A group of students (bottom, center) from the Berkeley Graduate Theological Union watch Tuesday’s press conference. Left to right are Saundra Andrews (bottom left) from Congresswoman Barbara Lee’s office, Rev. Bea Morris, Rev. Chris Long, Min. Cheryl Dawson, Rev. Damon Powell, Rev. Ann Jefferson, Rev. Benjamin Hollins, Rev. Ada Renée Williams, Rev. Amos Brown, Rev. Cecil Williams, Rev. Francine Brookins, Rev. Charley Hames, Jr., Rev. Ramona Tascoe, Rev. Jeffrey Kuan, Rev. Jay Johnson, Rev. Allen L. Williams, Min. Rhonda White Warner, Rev. Harold R. Mayberry. Photo Gene Hazzard and graphic by Alapi Bhatt.
The American Baptist Seminary of the West (ABSW), located in Berkeley, has a rich history in theology dating as far back as its founding in 1871. However, lately, the institution is receiving attention in the community due to charges of racism that are being raised by students.
Students are charging that ABSW, one of nine charter institutions of the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, has been driving out highly qualified and well-respected racial-ethnic professors. Further, students say that when they asked to meet with the administration to discuss their concerns, their requests were denied.
At a press conference held Tuesday at First A.M.E. Church in Oakland, speakers called for the resignation of Rev. Dr. Paul Martin, president of the seminary.
“The color line is in the place where prophets and priests are to be tutored and taught – we have some reckoning to do as American Baptists,” said Rev. Amos Brown, pastor of the Third Baptist Church in San Francisco and president of the San Francisco Chapter of the NAACP. Officers of the Berkeley NAACP chapter and Oakland chapter also attended the press conference
Reached by the Post on Tuesday, Martin said, “We are aware of the controversy, and we are working from this angle (the school) to work it out. We have invited those with special concerns (students and leaders) to meet with us. I am not at liberty to say when the meeting is, but I will note that it is happening soon.”
Student concerns reached a crisis point when professor Rev. Dr. Dante Quick resigned. He had taught courses on Constructive Theology and Ethics and is senior pastor of New Liberation Presbyterian Church in San Francisco.
According to students, when they respectfully requested to speak with the President and Board of Trustees, their request was denied.
Normally when the Board of Trustees holds meetings, students are allowed to enter the school. But after the current situation arose, students were locked out of the school during the board meeting.
ABSW students, along with students in other parts of the Theological Union, then gathered outside the school and began chanting and praying.
“Christians should never lock the door on communication – it makes reconciliation impossible,” said Dr. J. Alfred Smith, Pastor Emeritus of Allen Temple Baptist Church in Oakland
“The lockout of the students on Friday, May 15, is an embarrassment to the institution, the community and especially the faith community, ” said Dr. Harold R. Mayberry, Pastor of First A.M.E. Church in Oakland.
According to Ada Renee Williams, co-director of the Graduate Theological Union of Black Seminarians and a first-year graduate student, “We’re paying major money to go to school and yet you cannot explain to me why we do not have ethnic faculty.”
Reverend Cecil Williams, a rising senior who is set to graduate in 2010 with a Masters of Divinity, added, “It’s curious and worthy of conversation, that over the last several years African American professor have either been asked to leave or have been too uncomfortable to stay.”
While rumors fly, the exact reasons for Professor Quick’s departure is being kept private.
“Rev. Quick does not want this to be about him (but) about the broader issue. This is about institutional change,” said McGruder, president of Berkeley’s NAACP chapter, and a member of Rev. Quick’s church.