The Center for Community Engagement hosted Goshen College’s first-ever African-American open house on Nov. 18. There were five students in attendance, all of whom were juniors and seniors from local high schools.

While the admissions portion of the day were similar to any other open house, several activities set the occasion apart. Lawrence Giden, specialized community engagement coordinator and organizer of the event, explained one such event as “a presentation from Black Student Union regarding student activism on campus and the importance of knowing who you are as an African-American, even at a predominantly white institution.” 

Jakyra Green, a senior secondary English education major and the BSU president, explained that her understanding of the goal for the event was “recruiting and empowering African-American high school students.” 

She elaborated on this idea by explaining the importance of representation for current Black students: “Even when it feels like there are limited opportunities for us,” Green said, “they deserve to take up spaces that were not made with us in mind and can do whatever they set their minds to.”

Green saw this as a good opportunity in many ways: “I even brought my little sister along who is exploring college options. She enjoyed it!”

Jesse Loewen, member of the Black faculty and staff fellowship and assistant director of the Academic Success Center, also gave a talk titled “It Takes a Village: The Importance of Black Faculty/Staff at a PWI.” In it, he discussed his own experience as well as the role of the Academic Success Center. 

When considering the unique opportunities presented, Giden said even though “the open house was an event, it seemed like a conference as well because it allowed the African-American community to come together on a college campus and discuss issues relevant to us.” 

Giden was responsible for founding this inaugural event, and Green emphasized that he was one who spearheaded the planning. 

While she considered the event a success, Green expressed some frustrations with the college’s involvement in orchestrating similar initiatives. 

“My ultimate hope,” Green said, “is that while the Black students and faculty do the work in empowering Black youth and students on campus, the institution at GC also actively participates in such initiatives. It should not always be left to [BSU] to empower the Black community. The institution, too, should play a role in empowering and supporting current and future Black students.”

The tour for the day started from the Juanita Lark Welcome Center, an intentional choice by Giden, since “[she] was the first African-American to graduate from Goshen College in 1943. The Welcome Center is named in her memory.” He wanted to give students a chance to see themselves reflected at GC and make explicitly clear that they have a place here.  

Giden connected the mission of the open house to the mission of the college, explaining how they are one and the same. 

“We are doing justice,” he said, “and justice is God’s business. We’re letting the African-American community know that Goshen College’s house is open to you.”