Students and faculty gathered in front of the Administration building on Wednesday afternoon in the drizzling cold, clutching hymn books in true Mennonite fashion, but singing for something traditionally not condoned by the Mennonite church: gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and queer (GLBTQ) hiring policies.
A group of students led by Patrick Ressler, a senior, and Justin Yoder, a sophomore, put together an open letter to the Goshen College community rallying the college to rethink its hiring policy, which currently prevents the institution from hiring any practicing GLBTQ faculty. As a senior who is openly gay, Ressler was unsettled by the thought that after he graduates from Goshen, he may not necessarily be welcomed back. He realized that he needed to do something.
So Ressler asked Tim Blaum, a Goshen alum, to help him buy an Internet domain and create a Web site for an open letter. The last sentence of the letter reads, “We wish for Goshen College to become a place that actively seeks the contributions of openly GLBTQ faculty, affirming them as a valued and integral part of this diverse community of passionate learners.”
Alumni and students have been signing the letter online since last week, and as of Wednesday it had accumulated 295 student and 486 alumni signatures.
In addition to the open letter, Ressler and Yoder decided to hold a hymn sing to witness to the policy reforms they are seeking in a very traditionally Mennonite way.
“We value our Mennonite heritage,” said Ressler, “and we value this place as a Mennonite institution, but we want the policies to change to include people who have always been in the church and have never been fully accepted by the church.”
Along with all other Mennonite-affiliated institutions, Goshen’s policies on GLBTQ hiring have been formed by stances of the Executive Board of the Mennonite Church and the Board of Mennonite Education Agency—both of which have some degree of authority over Goshen College policy.
“I view the open letter as part of a much larger conversation going on in the Mennonite Church USA,” said President Jim Brenneman. “At Goshen College we should be able to engage any and all conversations going on in the church and beyond as a part of mutual discernment of important issues.”
The Board of Directors at Goshen has become somewhat more inclusive over the years, allowing for the formation of clubs like Advocates and Prism in the late 1980s. But Brenneman said, “I do not think the several boards under which we serve are ready to support a change in the same sex partnership hires.”
Ressler only wishes that the college would peek its head out from the authority of the church. “We want Goshen College to be a role model for the church,” he said.
Anyone interested in reading or signing the open letter can access it online at http://www.gcopenletter.org/.