Colleagues rally around Calvin professor placed on conservative ‘watch list’

Posted at 5:58 PM, Jan 16, 2017
and last updated 2017-01-16 18:00:27-05

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. – Words penned by a Calvin College professor nearly two years ago have landed him on a conservative group’s 'watch list.'

Calvin College social work instructor Joe Kuilema wrote an articleback in December 2015 following the discovery of swastikas and racist remarks etched into snow on a parked car on campus. In it, he discussed systemic racism on campus and nationwide, specifically the concept of white power and white privilege within institutions such as Congress and Calvin College itself.

“When we imagine white supremacy primarily as something ‘out there’ that’s incompatible with us ‘in here,’ we ignore the plank in our own eye,” Kuilema wrote in his op-ed. “Calvin College would not exist without racism. To put it in the words of Calvin’s own ‘From Every Nation’ document, ‘the early builders of the Christian Reformed Church and Calvin College benefited from this racial differentiation, and in the process they inherited a national legacy of white privilege and the subjugation of people of color.”’

The remarks didn’t sit well with Turning Point USA, and the conservative non-profit student activist group located on campuses in all 50 states added Kuilema to their listof hundreds of college and university educators they feel “advance a radical agenda in lecture halls.”

In a statement to FOX 17, Turning Point wrote:

"Kuilema is on the website for writing that all white people, by virtue of being white, are racists. By throwing out the 'racism' charge against a whole group of people for being white, or even those who are not white but also don't believe in white privilege, Kuilema effectively shuts down debate on the subject, which is unfortunate because if he would seriously like to discuss the 'institutions' that prevent all people from getting ahead (such as the heavy regulations, higher taxes, and other constraints on innovation and job creation) he would surely find some common cause with our organization. However, professors like Kuilema contribute to divisiveness in the country by yeling 'racist' at anyone that disagrees with the premise of their argument."

Faculty and staff at Calvin fired back, authoring a letter to Turning Point and garnering 111 signatures in support of Kuilema. In that letter, signees challenged Turning Point’s criteria for their list and asked to all be added based on their viewpoints.

“Professor Kuilema is listed on the Professor Watchlist because of his statements about systemic racism in the United States,” the letter reads. “If an aim of your site is to identify professors who maintain that racism remains a difficult problem in American society, then all of us need to be on the list.”

One of the signees was Rachel Venema, PhD., a colleague of Kuilema’s in the social work program. She openly supported his style of teaching, and his attention to issues of race.

“I think the reason the reason that we felt it was important to sign the petition was that Professor Kuilema does what any good teacher does,” said Venema. “He provides a space for students to think critically about issues, and he very much provides an environment that is open and respectful. And so we wanted to show our support for him and say, this is what good educators do.”

In emails to FOX 17, Kuilema said he tries to adhere to Calvin’s mission of getting students to “think deeply, to act justly, and to live wholeheartedly as Christ’s agents of renewal in the world” and called Turning Point’s views of his article “unfortunate.”