Students and administrators convened in the Wyse student lounge on Tuesday, Jan. 30 to discuss President Rebecca Stoltzfus’ strategic plan in the first Open Space of the semester.Open Space, spearheaded by Corie Steinke, associate director of community life, and Jason Shenk, leader of the People’s History of Elkhart organization, is a time “dedicated to engaging in conversation on issues such as poverty, racial justice, equity, and campus climate both on campus and in the Goshen/Elkhart community.”
“Open Space was born out of conversation between Student Life and the Poor People’s Campaign of Elkhart,” Steinke said. “There has been a strong demand for space to talk safely and openly about various areas of social justice. What we’d been seeing was a demand from students but a lack of initiative to make something consistent happen.”
Those in attendance during Tuesday’s meeting were members of Student Senate, as well as Steinke, Shenk, Donald Brown, an Elkhart community leader, and Gilberto Perez, dean of students.
While the discussion focused on President Stoltzfus’ strategic plan, the conversation drifted to the division between Mennonite and non-Mennonite students on campus, and how administration and students might bridge that gap.
Vanessa Chavarria, sophomore and Student Senate representative said, “It [was] a great place to talk to friends or others about things that concern the campus.”
Other topics discussed include students’ engagement in the surrounding community and how to create a more connected Goshen College campus.
While Shenk and Steinke have many goals for Open Space, Steinke said, “One hope is that we equip students with skills based from the conversational aspects of Open Space to continue to be engaged in their communities whether they live in Goshen forever or not.”
Another hope is that the GC community will become a more inclusive space.
Steinke finds a lot of value in sitting down and discuss hard topics with those she might not agree with, and thinks GC students should too.
“Students are going to graduate and leave campus and may never have been challenged to think in the capacity Open Space asks them to do,” Steinke said. “ Learning from others, critical thinking, thoughtful discussion, engagement, etc. are all going to be necessary and needed skills now and later in life.”
While Tuesday’s meeting only had Student Senate representatives present, all students are welcome to join Open Space. The next Open Space event will take place on Feb. 14 at 5 p.m. The topic of the evening will be “Your Body on the Line for Love?” Students will “reflect on for [their] family and community, love for [themselves] and liberation - and the decisions we make for love.”