Medal recipient’s recent comments stir controversy

Medal recipients recent comments stir controversy

One week after presidential candidate Barack Obama (D-Ill.) denounced controversial comments by his longtime pastor, Jeremiah Wright, supporters at Simpson are defending their decision to award Wright the first-ever Carver Medal earlier this year.

“Regrets? No regrets,” John Fuller, spokesman for the college told the Des Moines Register last week.

Wright was awarded the medal at the annual Carver Lecture in January. Each year, Simpson invites a dominant African-American figure they feel exemplifies the same qualities as Dr. George Washington Carver to speak in his honor. Past speakers include Alan Page, the first black justice on the Minnesota Supreme Court and David N. Baker, a famous symphonic composer and jazz educator.

A medal was added this year to “give greater recognition to the achievements and legacy of Dr. Carver,” according to Walter Lain, assistant dean for multicultural and international affairs.

Obama and Wright have been under fire for several of Wright’s comments regarding race, religion and the United States government. Wright once said that U.S. officials created HIV specifically to kill colored people and has been critical of U.S. foreign policy.

Last week, Obama spoke publicly about his relationship with Wright, saying he could no more disown Wright than his own grandmother.

Of Wright’s controversial sermons Obama said in a recent speech, “Did I ever hear him make remarks that could be considered controversial while I sat in church? Yes. Did I strongly disagree with many of his political views? Absolutely.”

He went on to talk about Wright’s service as a U.S. marine and everything he’s accomplished as a pastor of the United Trinity Church of Christ for the past 36 years. Under his leadership, the church has grown from 80 members to more than 8,000.

It was for these reasons that Wright was chosen to receive the honor. The search committee included faculty members, board of trustees members and community leaders. Lain said Wright was recommended by a Simpson alumnus who is now a member of his congregation.

“We wanted to find someone who would have an impact on the campus,” Lain said. “It wasn’t like we picked someone out of the blue. Wright has been honored by many respected institutions.”

In addition to his undergraduate degree, Wright received three master’s degrees, a doctorate and has been awarded seven honorary doctorates.

Lain was able to meet with Wright at his church before he came to Simpson.

“After I got a chance to visit him I came away even more impressed,” Lain said. “Seeing the neighborhood this church flourished in, it wasn’t like Indianola, Iowa. There was poverty, crime, and hopelessness. This church is a beacon of hope to an otherwise hopeless area.”

Despite his humanitarian work and strong pastoral leadership, some people at Simpson question whether he was a good choice to receive the honor.

“I don’t like what he said, and I don’t agree with it, however, it is because he lives in this great country, which he apparently hates, that he can spout his hateful rhetoric,” said freshman Chris Richert. “I think Simpson has done a great disservice in awarding this man any type of award. And I believe that George Washington Carver, were he still alive, would be appalled by the presentation of any award in his name being given to someone like Jeremiah Wright.”

Sophomore Mike Wilson, a Carver Fellowship Scholar who met Wright when he was on campus, disagrees.

Wilson said that despite the current controversy surrounding Wright, the award is still based on contributions made to the African American community.

“Wright is a champion of diversity and multicultural affairs,” Wilson said. “I think he was the best choice. Recent events do not undermine the award, and my opinions haven’t changed at all.”