Last week at convocation, I introduced the idea of the “Menno-Wall.” For those who weren’t there, the Menno-Wall is an invisible barrier that separates Mennonite and non-Mennonite students. Since then, I’ve received huge support and agreement from the GC community and I feel compelled to reflect on my convo speech and the idea of the Menno-Wall.
One time that I saw the Menno-Wall was at convocation about two weeks ago. The topic of the convo was a student protest against School of the Americas and at the end, students were asked to go to the middle of our chapel and sign a pledge to fight for peace. Almost immediately I saw a mass of white Mennonite students leave their seats, walk collectively to the middle, sign the pledge and form the Menno-Wall, showing me again that I will never feel part of this great campus community.
Don’t get me wrong, I love peace and I’m convinced that Goshen College students need to be ambassadors of peace in this world. But while I was watching the Menno-Wall sign the pledge, I asked myself if the students who sign this pledge actually believe in what they were signing. Are you convinced that you need to promote peace or did you just sign the pledge because your community tells you that this is what you should do?
Here lies a dangerous threat to our GC community and also an opportunity for students to grow significantly. I strongly believe that in order to really believe in your ideals and values, you need to question them first.
For example, one important thing that I learned from the Mennonite students here is how great giving back and sharing feels. Where I come from, neighbors rarely greet each other on the street and the people have a very self-centered mentality. You only help people when you can expect something in return from them.
However, here in Goshen I learned how great it feels to share and give without having second thoughts about my personal benefit. I questioned this aspect of my own culture, found that it’s not fulfilling and adapted to the Mennonite culture.
I challenge you to go out of your comfort zone and talk to students who are different from you. Explore their values and morals, listen to their stories and contrast them with your own convictions.
If you come to the conclusion that you like to stick to your own morals, you have grown personally because now you’re more convinced that the ideals that you were raised with are actually the best ideals for yourself. If you decide that you believe more in the other person’s values, you have grown again because now you’re more certain about your newly adapted values.
This is what, in business language, we call a typical win-win situation. You can’t lose if you engage in conversations with students who are different from you–you only lose if you deny the opportunities that you are given at GC.
The support I’ve received from both Mennonite and non-Mennonite students in this past week tells me that we are already one step closer to solving this problem.
The first step in any problem-solving process is to recognize and define a problem. I believe that this campus is currently very aware of the Menno-Wall and we need to take advantage of this opportunity and be pro-active about changing our habits and making this campus a better place for everybody.
I know of several initiatives that GC will be undertaking in the near future to further weaken the wall and unite the students. For example, we will have clearly marked diversity tables in the dining hall from this week on. Please use the tables whenever you can to meet new people and continue to challenge your own values and beliefs in hopes of getting to know yourself better.
After all, this whole topic reminds me of the story of the Trojan Wall. We, the non-Mennonite students who are a minority at GC, can try as hard as we want to break down this wall from the outside. But if the Mennonite students who represent the majority of students at GC don’t open the doors from the inside, we will never be able to really become an integral part of this community.
I hope that you understand that this article is not about blaming anybody, but it’s about further creating awareness of this important issue and motivating all students to leave their comfort zone behind, meet new people and bridge the gap between Mennonite and non-Mennonite students on campus. Together, we can tear down the wall that separates what belongs together.
Jan Zawadzki is a senior business major from Germany.