Seminary While Black: How One Institution’s Toxic Culture is Causing a Black Exodus
The culture at Fuller Theological Seminary is toxic to black students, faculty, and staff. The seminary sees itself as a racially diverse and inclusive institution, but it is full of the same poison that pervades white Evangelicalism. Fuller is so invested in white normativity that it cannot see the myriad of ways in which they foster a toxic environment, even in their efforts to be progressive.
As a black student, I have had to sit through weeks of lectures and readings on so-called “modern theology” that centered white European thought with all other theologies shoved into a lecture about “contextual” theologies.
The systematic theology textbook is required for four core classes in the Master of Divinity program and it is a colonized mess. James Cone appears on three pages; the same number of pages as Bach (yes, the musician). Karl Barth appears on 40 pages. I couldn’t find any black women in my text, and the authors didn’t even bother to mention one name in the two sentences they dedicated to womanism.
I could say much more about Fuller’s colonized curriculum, but that’s only part of the problem. Black students have complained about Fuller’s lack of diversity for decades. Decades.
“The number of tenured full-time ethnic faculty can be counted on one hand.” – Written by a Fuller student in 1984. I was three. This is still true of black faculty. #ToxicFuller #BlackExodus #SeminaryWhileBlack
— Teesha Hadra (@TeeshaHadra) June 5, 2018
It’s not that black scholars don’t want to teach at Fuller, because they do. However, the administration gives African-American applicants the runaround.
At the black student concerns meeting on June 4, someone shared that they had tried to apply to become adjunct faculty, but they could not get a straight answer about how to enter the process for consideration. #ToxicFuller #SeminaryWhileBlack #BlackExodus
— Ally Henny (@thearmchaircom) June 6, 2018
The few African-American faculty that are hired end up leaving. Fuller has lost seven black faculty since 2011. It has also lost three black faculty and several other black staff in the past 18 months. The School of Theology has only one black professor and zero African-American faculty now.
Fuller’s Pasadena campus is not a safe place for black students because Fuller mishandles incidents of racial impropriety that involve its white students and employees. Black students have had to sit through lectures in which professors have ignored or even justified colonialism and other forms of racism. These professors refused to clarify or apologize and the administration ignored the incident.
One professor thought it was okay to use the n-word in a lecture; the only consequence was his time spent in diversity training. A black student experienced racial aggression from a white student and had to sit in class with that person for hours after she reported it to campus officials.
Black students at Fuller Pasadena, regional campuses, and online have made demands and participated in meetings with the administration to address black student concerns. The administration, including seminary president Dr. Mark Labberton, have offered platitudes and hollow apologies, but have done very little to right the injustices that Fuller’s culture continues to perpetuate.
Weary but Fighting
Black students at Fuller Theological Seminary are tired. We are sharing our experiences with racism at this institution using the hashtags #ToxicFuller, #SeminaryWhileBlack, and #BlackExodus. We aim to hold Dr. Labberton and the rest of the administration accountable to the vision of diversity that they promote to black students. We will no longer allow this institution to continue to take our money on a wish and a prayer of being given scraps from the table of inclusion.
We ask black seminarians at other institutions to join us in this fight. This is bigger than Fuller. Black seminarians across the country are experiencing marginalization at predominantly white institutions. Many of us have decided to leave these spaces. Those of us who are choosing to stay and fight know that it’s an uphill battle. This is a moral issue that affects the witness of the Church.
You can bring awareness to these issues by utilizing your social media networks to promote the following hashtags:
If you are a black seminarian at another institution or know other black seminarians, please share your #SeminaryWhileBlack story to join the fight for racial justice at Fuller and beyond.
 So far, there have been no reports of racial incidents happening at Fuller’s regional campuses or online.