Student Government Speaker Writes Letter Expressing Solidarity With Charlottesville Residents
In light of the “Unite the Right” protests in Charlottesville, Virginia, Caleb Fitzpatrick, Speaker of the House for Liberty University’s Student Government Association, wrote a letter to the community there, offering his condolences and denouncing white supremacy. Fitzpatrick, 20, also challenged his classmates to “call out causes that foster hate” despite the “culture” at Liberty University (LU), where it might feel controversial “to stand against white supremacy.”
On August 16, Fitzpatrick, a junior, shared his letter on Twitter after LU President Jerry Falwell Jr. praised President Trump’s response to Charlottesville in which he blamed “many sides” for the deadly violence that occurred during the protests. Some LU alumni said they plan to return their diplomas in light of Falwell’s unwavering support of Trump.
Faithfully Magazine asked Fitzpatrick about his motivations for writing the letter and advice for other students speaking out against white supremacy:
As Speaker of the House for the Student Government Association, why did you feel a responsibility to write a letter to both the communities of Charlottesville and LU?
“How could we sit on the sideline while our brothers and sisters were hurting?”
Representing my peers as Speaker is certainly a privilege and an awesome opportunity to hear and address students’ concerns, but it really had very little to do with why I wrote the letter. I felt compelled to write the letter because Charlottesville is so close to home. Liberty is less than an hour from where the car attack happened. That shopping center is frequented by Liberty students on weekends. I visited twice last semester. When I watched the reports of the attack on the news, I was crushed as I watched my own community torn apart. In the days following the attack, other local universities and establishments declared their support for the people of Charlottesville. Liberty, however, was quiet. How could we sit on the sideline while our brothers and sisters were hurting? I knew silence wasn’t an accurate representation of Liberty’s students, so if no one else was willing to say anything, I would speak up. All this to say, I wrote that letter as a Christ-follower, as a Liberty student and as a resident of southern Virginia, but not necessarily as Speaker of the House.
You write in the letter, “I was raised to believe racism is dead… I’ve realized that racial prejudices are everywhere. They are subtle, but they are present. As a society, they infect everything we do.” What experiences opened your eyes to this reality?
Over the last few years, God has really been showing me the subtle undertones of racism in so many of our normal day-to-day interactions. He has blessed me with an awesome, solid group of friends who, like me, care about seeing racism extinct across the globe. We hold each other accountable and encourage one another to love each person with whom we interact. There’s never really been an epiphany or anything of that sort for me.
You call into question the culture on campus in which “a stand against white supremacy feels controversial.” What encouragement or advice do you have for your peers at LU and college students on other campuses when it comes to addressing racism and white supremacy?
I’d encourage everyone, regardless of school or phase of life, to first examine their own interactions with other people. Think before you speak and take your thoughts captive. So many of us have no intention of discrimination or prejudice but unknowingly contribute to a culture where to be different is seen as negative or a cause for exclusion. Unfortunately, that’s human nature. It will take conscious decisions to rise above human nature if racism is ever truly going to be eradicated. To students at Liberty and around the world who feel hesitant to speak out against racism or white supremacy, I implore you to stand up for what you believe in. Every voice makes a difference. You will be an example. It’s up to you what type of example you want to be.
A growing number of alumni from Liberty University plan to turn in their diplomas because of Falwell’s overwhelming support of President Trump. What are your thoughts about this? Do you have any plans to leave Liberty University? If not, why are you choosing to stay?
From my understanding of the situation, the alumni are returning their degrees because of how President Falwell handled the situation in Charlottesville and not necessarily (while I’m sure it is a factor for some) because of his support for President Trump. President Falwell has the right, just like any other citizen, to express his opinions. That is part of what makes America great.
However, it would behoove President Falwell to consider the impact of his opinions on the reputation of Liberty University. Students are spending a great deal of time, money and effort to receive a degree from this school. The connotations associated with the institution on the diploma matter. I worry President Falwell’s words and actions of the last year suggest Liberty is not a place where diversity of thought and critical thinking are valued. While that could not be further from the truth, it is how Liberty University is often perceived from those not associated with the school.
“I’m a firm believer in the idea that if a problem exists, our approach should be to resolve the issue, rather than run from it.”
That said, I love Liberty and I believe God has placed me here for a reason. I’m a firm believer in the idea that if a problem exists, our approach should be to resolve the issue, rather than run from it. Liberty University, like any institution, has its shortfalls. However, I believe the students at Liberty are special and have an awesome opportunity to make an impact. I am staying at Liberty University because I want to be a part of it.
Read Fitzpatrick’s letter below.
This past weekend, my community was attacked by acts of racism, hatred and violence. Charlottesville, Virginia is less than an hour from Liberty University in Lynchburg, where I attend. I love Liberty. I’ve loved my time in Lynchburg and I feel compelled to express my thoughts on the events of this past weekend that transpired just 45 minutes away.
No man or woman is any more or any less valuable than another. There is no reason a person should be viewed as inferior. There is no such thing as a second-rate human being. All men were created equal and in the image of God.
I believe these statements to be true. For me, they are foundational to my worldview. They define how I treat every person with whom I interact. I am a follower of Jesus, the most loving man to ever walk the earth. I strive to emulate Him in everything I do, especially the way I love others.
To hate someone based on the color of their skin is evil. To me, there are no questions, debates or sides. Racism is wrong. Period. To take up violence out of hatred for another person is anti-Jesus and anti-Gospel.
This should be the message from Christ-followers everywhere. There should be no hesitancy to condemn the actions of the KKK, neo-Nazi, white nationalist or any other racist groups from this past weekend. These last few days, I’ve seen fellow followers of Jesus caught up in the politics of this issue. Friends, racism is not a political issue. This isn’t about which party you identify with or which candidate you voted for in November. This is about right and wrong. This is about life and death.
The Gospel of Jesus is centered around love. Jesus tells us to love our neighbors and our enemies as ourselves and to set others’ interests above our own. These are the values of Jesus. These are the values of the church. These are the values of my school, though we often fail to live them out.
I was raised to believe racism is dead. I thought it was a chapter in my history textbook. Over the last few years, I’ve been faced with the harsh reality that some people do, in fact, believe in such a thing as a second-rate human being. I’ve realized that racial prejudices are everywhere. They are subtle, but they are present. As a society, they infect everything we do.
To anyone who has ever felt marginalized because of my words or actions, I am truly, deeply sorry. I am sorry for the part I have played in creating a culture where diversity divides us. Our differences should bring us together, not push us apart. I beg for your forgiveness.
To the people of Charlottesville, Liberty students stand with you. We are praying for you. We love you. Racism has no place in our country, in our state or in our school. Despite what you may see or hear from our leadership, please never doubt our support.
To my fellow Liberty students, should we not be concerned that a stand against white supremacy feels controversial on our campus? What does that tell us about the culture at our school? Shouldn’t standing for equality be a no-brainer? Should we not call out causes that foster hate? Jesus gives endless unconditional love to everyone. As His apprentices, shouldn’t we do so as well?
To anyone who is outraged at this tragedy, let us come together and ask God for healing, peace and the revelation of truth. God is in control. His plan is so much better than any of ours. I am praying to see Him work, as only He can, amid such a disgusting situation.
Class of 2019