Former Liberty football coach and player return as executive VPs
Turner Gill, Kelvin Edwards will focus on diversity and inclusion
Liberty University announced Tuesday its former football coach, Turner Gill, and Liberty alumnus and former NFL player Kelvin Edwards will join its executive team in positions focusing on diversity and inclusion, as the Lynchburg institution has come under fire for what some former Black employees and students call a hostile environment.
Gill and Edwards, who are both Black, will return to campus this fall, the statement said. Gill, who coached the Liberty Flames from 2011 to 2018, will serve as executive vice president of diversity, development and inclusion, and Edwards, who played football at Liberty from 1982 to 1985, will be executive vice president of management efficiencies and diversity. After graduating in 1986, he was a wide receiver for the Dallas Cowboys until 1989, when his career was cut short by injury. He owns a Dallas-based car dealership and owns the Texas Cavalry, a team in the Minor Professional Football League.
In the university’s announcement Tuesday, President Jerry Falwell Jr. went on the offense, focusing on political divisions instead of racism: “We are honored to have Turner Gill back at Liberty as well as Kelvin Edwards, an alumnus and successful businessman. As executive vice presidents, they will help us demonstrate our commitment to reuniting people — both Republicans and Democrats — who have been divided by the establishment politicians.
“People who should be natural allies, and always were, have been divided in the last decade. We’re not going to let that happen anymore,” said Falwell, who has been a vocal supporter of President Donald Trump. “We’re going to bring people together who agree on most of the issues — not all, but most — such as school vouchers, pro-life and the Second Amendment. Those are issues we all agree on, but we’ve been divided by evil, corrupt establishment politicians. We’re going to change the country by reuniting those groups.”
The announcement comes after several Black employees and students left the private Christian institution — including its director of diversity retention and two prominent football players — following Falwell’s tweet in May mocking Gov. Ralph Northam’s mask mandate, saying he would wear a mask only if it depicted the infamous blackface photo from Northam’s medical school yearbook, accompanied by the image.
Falwell deleted the tweet and apologized two weeks later, but several high-profile resignations and transfers took place in June.
Tayvion Land, a cornerback for the Flames who was the highest-rated recruit in the team’s history, said in a recent interview with Slate that he decided to transfer after one of his professors made a joke referencing slavery, which was the final straw after feeling like he didn’t fit in at the school except while on the football field or at the gym. He has since transferred to Norfolk State University, a historically black university.
Asia Todd, a top player on Liberty’s women’s basketball team, also decided to transfer after Falwell’s tweet, saying in a video she released via Twitter that “racial insensitivities shown within the leadership and culture … simply [do] not align with my moral compass or personal convictions.”
LeeQuan McLaurin, an alum who served as Liberty’s director of diversity retention, resigned in June and has raised funds to assist other Black Liberty employees who want to leave the university.
In his resignation letter, which he made public, McLaurin said the university’s chief diversity officer “failed to lead our division effectively or support our minority populations he has been charged with, and has instead worked to actively denigrate and work against them.” He added that it was “morally unconscionable for me … to ask students of color to stay at a university and within a space that not only does not value their well-being and lives, but actually perpetuates very real and damaging racial trauma against them.”
McLaurin also noted that the percentage of Black undergraduate students on campus declined from 10% to 4% between 2007 and 2018. But Falwell and Ronald Kennedy, Liberty’s executive vice president of enrollment management and marketing, said the percentage of new incoming Black residential undergraduates rose to 5% in 2019. Also, they added, 15.6% of all students enrolled during the 2018-19 academic year — 108,000 students, including those taking only online classes — were African American.
In 2018, Liberty formed its Office of Equity and Inclusion to increase the number of “culturally and ethnically diverse students, faculty, staff and leadership, free from all unbiblical and unlawful discrimination.”
Gill, who was previously executive director of student-athlete and staff development at the University of Arkansas, said in a statement that he has “long shared a vision with President Falwell about increasing the minority population at Liberty and building a program where we build leaders among all racial groups.”
Edwards, who was named an All-American player while at Liberty, mentioned his close relationship with the late Jerry Falwell Sr., who founded the university in 1971, and Falwell Jr. “My wife, Tiawna, and I are excited to continue our relationship with Liberty University and uphold the charge of building Champions for Christ.”