“See past the paint. Let’s open our minds to a different idea.”-Julia Roberts, Mona Lisa Smile (2003)
Late one night, far too late to be specific about the hour, I sat on a saggy couch and, alternating between crispy Bugles and chocolate cookies, watched the movie Mona Lisa Smile for the first time. The motivation behind this choice, trust me, was not in any way to stimulate serious thought; yet in my experience, brain function often does, and does not, occur in the least welcome of places.
Set in the early 1950s, Mona Lisa Smile follows the struggles of an art professor, played by Julia Roberts, as she attempts to teach students at an elite all-female college to look beyond marriage as the epitome of a woman’s existence. However, both the nuclear-family-centered culture of the United States and the determined resistance of the college administration prove to be formidable opponents. Without delving too deeply into the plot, let me just say that she succeeds in some areas and not in others. Such is life.
But what I took away from this film was not only these clear feminist struggles; instead, it forced me to reflect on my own time as a college student witnessing the interaction between faculty, students and the not-so distant administration. And frankly, I have to conclude that we are quite the lucky bunch.
It is not every college administration that will so openly allow itself to be challenged and even changed by “a different idea” from its community members, particularly those who do not have power. Whatever your opinion on the national anthem issue, I think we must agree that it is commendable for a majority Mennonite college to seriously address the concerns of its minority, non-Mennonite constituents, to open its mind to the frustrations of the athletic department and legitimize their needs through dialogue. Outside of the “Goshen bubble,” this recognition of the marginalized and dis-empowered is not taken for granted.
There are still areas needing change at Goshen College. Many of these concerns, I know, have already been brought to the attention of the administration through letters, articles and conversations by students, faculty and alumni. Many have not. And while Goshen cannot and should not change to accommodate all of these desires, we are nevertheless blessed by a community which has pledged to listen and consider all of its members.
And for this, Goshen College has my support.