By Kelsey Shue, Marlys Weaver and Chase Snyder
Goshen College made history on Tuesday, March 23, 2010 at 12:58 p.m. as the national anthem was played for the first time since 1957 when intercollegiate athletics began. The anthem was played for the baseball game against Siena Heights University as well as the softball game against St. Joseph’s College.
More than 100 spectators stood shoulder to shoulder on bleachers while the anthem played and continued standing for the peace prayer of St. Francis. Both were followed with clapping, cheering and even some whistling.
Three Goshen College students, Sean Doering, Nate West and Taylor Tenharmsel, donned American flags painted on their otherwise bare chests. Doering is excited about the decision to play the anthem.
“It’s long overdue,” he said.
Among a group of spectators who did not stand for the anthem were Andy and Nekeisha Alexis-Baker, who wore all black and had crosses of ash drawn on their foreheads. The Alexis-Bakers have been outspoken about their opposition to Goshen playing the anthem, and they drafted a petition against it on jesusradicals.com that has hundreds of electronic signatures.
“It’s a war song,” said Andy. “It comes with a lot of baggage. It breaks international Christian fellowship. This is not a Mennonite issue, it’s a Christian issue.”
Alexis-Baker taught a violence and non-violence class in the Peace, Justice and Conflict Studies department at the college in 2008.
President Brenneman has said that the anthem decision will be re-examined in one year, and Alexis-Baker is confident that the student body could get the decision reversed.
“If students do wanna change this,” he said, “they can. They have to meet together and not feel like they can’t do anything.”
He cited the removal of the Reserve Officer Training Corps from Harvard University in 1969 as an example of effective student action to change school policy.
President Brenneman was pleased with the respectful responses to the anthem. The civil dissent and civil support “honors the best of what we have here at G.C.”
Goshen played the anthem for the second time at 2:54 p.m. prior to the softball game against St. Joseph’s College.
Lee Mast, softball coach, thought that everything went very smoothly and was well planned out. At least 15 Goshen softball players showed their respect and support for the national anthem by wearing red, white and blue ribbons in their hair. Softball coaches from St. Joseph’s College were also respectful, said Mast.
“It didn’t matter to them either way,” said Mast.
Before the baseball game Josh Keister, Goshen’s baseball coach, warned the players of the extra attention that the game was sure to receive.
Receive attention it did: beside the bleachers stood nearly 15 reporters and photographers from the Goshen area and beyond. Major media outlets such as USA Today, the New York Times, CNN, MSNBC and the Associated Press covered the story. More reprinted stories came from those that attended, including CNN.
Susan Saulny, a national correspondent from the New York Times, has been following the story on her own and suggested coming to the game to her editor.
“I’m always on the lookout for stories that illuminate the national conversation,” Saulny said. She often writes about politics and prefers covering “local news with national interest” and “to tell stories as close to the ground as possible but that have some national meaning.”
During a press conference with President Brenneman, he said “the crux of the matter has to do with our relationship with God and with our country.” It’s a complex issue, but as President Brenneman put it, “the best liberal arts education includes dialogue with people of differing viewpoints.”
Paul Keim, professor of Bible and Religion at Goshen, said that although he doesn’t agree with the decision to play the anthem, he hopes that it will encourage conversations.
Reminding the community of the importance of dialogue, President Brenneman said, “The best way to bring about peace in the world is through conversation.”
Much conversation continues both on campus, including at Wednesday morning’s chapel that focused on two faculty opinions, and off-campus, including several online forums.
The Goshen College Web site now features a page dedicated to the national anthem situation on-campusat goshen.edu/anthem. It includes opinions, editorials and letters to the editor, as well as a list of local and national news articles covering the Goshen story. There are also links to Facebook groups surrounding the decision, press releases, a timeline of the decision and a frequently asked questions page.
Sidebar: Announcements at the game
About Goshen College
Goshen College – affiliated with Mennonite Church USA – is a Christian, liberal arts college that strives to represent its five core values in all we do. These values – Christ-Centeredness, Passionate Learning, Global Citizenship, Servant Leadership and Compassionate Peacemaking – are consistent with our historic peace church heritage. We continue to strive to keep Christ’s teachings, and in particular his teaching on peace, foremost in our lives. We are thankful for religious freedom, respect different viewpoints, and welcome all opportunities to share in open dialogue.
As an institution that values diversity and seeks to provide a hospitable place for all to come, learn, and experience, we welcome you to today’s game. Prior to the game, we will invite you to stand for the playing of the national anthem followed by a reading of the Peace Prayer of St. Francis of Assisi. We offer this time as space for people to respond respectfully as they wish, recognizing that these rituals represent different things to different people. Thank you for joining us and we trust today’s game will be enjoyable.
Announcement read before games:
Goshen College, affiliated with Mennonite Church USA, strives to represent its 5 Core Values in being: Christ-Centered, Passionate Learners, Global Citizens, Servant Leaders and Compassionate Peacemakers. As an institution that values diversity and seeks to provide a hospitable place for all to come and learn, we welcome you to today’s contest. Please join us in standing for the national anthem and the Peace Prayer of Saint Francis of Assisi.