Grove City Faculty Say College is Facing A ‘Fight for the Soul’

By Kathryn Post
GCC grove city college
The Chapel on the quad at Grove City College in Pennsylvania. (Photo courtesy of GCC)

When Cedric Lewis came to Grove City College nine years ago, he was delighted to teach where his Christian worldview was expected, not just tolerated. But this year, as the Western Pennsylvania school became engulfed in a politicized dispute over critical race theory, Lewis worried its Christian identity could be at risk.

“We are in a fight for the soul of this college,” said Lewis, an adjunct professor at Grove City. “Are we a Christian college? Or are we a conservative college?”

Grove City has always celebrated traditional values — its rejection of federal funding is a case in point — but more recently has struggled to balance its conservative political identity and broader Christian commitments. After a group of parents raised the alarm about critical race theory infiltrating the school last fall, a committee was set up to investigate and released a report April 20, acknowledging instances of “CRT advocacy” while absolving the school from allegations of “going woke.” It also recommended re-adding “conservative” to the school’s mission statement after it was removed in 2021 over concerns about the term’s shifting political meaning.

Since then, Grove City stakeholders have both celebrated and balked at the report and its listed “remedial actions,” which include enhancing scrutiny of guest speakers, rebranding the Office of Multicultural Education and Initiatives and replacing an education course accused of inculcating tenets of critical race theory, an academic and legal theory that examines how systemic racism has shaped law and society.

Lewis said he’s less concerned about the “remedial actions” than he is about the integrity of the committee’s investigation. The report, issued by a committee with a board-member majority, characterized a “Cultural Diversity and Advocacy” educational course Lewis co-taught as promoting “pop-CRT.” Lewis says he hasn’t thought about CRT since he was in law school decades ago.  

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“I don’t teach CRT,” Lewis insisted. “I teach Scripture. I teach what I think is a biblical approach to how we deal with our fellow man. We present various sides to our students, and they make up their own minds.”

Other than a class reading list that Lewis says was incomplete, the report didn’t cite evidence of its claims. Lewis added that no committee members visited his class or spoke to his students. They did, however, speak with him in what he felt was less an interview and more an “interrogation.”

Cedric Lewis
Cedric Lewis (Courtesy of GCC)

“My experience was, they didn’t ask ‘what do you teach?’ But ‘how do you defend being a Christian and supporting CRT?’” Lewis said. “Their minds were already made up, and they were just looking for confirmation.”

Lewis added that he’s the only Black professor at the college, and EDU-290 is often a venue for students’ first conversations with a Black person. “We can’t love our neighbor as ourselves if we don’t know our neighbors,” said Lewis, who added that Christians should be leading conversations about race and racism, not ending them.

Lewis shared his concerns publicly on Twitter and was joined a day later by Jennifer Trujillo Hollenberger, who teaches social work at the school.

“I stand by my convictions and teachings on race in my classroom: one that does NOT indoctrinate CRT—but one that advocates Biblical truth and discusses social science theory to understand disparity in relationship to Creation, Fall, Redemption & Restoration,” she tweeted.

Two new petitions also emerged in recent weeks. The first, an updated version of an earlier petition authored by an alumna, asks the board to reject the report.

“As before, we do not write to endorse or condemn CRT as a legal theory,” the petition, which has 579 signatures as of Monday afternoon, says. “In fact, CRT continues to be a distraction. In their report, the Ad Hoc Committee fell into the trap of viewing any discussion of racism as indicative of CRT.” 

A separate petition asks the board to issue a public apology to historian Jemar Tisby after the report characterized inviting him to speak at a 2020 chapel service as a “mistake.”

Jemar Tisby GCC
Jemar Tisby speaks at Grove City College in Oct. 2020, in Grove City, Pennsylvania. (Video screen grab)

Petitions have been a popular vehicle for discontent since November, when a group of parents, students and alumni published an initial petition that accused the school of promoting CRT. Last Friday, the original petitioners posted a new announcement, praising the committee for its rigorous investigation and for vindicating them.

“There is now no doubt about it; CRT has unfortunately gained a foothold at a college that rightly prides itself on its commitment to truth, its Christian worldview, and its conservative values. Now we can focus on what needs to be done to fix this.”

Isaac Willour, a sophomore political science major at Grove City who wrote about the controversy earlier this year in National Review, said it’s a shame Grove City has become a talking point in the larger culture war. He said the debate should have been a campus matter, and its nationalization has only made the campus culture more polarized. 

“So much of this has been overblown. The claims of wokeness are overblown. The pushback has been overblown, the pushback to the report is a little bit overblown,” he said. Willour believes most students are upset about the introduction to the report, which includes what he called “speculations” about the definition of critical race theory. In reality, he said, the introduction doesn’t carry weight — it’s the recommendations that will impact the school, and it’s still not clear if or how those will be enforced.

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Grove City College president Paul McNulty. (Photo courtesy of GCC)

In an email to media, President Paul McNulty said the board is still determining how to address the report at its May 13 meeting. He also clarified that the recommendation to re-add “conservative” to the mission statement is the only item in the report that specifically requires board action. 

Lewis believes it’s now up to the board whether the school will prioritize its faith or fall prey to the culture wars. For him, the debate has never been about CRT. It’s about whether the school will uphold biblical principles, including the command to love one’s neighbor. Lewis says the committee failed to do so when they maligned his colleagues’ work — including that of his co-teacher Gina Blackburn, as well as the director of multicultural education and initiatives, Justin Jose, and Chaplain Donald Opitz.

“These are amazing Christian people, and they — we — have not been treated in a supportive, Christian manner,” Lewis said. “That is my biggest disappointment.”

According to McNulty, the dispute presents an opportunity to overcome the divisiveness found in broader culture. “We must follow Christ’s command to love one another and then take up our shared calling to be peacemakers,” he said. “No Christian community will achieve unity of thought, but it can be united in love.”

Kathryn Post is a writer living in Washington D.C. She is a graduate of Calvin College and an editorial assistant for Sojourners magazine. 



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19 thoughts on “Grove City Faculty Say College is Facing A ‘Fight for the Soul’”

  1. The standard “woke” evangelical grifters pushing their non-existent boogie-men – fear and hate mongering are standard religious memes – the very ones that resulted in the murder of Jesus Christ… by the self same religious establishment as seen in the ascendancy at Grove College and the United States of American – white American evangelicalism.

  2. Bob Meredith

    What a shame that Cedric Lewis has to go to Twitter to feel that his voice is heard. he should be able to address his concerns with the school directly and not turn this into a larger cultural concern, asking Twitter users to chime in. It is a fairly small college that caters to a very conservative audience, not a state college that is offering a general liberal arts degree.

  3. Just from the question put to Lewis, the investigation was a sham and a denial of Natural Justice from the get-go. The question he cited was egregiously leading and a double bind which is impossible to answer in a manner that is exculpating. A judge would rule against the question.
    The enquiry board needs to study the PEACE rubric for investigative questioning.
    I write as an ex-investigator (among other ‘ex-‘ things).

  4. Dr. Cynthia Norbeck

    Today, I sent the following response to Natalie Kahler, author of the petition to reject the Grove City College Committee report against “evaluat[ing] people on the basis of race, alleged racial traits…, and the sufficiency of their ‘Anti-Racist’ works.”


    I agree with you that debating what CRT is or isn’t is a major distraction.

    So, with that issue put aside, do you believe that students at Grove City College should be evaluated on the basis of their race? That the students should be described with the phrase “Whiteness”? That the Bible teaches them to engage in Kendi’s “Anti-Racist” works or be condemned? Do you believe that students should be “falsely convicted and un-Biblically indicted” simply because of their skin color?

    Jemar Tisby stated in his Chapel address: Now is the time to fight against racism or be grouped with the “white moderates” who did nothing in the 50s and 60s. On whose authority does Jemar attempt to shame these students? Anti-Biblical to the core! What ties Grove City students to the so-called moderates from the 50s and 60s? One thing only: Their skin color. What ties these students to Derek Chauvin? One thing only: Their skin color. Jemar Tisby was individually accusing every white student in that audience of racist guilt based solely on their skin color. THIS IS RACISM.

    There is a reason Satan is known as The Accuser. Satan does not desire “students to live out their faith, build strong families, and make a difference in their vocations.” Should these God-given values be undermined in the name of the academic freedom you espouse? I say no.

    Dr. Cynthia Norbeck

    1. On whose authority does Jemar attempt to shame these students?

      Jesus has always called people to action. Conservative Christians for the last 40 years have said that it is not enough to be “personally opposed” to abortion. But action was needed. Jesus never wanted people to be “personally opposed” to poverty. He said “Feed the poor” and “Take care of the widows and orphans.”

      Martin Luther King’s Letter From a Birmingham Jail specifically calls out passive Christians who were “personally opposed” to racism to take action. Tisby is doing the same thing.

      Christian teachers have always asked God’s people to look into their hearts to see if they harbor feeling of pride, lust, unforgiveness, etc. Christian leaders have always asked God’s people if they are doing everything in their power to conquer sin in their lives and the world around us.

      So why the big outcry when a Christian leader asks God’s people the same questions when it comes to race?

      If certain Christians get so uptight about preaching on the sin of racism, maybe there needs to be more preaching like that, not less.

  5. It’s good for them to reject CRT seeing CRT is revisionist history which means it’s full of lies. That means the college is attempting to be honest about history. They should teach the history of slavery in a truthful manner. My ancestor John Single born in 1777 in Cumberland County, Pennsylvania was black and married a white woman as interracial marriage was allowed in Pennsylvania in 1780. You won’t hear that in CRT. All you’ll hear is how my ancestor and everyone since has been a victim of white supremacy which is a lie made up for the purpose of dividing and grifting.

    1. Marin Heiskell

      Honest according to whom? Because your assessment of how CRT will only teach “how your ancestor and everyone since has been a victim of white supremacy” is dishonest. That’s not what it is. And by it’s very NAME, CRT is a THEORY to be discussed, evaluated, and debated.
      Some people believe the laws and rulings that defined and upheld the institutions of slavery and segregation in our nation’s past were racist and positioned whites as the primary holders of wealth, health, and governance. You can even read some of the writings of our nation’s founders and judges, which outright mention establishing rules and laws to confirm and validate the supremacy of white men (read Plessy v Ferguson). THAT is what many deem to be setting up a society rooted in white supremacy.
      While these laws and rulings have been overturned or struck down, their legacy and lasting impact continues to be debated. As for me, I view the generational disenfranchisement of people of color, the passing down of financial and social wealth, and the continued overrepresentation of white men in positions of authority, wealth and power as evidence that we can’t just overturn a law and say “We don’t allow segregation anymore, so all is well!”
      As a Christian, when I read scriptures warning how sins “impact our children’s children” (and I view racism as a sin), I’m surprised so many other Christians don’t see how racism can have such generational impact.

    2. Bob, CRT is NOT being taught at GCC. What is being taught is history through various perspectives.

      I am one of the professors who teaches the EDU 290 class at Grove City College on Diversity and Advocacy… For a surprisingly large number of my students, I am the first black person that have had an actual, engaging conversation with. Ever. That gives context…

      The report finds as fact or instance the CRT, or as they termed it “pop- CRT” is taught in my course. How did they
      determine this “fact”? Well to date, not one committee member has entered my classroom. To date, not one committee member has spoken to the current students or the former students of EDU 290. … (N)one of the committee members (had) actually read the book or any of the books they found objectionable for that matter (by the way, none of the books they have objected to are actual CRT)…

      (I)t became very clear to me and everyone that was interviewed that none of this was centered on theological concerns, but on political talking points. This was never about a Christian approach to education. I also want to go on record that the format of EDU 290 is an open, honest discussion of the *various ideas* regarding racial relations in this country and our Christian response. It is compromised of yes, several books, along with dozens of additional readings, articles, videos, etc., all offering *various views* on the topics. The student engage in open discussion with one another.

      Open discussion from various points of view with the first black person many students had ever encountered sounds like the school IS being honest about our nation’s history.

    3. An education includes all theories and provides the opportunity for students to study, analyze, and critique those theories. Education cannot happen in an echo chamber, that is indoctrination. A college that tries to establish an echo chamber has failed before it even starts.

      On a side note, there is absolutely nothing in CRT that states that every individual black person was forever and always treated unjustly. If your one personal anecdote is your rebuttal against CRT then you clearly don’t understand it and you would receive a failing grade in a high school course.

      1. Lisa,

        You are right. Education that excludes other points of view is indoctrination. GCC was/is not teaching CRT. It is teaching American history in this diversity class through diverse (minority) points of view over the last 300 years. Isn’t that what education is supposed to do?

        Also, the last time the subject of race at GCC came up Bob made this comment. “CRT isn’t telling the full story of slavery in America. It’s cherry picking the worst part of slavery in America.”

        He was asked to elaborate on the best parts of slavery in America. But so far he hasn’t responded.

  6. Eric Rasmusen

    I heard criticism on Twitter that Cedric Lewis, the main critic of the CRT report, hasn’t actually let anybody see the syllabus he says was mispresented. Is that correct? One thing I checked just now is that he indeed was disbarred by the State of Florida for professional malfeasance as a lawyer. Why is a disbarred lawyer teaching at Grove City, whether he is teaching racial division or not?

  7. Brian Patrick

    Gnosticism, the same today as it was in the A.D. 100s. A leopard cannot change its spots, and real Christians will always recognize that.

  8. This is from GCC President Paul J. McNulty:

    Critical Race Theory and Chapel Programming: CRT has never been promoted in chapel… CRT was never mentioned nor advocated.

    The second event concerns an address by Jemar Tisby. He was invited to speak in chapel in 2019, a year before Dr. Opitz began serving as the College’s chaplain. His visit was postponed because of COVID-19 until the fall of 2020. He spoke as one burdened by what he sees as the church’s historic complicity in racial injustice. I read his book, “Color of Compromise,” before his address, and my copy is filled with my personal notations of dismay over Christian support for slavery and Jim Crow, and disagreement about many of his conclusions. A panel discussion offering rebuttal observations was held several days after the event.

    First of all, every Christian should read Color of Compromise. The school was simply reading this Christian book, discussing it and even preparing rebuttals. It details the complicity that the American evangelical church had in slavery, Jim Crow and racial segregation. President Paul McNulty said he felt dismayed after reading the facts presented. My question is this- Why haven’t we as Christian Americans been taught the darker side of our country’s founding and the church’s role in it?

    Tisby clearly teaches that whites should not be made to feel guilty for the sins of their fathers. But whites do need to acknowledge that we are the beneficiaries of centuries of white supremacist policies in our political, economical and educational institutions, and the systems that support them. And as white Christians, we should know our heritage is no better.

  9. Grove City is far from the only Christian institution whose integrity is threatened by constituents who pay more attention to Fox News than to the Bible. Reacting hysterically with terms they don’t understand like “woke” and “CRT” to any suggestion that racial justice is something Christians today should care about.

    We can only hope and pray that the school leadership is willing to honestly acknowledge the racism in this country’s past and present, and resist the pressures that would wish its students to be conformed to the image of Tucker Carlson.

    1. As some one who is against CRT and all wokeness, I don’t care what tucker Carleton says. I don’t consider myself to be acting “hysterically” by disagreeing with CRT. A university in CA had students chanting prayers to the Aztec god of human sacrifice in the name of CRT. Most would do well to fully understand what CRT is before coming against those who disagree with it so strongly. It does require a look from the “conservative” perspective to fully understand what it is. I am some one that used to be more liberal and bought into it for a while so I’m only trying to help. Ultimately, CRT is a brilliantly deceptive attack on true Christianity.

  10. As a degree holder in History-Social Science and whose continuing avocation in that area, I can confidently say that it is quite possible to teach the history of race relations in America (since 1619, if you will), in a factual manner without the self pity and virtue signaling that comes with the program in so many institutions today. Stick to the facts, with both the warts and glory, and uphold the integrity of the subject being taught.

  11. ”the Ad Hoc Committee fell into the trap of viewing any discussion of racism as indicative of CRT”

    The same trap that much of white evangelicalism seems to be falling into across the country. Crying”CRT” at the first sign of uncomfortable or challenging discussion of racial issues is easy but it will not lead to understanding or justice.

    1. This isn’t true at all. We should be free from obsessions over race plus it’s not what you think. If one fully understands crt, then they are shocked and horrified. My kids school canceled thanksgiving and said the story of Squanto and the pilgrims was “debatabl”. They read a Native American folk tale about an invisible spirit entering a woman’s souls. This is CRT. I’m homeschooling now.

  12. Sad to see communism taking over the country. Mostly sad to see “Christians” fighting against the small amount of us that want to continue being a free country and following the entire Bible. Just heartbreaking to see, but God said perilous times would come along with betrayal and deception.

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