Over recent years, the college has undergone many institutional changes, from a brand change to the national anthem decision process to budget cuts. Last week, President Brenneman announced in a faculty/staff meeting that this year’s freshman class is the first in the history of the college to have more non-Mennonites than Mennonites. Is there a correlation between these institutional changes and demographic changes, and are demographic changes necessarily a bad thing?
Personally, I don’t think think we should use church denomination as the main way of measuring the study body’s character, though I can understand it is an easy way to categorize students and their beliefs. For example, I come from a Mennonite background, so I check the Mennonite box on my GC application every year–although I don’t regularly attend church, and while I agree with Mennonite core beliefs, when asked about my spirituality, I have a hard time labeling myself as simply Mennonite.
In addition to recognizing our college’s rich Anabaptist history and the beliefs that go along with it, I think we should focus more strongly on the core values: on being Christ-centered, passionate learners, servant leaders, compassionate peacemakers and global citizens. These are values that transcend all demographics: what state or country you come from, your denomination, age or political stance. Because these core values are rooted in Anabaptist beliefs, defining the college by these core values (rather than defining it solely as a Mennonite institution) makes the college appealing to a more diverse audience, yet is still holding true to the values on which the school was founded. The common thread among students should be similar values, which may or may not mean similar religious affiliations.
But it is one thing to know the core values, and another to embody them–moving from theoretical to implementation is key. Actualizing the core values is what should set Goshen College apart from other Christian institutions.
This isn’t to say we don’t have work to do. Luke Zehr mentioned in his perspective this week the obvious cliques in the dining hall. SaeJin Lee spoke about obvious divides among international and American students and our sometimes false sense of an intercultural campus during her speech in the C. Henry Smith Peace Oratorical Contest last Tuesday, Feb. 22.
There are problems. It will take a sense of commitment and real intentionality towards the core values to fix them. If we focus on our similarities and our common goals, maybe we can begin to break down some barriers and make some progress.