Dear Editor, Wheaton College Black students, and Wheaton College Community at large,
We are some of the descendants of Dr. James Oliver Buswell Jr., former president of Wheaton College. We love, admire and respect many things about him. Nonetheless, we were grieved very recently to learn of the 1939 correspondence between Dr. Buswell and trustee Hugo Wurdak in which they expressed reluctance about a prospective Black student’s application to the school, and shared the opinion that it would be better for a “colored” student to attend a “colored” institution. We can only imagine how reading those words must feel for Black Wheaton College students today. We grieve and repent over the pain and racial injustice that existed in 1939 and continues to exist today in our country, in the church, and in Christian institutions. We also grieve the opportunity the college lost by not welcoming Black students at that time. The Diversity Commitment of the college commits to “convene and nurture unique talents, experiences, cultural expressions, and perspectives.” Had Wheaton College actively recruited Black students years ago rather than encouraging them to attend other schools, Wheaton would be a better place today.
While we believe that Dr. Buswell did much which positively impacted the college in his tenure, we also recognize that he participated in a mindset and culture that has harmed so many Black people historically, and still does today. For that reason we who have signed this letter would like to express our support for Black students at Wheaton College today, and our sorrow and deep regret over the words and attitudes that were expressed in Dr. Buswell’s letters from 1939.
We understand that some students at Wheaton College expressed during a chapel service on February 15, 2021 how deeply wounded they felt when reading these words by Dr. Buswell, among other painful experiences they had had as Black students at Wheaton College. We understand that some students have also asked the college to consider renaming the Buswell library in light of the contents of these letters. It is our understanding that the college is currently doing a historical review, and if a decision is made to rename the library, then none of us intends to object to that decision. We do not presume to know all the concerns of Black students at Wheaton today, nor the full historical context of what was done and said in 1939, but as descendants of Dr. Buswell, some of whom bear his name, we wanted to apologize for the pain caused by Dr. Buswell’s words from those 1939 letters, and express our love and support for Black students and faculty and staff at Wheaton College.
We hope that Wheaton College will continue to learn from the past, and take active, positive steps to live out its “Christ Centered Diversity Commitment” to “create a campus climate where all faculty, staff, students, and alumni are included as full participants who feel welcomed, respected, valued, and supported.”
The grandchildren and great-grandchildren of James Oliver Buswell Jr.
Children and grandchildren of Jane Buswell Foxwell, Wheaton, 1942
Mary Foxwell Loeks, Wheaton, 1968
Kristin Loeks Jackson, Wheaton, 1994
Julian Loeks Jackson, Wheaton, 1993
Emily Loeks, Wheaton, 1996
Martha Foxwell Berg, Wheaton, 1970
Gaius Berg, Wheaton, 1969
Philip Foxwell Berg
Linda Foxwell Pettit
Nelle Pettit Potter
Lydia Pettit Young
Philip Foxwell, Wheaton,1980
Anda Foxwell, Wheaton, 1981
Alanna Foxwell, Wheaton, 2006
Tyler Foxwell, Wheaton,, 2008
Marisa Foxwell Duttweiler, Wheaton, 2013
Children and Grandchildren of James O. Buswell III
Carol Ou (Wife of Jamie Buswell, deceased)
Children and Grandchildren of Ruth Buswell Noe
Grace Noe Haymes