Historical Review Task Force Final Report

Introductory Comments from President Philip Ryken

A Message from the Wheaton College Board of Trustees

September 14, 2023

Dear Wheaton College Community,

Forever grateful that Jesus Christ died to make us one (Ephesians 2:14), we live in hope for the day when all tribes and peoples will sing our Savior’s praise together (see Revelation 7:9). This biblical hope compels us to share the findings of the Historical Review Task Force (HRTF) that the Board of Trustees commissioned to study the history and legacy of Wheaton College from 1860 to 2000 with respect to race relations. 

The HRTF’s constant reference point as they considered Wheaton’s institutional policies, practices, and programs—as well as the people responsible for them—was the gospel of Jesus Christ. The Board of Trustees gratefully endorses their final report, which includes the process they followed; the theological guidelines and other principles they sought to honor; a summary of their historical findings; a statement of reasons for celebration, lament, and repentance; and the historical review itself, with bibliography and appendices. Today, we also share the commitments of the Board of Trustees, as recommended by the HRTF.

The Task Force—which was first requested by the President and Senior Administrative Cabinet—began its work in October 2021. In fulfilling its commission, the HRTF sought to:

  1. clarify what we know—and to explore what more can and should be known—about the history of race relations on the campus of Wheaton College;
  2. understand the impact of past events on present realities, including the experience of ethnic minorities;
  3. identify ways to make Wheaton’s history of race relations more readily accessible and widely known to all generations of all College constituencies; and
  4. determine—in view of the supremacy of Jesus Christ—what aspects of this history need to be celebrated more intentionally, lamented more deeply, or repented of more specifically.

There is much to celebrate in the historical narrative, including Wheaton’s abolitionist heritage, early acceptance and graduation of African American students, welcoming Japanese American students during the unhappy period of World War II internment camps, and steps to recognizing the full civil rights of African Americans in the 1960s. The report also documents growing efforts in the closing decades of the 20th century to include faculty, students, and staff of all ethnic backgrounds as fully loved and respected members of the campus community. 

Sadly, there is also much to lament: the unjust way that the U.S. government first took lands we now possess from Native American communities, the deliberate exclusion of African American students during the 1930s, restrictions on interracial dating, the use of pejorative humor that denied the dignity of non-white members of the College community, missed opportunities to become more fully biblical in our approach to race relations, inadequate support that hindered well-intentioned efforts to help Wheaton become more diverse, and other forms of racial discrimination.

Based on the careful research in this historical review, tested against the perfect standard of the Word of God and the high moral calling of a Christ-centered community, we also see specific areas where we need to repent as an institution. We cannot be healed and cannot be reconciled unless and until we repent.

Therefore, as the Board of Trustees representing the College, we repent of all forms of racism and favoritism in our institutional history, whether conscious or unconscious. We are sorry for the way our institutional transgressions have harmed African American, Asian American, Latino, and indigenous groups. We also repent of the indifference and complacency that led us to miss opportunities to enact bold, courageous changes in institutional policies, programs, and practices related to community members of color. These sins constituted a failure of Christian love; denied the dignity of people made in the image of God; created deep and painful barriers between Christian brothers and sisters; tarnished our witness to the gospel; and prevented us from displaying more fully the beautiful diversity of God’s kingdom. Regardless of how these transgressions are defined, they fall short of what the gospel demands of a Christ-centered community where all members are recognized, loved, and equally respected. 

True repentance requires more than merely issuing an apology, however. It also means correcting our course. This has begun already in many ways, but there is more to be done. The commitments you read about in what follows include changes to the way we tell our school story, a review of naming policies and practices related to campus facilities, including the library, ongoing review of the resources we provide for the flourishing of every member of our community, and continued dialogue with Native American leaders from tribes that originally claimed the land that now constitutes our campuses. 

In keeping with our liberal arts mission, we commit to giving faculty, staff, students, and alumni ample opportunity to engage with this historical report throughout this semester and afterward, as well as sharing it with future classes of new Wheaton students. Engagement opportunities will include separate town hall meetings tomorrow for students and for faculty and staff; a conversation next week co-hosted by Student Government; our planned faculty/staff town hall next week; the upcoming faculty forum; a question-and-answer time for alumni during Homecoming Weekend; and an on-campus symposium in October. 

We want every member of our community—without exception—to know true belonging on the campus we share and to experience the love of Christ here in life-giving ways. We invite you to join us in praying for the fulfillment of these commitments and for the task force the administration will appoint to implement our institutional commitments going forward. 

We respect differing points of view within the Wheaton College community and recognize that committed Christ-followers may agree or disagree with certain conclusions in the following report or with the responsive commitments we have made as Trustees. The best way to share your perspective is to email HRTF@wheaton.edu. Although time will not permit a detailed response, College leaders will read your message promptly and carefully.

We wish to express our enduring gratitude to the members of the Historical Review Task Force, which was co-chaired by trustee Dale Wong and archivist Katherine Graber and included student, faculty, staff, alumni, and trustee representatives. We also thank Emily Banas, Chelsey Geisz, and Katrina Wheeler, who provided staff and archival support.

We urge every member of the Wheaton College community to read the full historical report, which provides necessary context for our commitments. We want you to hear voices from our past. We believe that you will find their stories enlightening, sometimes distressing, and at times inspiring. We also invite you to enter into the laments and celebrations that the HRTF has identified as causes for sadness and joy. 

Receiving this report with loving hearts and open minds will help us fulfill our biblical, covenantal commitment to pursue Christian unity and embrace ethnic diversity as God’s enduring, redemptive purposes for us in Jesus Christ. We pray that our commitments reflect our obedience to Christ and love for one another.

In service to Christ and His Kingdom,

The Wheaton College Board of Trustees