Nov. 3, 2017

The following are a list of questions and answers that address the recent controversy surrounding the act of kneeling during the national anthem: 

Q: How did the University reach the decision that students were no longer allowed to kneel?

A: We want to move the conversation forward and build a platform for students to openly bring their concerns forward through civil dialogue. Real impact and change is created through dialogue, the sharing of perspectives, and building understanding. Our students are the leaders of tomorrow, and we want to encourage them to stand up for what they believe in to influence positive change. We believe they’re great students with integrity. A recap of the decision follows: 

  • Students may kneel before the anthem (when in uniform) to build awareness of their concerns.
  • When not in uniform, students may kneel at any time.
  • President Merchant has stated he will stand with students before the anthem.
  • There have been two formal University-sponsored conversations to discuss issues of racial inequality and social injustice.
  • President Merchant is committed to dedicating time, effort, and resources to these conversations and will continue to do so. He is actively seeking partners in an effort to continue the dialogue statewide.

Q: What is President Merchant’s stance on the situation?

A: President Merchant, the University, and students have received unjustified criticism surrounding the protest. After seeking input from many different campus groups, the decisions were carefully considered with the support of the Board of Trustees. While we understand emotions are running high, we must remain civil as we navigate this difficult and complicated situation. President Merchant believes the best route forward is to engage one another in civil discourse. In fact, it was his idea to have the very first discussion following the initial protest.

President Merchant is dedicated to impacting change. His history with this subject follows:

  • Expanded diversity and inclusion efforts at both of his former institutions
  • Established goals to engage constituencies with authentic purpose
  • Identified funding opportunities for UNF’s newly-formed institute for the study of race and ethnic relations
  • Taught introduction to diversity and inclusion at the undergraduate level
  • Board member of OneJax- An interfaith organization dedicated to achieving civility, understanding, and respect for all through education, dialogue, and community-building
  • Set the groundwork for a diversity and inclusion goal at BVU as one of his first priorities

Q: What are the University’s thoughts on the cheerleader who recently stepped down from the cheerleading squad?

A: When students have concerns, it’s of utmost importance that we listen to them and attempt to build understanding. Concerns about social injustice are real, and we will continue to listen and support our students as they stand by their convictions. We have amazing students at BVU, and our athletes and cheerleaders are among them. We are proud of our students. We think they deserve the respect to be listened to. While we provided many opportunities for our students to express their concerns, we understand if students want to raise their voice in their own way. It’s only when students are in uniform as perceived representatives of the University that we are asking that they remain standing.  

Q: How is BVU responding to negative feedback? 

A: We’re very sorry to anyone who was upset by the act of kneeling, and to anyone unhappy with the decision to stand for the national anthem. Regardless of how you feel, it is inappropriate to engage in threatening remarks regarding the safety of our students. We take the well being of our students very seriously.

It’s important for people to know that we have had a University conversation from the onset, even before the protest. As a result of kneeling, we heard from a lot of new voices. However, what we’ll continue to do is listen to people and be inclusive of all perspectives. President Merchant has been reaching out personally to many who have expressed their concerns, and we remain focused on educational programming for the future.

Q: What are BVU’s plans moving forward?

A: We’re an institution of higher education, and it’s important for us to model civil discourse for the next generation of leaders. We’ve organized several events on campus that are being formally set aside for these conversations, and we will continue to do so. President Merchant plans to:

  • Dedicate his time, effort, and resources to these conversations.
  • Actively seek partners in an effort to continue the dialogue statewide.
  • Remain focused on BVU educational programming for the future. 

October, 6 2017 Statement from President Joshua D. Merchant

This past week, Buena Vista University has come under scrutiny and has experienced tension on campus following the actions of several football players and cheerleaders who chose to kneel during the national anthem. 

Emotions, opinions, and tensions are high — and legitimately so. It is understandable that each individual has deeply-rooted beliefs and experiences that shape our opinions and actions. Our campus has been a microcosm for what is currently happening in our nation, and it is our responsibility as a university to deepen the conversation for the better. The very nature of a protest is to cause disruption, yet it is the choices that are made after that disruption that are of significant importance and have the potential to shape the future in positive ways. To our students who protested — you were not only noticed, but you were also heard.   
Throughout the past week, I have met with our athletes, as well as numerous students, faculty, staff, alumni, and community members, to listen and talk. I found the conversations to be thought-provoking yet enlightening. Yes, we did not always agree, but we respectfully listened to one another’s thoughts and perspectives. With each conversation, I digested comments, suggestions, and opinions. Reaching a clear path forward is not easy, however, working in collaboration with the campus community has brought some clarity. I do believe we have found an alternative solution to move forward. Thank you for your patience as we underwent this important process — one of talking, sharing, and reflecting. The process was constructive, and I stand behind the solution.
Moving forward, BVU student athletes and cheerleaders will stand for the national anthem as a unified team. However, student athletes and cheerleaders will be allowed to kneel before the anthem if they choose to do so. As we all stand to honor our national anthem, I have promised to physically stand by their side as a demonstration of support for their desire to impact social change, and I commend them for their courage. BVU, nor our student athletes, meant any disrespect for the national anthem or the flag. Many of you found the action upsetting, therefore, please accept my sincere apology.
As a key component to our solution, and in the spirit of Education for Service, I will provide financial support to advance the topic of social change. Over the next few weeks we will be working directly with students, faculty, and staff to plan several campus gatherings that will create an open discourse that is meaningful and purposeful. Our events will be mediated so all voices can be heard, and the environment will be one in which it is comfortable to share perspectives. Details are forthcoming.  
Let me reaffirm BVU’s commitment to honoring our national anthem and flag as well as respecting the Constitution of the United States. As I stated to the campus community last week, “BVU respects our military members and our veterans. BVU also respects the rights of our students, employees, alumni, fans, and friends to demonstrate their civil liberties in ways that are peaceful and lawful. As an institution of higher learning, BVU believes in open discourse. Through our conversations, BVU seeks to better understand our opinions and the opinions of those whose differ from our own. I simply ask that our community members respect one another through language and action."