Dear editors,

Thank you for publishing the opinion piece “An Honors Program Is Not What We Need Most” by Jakyra Green and Mariela Esparza. As the recently-appointed director of the new Honors Program, I was glad to see that the program is getting attention from thoughtful students who care about this college and about the education of all GC students.

It should come as no surprise that my take on the program and its ability to serve our students is different than that expressed by Green and Esparza in the piece, but I want to be clear that I respect these students and the efforts they put into researching and preparing their article. They took the time to talk with multiple faculty and sat down with me on more than one occasion to discuss their questions and concerns.

Such dare-to-disagree forthrightness is exactly the kind of attitude we are hoping to cultivate in the Honors Program as well as the student body as a whole. Disagreement, after all, is not the same as conflict. To the contrary, it is often the mark of a truly respectful and intellectually honest community. 

The Honors Committee, which is made up of Suzanne Ehst (Education Department and CORE), Philipp Gollner (School of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences), Roy Jackson (School of Professional Studies), Susan Setiawan (School of Science and Nursing) and I, take seriously the authors’ reservations. We are determined to do whatever we can to make sure this program does not become a means of division among the student body or a tool for signaling superiority and inferiority.

At the same time, we are not convinced that celebrating our diverse student body and building programs that offer extra rigor and depth to students who have demonstrated they are ready for it are somehow at odds with one another.

Alas, in an effort to make sure we can provide a high-quality program, we need to start small, limiting our first cohort to 15-20 students from next year’s class of first years. We would not be doing this unless we thought that providing an Honors program could be a benefit to the whole college. In short, we on the Honors committee are happy to take criticism and look forward to building a program that helps us improve our ability to meet the diverse needs of all of our students.

Robert Brenneman is a professor and program director of criminal justice and restorative justice at Goshen College.