen a 66% decrease in aggravated assaults, 55% decrease in hand-to-fist altercations, 33% decrease in burglaries, 28% decrease in auto theft and 63% decrease in shootings, which speaks to the power of dialogue, listening, building relationships and education.

Goshen College President Rebecca Stoltzfus invited Goshen Mayor Jeremy Stutsman to share about a recent “no-tolerance for racism” resolution their city passed. As recently as the 1970s, Goshen was known as a “sundown city.” The city leaders are proactively working to eradicate racism from their midst. They serve as an example for other cities in taking an official anti-racism stance.

Arthur Wilson, Dean of Spiritual Life and Campus Pastor, summed up the summit saying, “This is the first of, hopefully, many continued conversations around topics that are essential to helping our communities effectively respond to current societal pandemics.” He went on to explain that a key reason these conversations are so valuable is because “it’s easy to assume someone’s views. You prejudge what their response might be, but when you hear them talk, you see that those preconceptions aren’t always valid.”

LIST OF PANELISTS

Panel #1

Dr. Joanne Barnes, Dean of the Graduate School and Professor with the Department of Leadership Studies, Indiana Wesleyan University 

Rev. Gregory Dyson, Special Assistant to the President for Intercultural Initiatives, Taylor University

Michael Thigpen, Director of Cultural Resource Center, Anderson University

Rev. Arthur Wilson, Dean of Spiritual Life/Campus Pastor, Huntington University

Panel #2

Paul Keenan, FBI, Special Agent in charge of the Field Office for Indianapolis, Indiana

Rodney Cummings, Madison County Prosecutor

Scott Mellinger, Madison County Sheriff

James Burgess, Anderson-Madison NAACP President

Panel #3

Iric Headley, Fort Wayne United Director

Goshen Mayor Jeremy Stutsman

Gilberto Perez, Jr., Dean of Students, Goshen College and City Council Member for City of Goshen

Huntington University is a comprehensive Christian college of the liberal arts offering graduate and undergraduate programs in more than 70 academic concentrations. U.S. News & World Report ranks Huntington among the best colleges in the Midwest, and Forbes.com has listed the university as one of America’s Best Colleges. Founded in 1897 by the Church of the United Brethren in Christ, Huntington University is located on a contemporary lakeside campus in northeast Indiana. The nonprofit university is a member of the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities (CCCU).