Are Mennonite institutions really practicing diversity?

Are Mennonite institutions really practicing diversity?

Emma Eitzen

Contributing Writer

emmame@goshen.edu

Going to a Mennonite school today is not like it was 50 years ago, when nearly everyone at a Mennonite school was white and Mennonite. In recent years, diversity has become a statement of pride for the Mennonite community, especially in light of recent social and political issues.

It has become a top bragging point in the recruitment of new students. At Goshen College, diversity is a part of the mission statement that shapes the institution’s ideals. But is diversity really the main intention, or is it just a way to save face in the political realm of current society where diversity makes you look good?

Goshen College urges applicants who identify as anything other than the traditional Mennonite to join the community, to help create change on the campus, and to bring diversity to the student body. These “diverse” students are then asked to participate in or lead events on the topic, in hopes of teaching the campus that being different is what it’s all about.

Now let’s talk about how separatism between Christianity and the campus doesn’t socially exist at Mennonite institutions. A simple example is chapel requirement. Students are required to attend a certain amount of chapels where the focus is a Christian point of view, specifically Mennonite.

If chapel attendees don’t participate in the altar-type call to stand and sing along to Christian contemporary songs or Mennonite hymns, if they don’t pay attention to the speaker or disapprove of the message being shared, if they counter the ideals being shared, they get passive-aggressive looks for not participating in an activity that doesn’t align with their beliefs and practices. These looks are for supposedly not having an “open-mind” to the message being shared.

However, if the chapel brings in music that does not correlate to the Mennonite ideal, many of the Mennonite students do not participate due to uncomfortableness.

Let’s take, for example, music that often involves things like dancing or clapping. When this music is shared and people are invited to actively participate, the majority of Mennonites stay seated or just stand awkwardly, sending the message that they are only comfortable with their style of music.

Yet the institution prides itself in diversity of races, ethnicities and beliefs. It prides itself in the sharing and connecting with cultures unlike their own.

Additionally, we should also take a look at religion courses at Mennonite institutions. At Hesston College (which has a student body of 480, representing over 15 countries), every student is required to take Biblical Literature, a course that explores the history of the Bible (the Heilsgeschichte). This would be a great course if the campus weren’t so diverse in religious beliefs. But because the campus is diverse, there are salty attitudes towards the requirement to memorize Biblical history in order to graduate.

Goshen College requires students to complete Engaging the Bible in order to graduate. While people have stated that the course is welcoming of other ideologies, the course catalogue suggests otherwise: “An introduction to biblical literature that provides a foundation for current expressions of Christian faith and practice. Students will gain skill in the use of academic resources and methods in order to read, interpret and communicate more effectively.” Students are focusing solely on the Bible and the practices of Christian faith.

Imagine having background that is not the majority of the college, choosing to join a school for its diversity, and then being required to learn about just one faith.  

Mennonite institutions should include integrative faith courses that allow the opportunity for all students to learn about their own faith and the faith of others in a neutral setting. These courses would allow each student to share about his or her own faith while also learning about the faith of others.  This strategy would encourage a diverse learning experience instead of shaming those who don’t align with the dominant faith. And isn’t that what being at a Mennonite institution is all about?

One statement I heard in response to this argument was, “Well, you also chose to come to a Mennonite School with Mennonite ideologies.” In contrast to this argument supporting Mennonite Institutions, my perspective lies against Mennonites who claim prideful diversity when in reality, they are very ethnocentric.

The social definition of being ethnocentric, according to Merriam-Webster, is “judging another culture based on preconceptions that are found in values and standards of one’s own culture.” I think that it is hypocritical for Mennonites to only spread their faith and the word of God to the campus while saying they encourage diversity in religions, ethnicities, races, genders, etc. One of the biggest ideas that I have learned while taking an anthropology course is that our good lifestyle is not necessarily another country’s “good,” or in this case, another person’s. As Christians, we are world-changers, but how much does the world want to change?

 

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