EXCLUSIVE: College planning appreciation lunch for non-white staff only

The irony of an apparently "non-whites only" event hosted by a college's "equity and inclusion" office was not lost on some observers.

Background: Gustavus Adolphus College/Facebook. Right: A screenshot provided to Alpha News of the appreciation lunch that the school initially had planned for non-white staff only.

Alpha News has learned that a private liberal arts college in southern Minnesota is planning an appreciation lunch for just non-white staff and faculty later this month, which potentially violates federal civil rights law.

The equity and inclusion office at Gustavus Adolphus College, located in the town of St. Peter and affiliated with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, recently announced the “People of Color & International Faculty and Staff Appreciation Lunch” that will take place on Friday, Feb. 25.

An email sent out to faculty and staff from the college’s office of marketing and communication mentioned that “Faculty and Staff who are People of Color and/or international … are invited to an appreciation lunch on Friday, February 25 from 11:30 a.m. – 1 p.m. in the Three Crowns Room.”

The announcement — which clearly does not invite white faculty and staff to attend — asks attendees to RSVP on a Google form by Monday, Feb. 21.

According to Mark Perry, an economics professor emeritus at the University of Michigan-Flint who filed a civil rights complaint over the ostensibly exclusionary event, someone employed at Gustavus Adolphus College was “upset with the blatant and illegal discrimination planned by the College.”

In an email to the college president, Rebecca Bergman, Perry shared a copy of his Title VI complaint.

“Based on my experience, I am aware that it is common for many colleges and universities to introduce new racially-segregated programs and events that violate federal civil rights laws (Title VI) without checking with a school’s Office for General Counsel or legal staff, and perhaps that is what happened for the ‘People of Color & International Faculty and Staff Appreciation Lunch’ that clearly violates Title VI’s prohibition of discrimination on the basis of race, color, and national origin,” he said.

Over the past four years Perry has filed complaints against nearly 400 colleges and universities for more than 1,500 violations of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination based on race, color, or national origin, and Title IX, which prohibits sex discrimination. These provisions apply to any program or activity that receives federal funds or financial assistance.

The irony of an apparently “non-whites only” event hosted by a college’s “equity and inclusion” office is not lost on Perry.

“I couldn’t help but notice the irony that the College’s ‘Office of Equity and Inclusion’ is hosting and sponsoring an event that clearly promotes ‘inequity and exclusion’ rather than equity and inclusion by unfairly excluding White faculty and staff,” he wrote in an email to the Chicago Office for Civil Rights.

“Further, at least for the purposes of the luncheon event, the College’s slogan ‘You Belong Here’ doesn’t apply to White faculty and staff. Rather for White faculty and staff, it would be more appropriate for the College to say ‘You Don’t Belong Here,’ at least not at this event,” he added.

Last October, Alpha News reported on Gustavus Adolphus’ decision to rename its arboretum because the school deemed its namesake, Carl Linnaeus, an 18th-century Swedish botanist and zoologist often considered one of the most influential scientists in world history, to be too closely associated with “scientific racism.”

Alpha News reached out to the college for comment but did not receive a response.


Evan Stambaugh

Evan Stambaugh is a freelance writer who had previously been a sports blogger. He has a BA in theology and an MA in philosophy.