After their first weekend meeting of the year, the Goshen College Board of Directors announced a time of “thoughtful and prayerful discernment,” with a review of the decision to play the anthem before select sports events in June 2011.
President Jim Brenneman, who speaks on behalf of the board when not formally assembled, sent out an e-mail announcing the decision late Wednesday afternoon.
Along with the date for a review, Brenneman also named a few ways they intend to continue that dialogue, including “a symposium to discuss the anthem in the larger context of Mennonite identity, peacemaking and civic engagement.”
In an interview, Brenneman said they will be establishing criteria for the June 2011 review in the coming months.
“As one example,” President Brenneman said in the e-mail, “we will convene a symposium to discuss the anthem in the larger context of Mennonite identity, peacemaking and civic engagement. We will also work with the Board to determine the criteria for reviewing the anthem decision after a year of implementation.
“Over the past several weeks,” the e-mail read, “we also have heard from many alumni, friends and members of the larger Christian community – some in favor and more who oppose this decision.”
Jodi Beyeler, news bureau director for Goshen’s public relations office, said the reaction has been about 10 to one in opposition of the anthem decision.
Brenneman acknowledged the passion behind letters and e-mails to the college.
“In the midst of strong emotional responses and appeals to overturn the decision,” the e-mail continued, “we have been reminded of the deep love many people have for Goshen College, as well as the deeply held beliefs in the Mennonite peace witness.”
Brenneman said in an interview that his personal reaction to the incoming responses was two-fold.
“The first is if complex issues are at the heart of a good education, and you present a complex issue to our students, to our alumni, to our faculty and people get passionate about it… it makes us all learn more.”
At the same time, these complex discussions can overpower other events on campus.
“What troubles me a little bit,” Brenneman said, “is how can we model civility in these disagreements so that we’re not mean-spirited towards each other no matter what the decision, no matter how much we love a school.”
“All of the good things that Goshen College has always been doing–around our core values, around starting new SST programs, all of those are still here. And people are learning and engaging.”
“Overall, I would say, we’re engaged in a very real, important question about the nature of hospitality and inclusiveness, and what does it mean to be a Mennonite college and not a Mennonite church. What does it mean when 50 percent of our students are from non-Mennonite background. We’re faced with these questions, and that’s what makes this a complex and interesting conversation.” He said that athletes are also nearly 50 percent from Mennonite background and 50 percent not.
The board also discussed financial aid and faculty demographics at Goshen College.
There are presently 14 directors on Goshen College’s board, with one open seat.
The board meets three times a year. Their next meeting is set for June 4 and 5.