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Wheaton College president rejects claim school has gone ‘woke’

Wheaton College president rejects claim school has gone ‘woke’
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The sign on the campus of Wheaton College displays the Illinois Evangelical institution’s motto. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Wheaton_College_Motto.JPG | Wikimedia Commons/Christoffer Lukas Müller

The leader of Billy Graham’s alma mater, the Evangelical higher education institution Wheaton College in Illinois, is pushing back on allegations in a recent Fox News op-ed that his school has gone “woke.”

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In a statement published last Wednesday, Wheaton College President Philip Ryken responded to an op-ed written by freelance writer Tim Scheiderer published by Fox News that same day titled: “When the ‘Harvard of Christian Schools’ goes woke.”

Ryken insisted that the piece made “various claims about the College that are either false or misleading,” calling the piece an “incendiary” one “that fails to meet minimal standards for journalistic accuracy.”

The Wheaton president contends the op-ed “seems to be cobbled from out-of-context items found on the Internet.” 

“The author does not name any sources or give any citations for his many contentions,” he added. “[C]ontrary to what appears on the web piece, Wheaton College remains fully committed to Christian service — which we embrace as ‘service’ in our very mission statement — to biblical orthodoxy and Christ-centered education, including in matters of human sexuality, gender identity, and race relations.” 

Wheaton College was founded in 1860 by Evangelical abolitionists and has around 2,300 undergraduate students and 600 graduate students today from every state and 39 countries. Its student body represents over 30 church denominations. Its alumni include many notable pastors and theologians like Graham, John Piper and William Lane Craig. 

At the top of his op-ed, Scheiderer notes, “Wheaton College is often called the ‘Harvard of Christian Schools’ due to its academic rigor being relatively comparable to the Ivy League titan.” 

“[T]he school in the leafy suburb west of Chicago has begun to mimic Harvard’s wokeness,” Scheiderer wrote. 

The op-ed claimed that Wheaton began straying from its “orthodox, Christian moorings” by “banning biblical words, teaching critical race theory, and psychologizing gender identity issues.”

“In 2016, 78 faculty members voiced support for a fellow professor who stated Christians and Muslims worship the same God,” he wrote, referring to the controversy surrounding Professor Larycia Hawkins, who ultimately parted ways with the institution after her tenure was suspended. 

In February 2016, the school’s student newspaper, The Wheaton Record, published a letter signed by 78 faculty members calling on the school’s provost to revoke the administrative leave of Hawkins and withdraw his recommendation for her termination after the scholar was subject to disciplinary action after stating online that Muslims and Christians worship the same God. 

Hawkins reached a confidential agreement with the institution the day after the letter was published, where she would step down from her position rather than be fired. 

“And five years later, the school held its first ceremony recognizing graduating minority students sans White students. And currently, Wheaton permits its professors to teach critical race theory,” Scheiderer added, referring to the Wheaton Minority Senior Recognition Ceremony

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Wheaton’s webpage detailing commencement activities, captured by the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine in April 2021, shows a “Racialized Minority Recognition Ceremony” on the calendar for May 8. The event, scheduled to take place at the school’s Edman Chapel, was billed as “especially for undergraduate students, staff, and faculty of color,” adding that “all students are welcome to attend, with limited seating.” The ceremony was scheduled to take place one day before the undergraduate commencement. 

The event occurred again in 2022, although it was renamed a “Racial and Cultural Minority Senior Recognition Ceremony.” Put on by the school’s Student Development Office, the webpage devoted to the ceremony justified the event as “an opportunity to affirm God’s image in ethnic and cultural minority students and their families, to acknowledge their unique challenges at the College as well as to express appreciation for their commitment.”

The event also took place in 2023 but is not included in this year’s 2024 Commencement Calendar

“In this year’s curriculum for [freshmen], students are informed about opportunities to meet the needs of those less fortunate. This is commonly known as the act of service,” wrote Scheiderer. “Wheaton, however, instructs the students not to use the word, ‘service.’ Instead, they are to use ‘sacrificial co-laboring.’ The reason given is service ‘may invoke power dynamics across socio-economic, racial, and cultural lines.” 

After Wheaton responded to his op-ed, Scheiderer took to social media Thursday to share a screenshot of freshmen orientation material containing the phrase “sacrificial co-laboring” in addition to linking to articles profiling one of the school’s professors who teaches about critical race theory and the school’s Statement on Gender-Inclusive Language advising against the use of the word “mankind.”

Scheiderer pushed back on the idea that his article lacked “standards for journalistic accuracy,” stating that the “Fox News Opinion team reviewed my sources and vetted them for accuracy.” He noted, “There was much background I received from parents, current students, and other sources that confirm the changes taking place at Wheaton.” 

“Writing this article was not a pleasurable experience. When pointing out how a group or a person has veered from Christian orthodoxy, it is quite saddening,” he wrote. “I care deeply about higher education and its impact on today’s young people and even more so when it is a Christian institution. Hence, it was an article I had to write.”

Scheiderer cited Graham’s son, Rev. Franklin Graham, as one of his sources.

Ryken’s statement also called into question Scheiderer’s professional qualifications.

“The writer attempted to reach out to our marketing department approximately a month ago when he wrote a phone text that began, ‘I am writing for the Wall Street Journal’ and ended with ‘My deadline is tomorrow at noon,'” Ryken recalled. “Our spokesperson questioned Mr. Scheiderer’s credentials, and Mr. Scheiderer admitted that he was actually a freelance writer attempting to ‘pitch’ an idea to the WSJ Opinion Section. A representative from the WSJ confirmed that he was not an employee.”

Ryan Foley is a reporter for The Christian Post. He can be reached at: ryan.foley@christianpost.com

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