As members of the Goshen College community, you and I have a lot in common. We live and work in a diverse, vibrant place— one which has its fair share of unique strengths and weaknesses. Here at Goshen, we find ourselves in a place that doesn’t always fit our expectations, or, more importantly, our needs.
As a college community, Goshen’s struggles have revealed our strengths – the passion of our students, our willingness to work and fight for what we believe in and our support for each other as an imperfect campus.
Over the years, student leadership and activism has played a huge role in shaping the community that we live in. Formal and informal leadership positions, whether appointed through the college, or in spite of it, have given Goshen students opportunities to work towards their goals – pushing agendas and giving support to the things that matter.
Our community has benefited from impact groups like the Prevention Intervention Network (PIN) and the Functional Immediate Response to Student Safety Team (FIRSST), among many others who call for institutional responses on issues surrounding sexual assault and survivor support. These groups have changed our campus for the better – instituting PIN training through our Core curriculum and streamlined sexual assault reporting through GC’s website are obvious examples.
It was through the activism of students, in large part, that Goshen College opened up its exclusive hiring policies back in 2015, rewriting an archaic policy that denied positions to teachers who were openly homosexual. Today, Goshen’s open hiring policy is a reflection of the openness of our community.
Certainly, Goshen College has a lot to celebrate in its rich history of student leadership. Looking to the stories of students who have worked with groups such as PIN, Black Student Union (BSU), Latino Student Union (LSU) and many others, we can begin to examine our successes and failures. Doing so, we can understand how our student body can best serve itself through student leadership.
Nearing the end of her first month as Goshen College’s new president, Rebecca Stoltzfus sat down with me to discuss her outlook on Goshen student leadership. Stoltzfus praised the role that student leaders have at Goshen – working creatively through formal and informal leadership roles on campus.
When I asked her how the college can work to ensure that every student has equal access to leadership opportunities, Stoltzfus suggested that communication of the available opportunities to every student is essential. She commented that paying attention to who is participating more, and who is participating less is one of her priorities as president.
“Leadership is always a growth area for everybody,” Stoltzfus emphasized. “It is for me, it is for everybody on this campus. Leadership development is something that needs to happen at all levels of the institution.”
“We are vulnerable if our student voices are not contributing to making Goshen a better place.”
It’s important to recognize that it isn’t easy for each student to feel that they have the ear of an administrator. Pushing for equal representation among students of every background in leadership is an important step for the college, and one I’m happy to see reflected in Stoltzfus’ agenda.
A recognition of the challenges our community faces is essential.
“On GC’s campus, as in most organizations, the playing field is not always level,” Stoltzfus reflected, “There are visible and hidden barriers to participation in leadership. I very much intend to lean into those questions.”
She expressed her trust and appreciation for the work of Gilberto Perez, dean of students, as well as his staff.
As she points out, “Many of our faculty are actively engaging student voices and being allies to our students with different concerns.”
Here at Goshen, we are students of diverse backgrounds, perspectives and religious affiliations. And as such, we face the ongoing battle for positive communication with each other, our teachers and with our administrators.
While it might be easier to tell your friends about those challenges, President Stoltzfus and the administration have made it clear that they are ready to hear our concerns. So, schedule a meeting with an administrator, run for student senate, organize with other students and bring your concerns forward. Let your frustration become productive.