House Namesake Reagan Sparks Further Controversy After Racist Audio Surfaces

Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan campaign in 1972. || Photo credit to Dirck Halstead from The LIFE Images Collection via Getty Images file

Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan campaign in 1972. || Photo credit to Dirck Halstead from The LIFE Images Collection via Getty Images file


Earlier this month, audio of Ronald Reagan describing Tanzanian delegates in racist terms was released, sparking further controversy for the King's house namesake. 

In 1971,  in a private call to former president Richard Nixon the then-governor Reagan discussed a vote by the UN to recognize China, instead of the US ally Taiwan. During this call, he referred to Tanzanian delegates as “monkeys,” saying they were still “uncomfortable wearing shoes.”

After the audio, the twitter of House of Ronald Reagan tweeted several times condemning the remarks of their namesake on August 2. 

“The leadership of the House of Reagan is aware of the racist and dehumanizing remarks of our namesake that came to light earlier this week. As members of a Christian institution, we affirm the equal dignity of all persons as created in the image of God,” the tweet read

The tweets from the House of Ronald Reagan. ||

The tweets from the House of Ronald Reagan. ||

Denouncing the former President’s words, current House of Reagan President Fritz Scibbe said in an email to the EST that the members of the House of Ronald Reagan are defined by their house’s mission and values: loyalty, fraternity and honor — and not by the face on their crest.

“I hate that he said this; his callousness and foolishness angers me and I hate that friends of mine still have to hear their humanity attacked,” Scibbe said. 

Current Helmsman Draven Haefs in an email said it’s important to review the house namesake, but preferred not to state his personal opinion on whether or not the namesake should be changed.

 “It would be blatantly ignorant and a disservice to ourselves and the communities impacted to deny that these statements are not only problematic but also inherently wrong and against the words of Jesus, who we exist to embody,” Haefs said. 

Class of 2015 Reagan Alum and House Advisor Chris Josselyn said the house, including alumni, are in the process of evaluating their namesake. 

Josselyn also stated that no one in the house in denying as of now that Reagan as a namesake is problematic. 

“We should promote a culture that embraces diversity and empowers all its members.”

- Koby Jackson

“It's very important to emphasize that this did not reveal him to be problematic or racist, it's only affirmed it and forced people to stop ‘looking the other way.’ We as a house are confronting this and reevaluating the namesake and talking about the best approaches moving forward,” Josselyn said in his email.

Although Reagan has been a house namesake for over 15 years, many have been skeptical of his place at King's long before before the audio was released. 

The Table’s Events Coordinator Sha Sanders said she is not surprised by the words spoken by Reagan, describing many of his policies as racist and discriminatory. 

“These racists remarks solidify what many people have been saying for a long time, Ronald Reagan is racist. Does this mean we are not to forgive? No. As Christians, Christ makes it very clear in Matthew 18:21-22 that forgiveness is to be given. Yet forgiveness does not mean to forget. We should hold our leaders and icons to a certain standard. Being racist is the bottom standard,” Sanders said to the EST in a statement. 

The King’s Junior also expressed gratitude for the administration’s acknowledgement of the situation, and their promise to review the namesakes.  

The Table’s Vice President Sarah Fox expressed parallel views to Sanders, and described the review of Reagan as a house namesake as “long overdue.”

“Not only is it important for the King's community to address acts of racism, but it is also imperative that we assess our standards for community as a Christian college. I want all of the students at King's to feel like they genuinely belong. Unfortunately, addressing this issue will not be an easy task,” Fox said in her statement.  

This year, The King’s College elected Student Body President Koby Jackson. As the first black Student Body President in the college’s history, Jackson appointed the most diverse student cabinet to date for an incoming first year class consisting of 30-33% minority students. 

Jackson believes Reagan should no longer be a house namesake, and says he is glad that the house’s exec team swiftly began discussion of reviewing their namesake.

“I know minority groups across King's have often felt unheard and unsupported by The King's College. What I also know is that this is not the desired culture by the majority of King's. But in order to rid the sentiment many minority groups feel on our campus, we all have to condemn racist, sexist, homophobic, and culturally insensitive remarks and actions whenever it occurs,” Jackson stated. “We should promote a culture that embraces diversity and empowers all its members.”

However, Jackson is hopeful about the future and culture of King’s, encouraging the college to “remain a unified effort.”

Student Trivette Knowles published “An Open Letter to The King’s College: ‘What is a diploma from The King’s College to a Black student?’” which has been retweeted 70 times and has been favorited by 189 people as of Sunday night. 

In his article, published on August 13, Knowles addressed the audio tapes between Reagan and then-President Richard Nixon, expressed the harm this house namesake can cause minority groups and proposed that King’s instead create a House of Frederick Douglass. 

“It is healthy to revisit our namesakes and gauge how well they line up with The King’s mission and values…” 

-David Leedy

“Students of color are forced to study and accept leaders who devalued us in every meaningful way. Our centers of learning excuse immoral behavior committed by white leaders, and they still become angered when we call for change that imposes upon their maintained conservative order. We are not surprised when political leaders of the past are ‘discovered’ to be racist. Why our love for truth dissipates when we justify admiration for people who surely had no love for me is astonishing,” Knowles said in the article.  

In his article, Knowles also shared personal anecdotes of encounters he had with students, faculty and staff at the college. 

“I am reminded how the ideal King’s student should look when my professor berates me for what he deemed an unprofessional outfit of a cardigan and khaki pants. I am reminded of how that same professor in an attempt to apologize, presupposed that my attire reflected my low income and unprompted placed $50 before me for clothes. I am reminded of how before he let me leave his office, he asked me to bring back a receipt to verify my purchases,” Knowles said. 

The EST contacted Knowles for comment on August 13, but as of Sunday night Knowles has not responded.

On August 17, King’s released “Ronald Reagan’s Racist Comments: A Response” where they condemned Reagan’s racist rhetoric. 

The college stated that the school would be reviewing all 10 house namesakes as a part of their Theological Commitment to Diversity.

According to their response, this process was proposed prior to the release of the tapes back in the Spring of 2019.

The Dean of Students, David Leedy, said the review process will be a collaborative process involving input from current house leadership, alumni and the administration.

“I think institutional self-analysis and critique is healthy. We have had our current house namesakes for the past 15 years. The student body has grown and evolved much during that time, as has the college,” Leedy continued. “It is healthy to revisit our namesakes and gauge how well they line up with The King’s mission and values…” 

According to Leedy, the review process will formally begin this semester and will end by the Spring 2020 semester. The college will know what namesake changes, if any, will occur by then.