Regina Shands Stoltzfus, professor of peace, justice, and conflict studies, has been awarded the Indiana Civil Rights Commission’s 2016 Spirit of Justice Award, the commission’s highest honor.According the ICRC’s website, the award was created to recognize those “who have devoted their personal and professional efforts to creating social justice in the State of Indiana.”
The Spirit of Justice Award recognizes individuals “who have made significant contributions to the advancement of all Hoosiers and maintain a focus on achieving equality,” who “promote peace within their community, understand and improve communication, and facilitate cooperation between diverse populations,” and encourage leadership in “education, civil rights or the provision of significant social services.”
In the words of John Roth, professor of history, the award is “well-deserved recognition” reflecting Regina’s “steady, stubborn, steely, gracious commitment to anti-racism, creative pedagogy and reconciliation in settings of injustice.”
Keith Graber Miller, professor of Bible, religion and philosophy, expressed his gratefulness to have her as a Wyse 3 colleague. “She is wholly deserving of the award [due to] her contributions to justice-making at the college, local, state and national level,” he said.
Shands Stoltzfus credits her home congregation, Lee Heights Community Church in Cleveland, for fostering the connection between social justice and faith. Her passion for social justice was further influenced by the local and global social justice work of members in her congregation. Her service in Thai refugee camps at the age of 19 prompted her journey to “understand the rippling effects of violence.”
Another source of inspiration comes from Shands Stoltzfus’s mother. She worked toward social justice in her own way, by publishing children’s books representing African American characters and history, which was generally inaccessible in the 1970s.
Shands Stotzfus’s son, Josh Stoltzfus, is currently a Goshen College junior. He said, “She’s always been steadfast in her work and teaching; especially in shaping the people my siblings and I are today. I feel as though the older I get, the more she has to teach me.”
Shands Stoltzfus has held multiple leadership positions in organizations that work toward social justice in her career as an educator and advocate.
“I love to work with people who are drawn to justice for people in marginalized groups, and who are committed to doing that systemically,” she said.
Besides currently serving on the steering committee for the Women in Leadership Project through Mennonite Church USA, she is also involved in projects with Christian Peacemaker Teams and Brethren Mennonite for LGBT interest (BMC).
Shands Stoltzfus co-founded the Roots of Justice Anti-Oppression Program (previously called the Damascus Road anti-racism education program), and stays involved by leading regular anti-racism workshops.
“Developing Damascus Road with a collective group of people who have the same passion for anti-racism has been very life-giving,” Shands Stoltzfus said. “It allowed me to meet and work with some brilliant, dedicated
She also is the co-author of the book, “Set Free: A Journey Toward Solidarity
Steve Nolt, professor of history, said that Shands Stoltzfus is “one of the wisest teachers on campus,” with a “sense of how to engage students, when to push and when to hold back, and simply what is needed for real learning to take place.”
Shands Stoltzfus’s students agree. “I can’t think of anyone more deserving of this award than Regina,” said Dominique Chew, a 2015 Goshen College graduate.
The ceremony for her award will take place Thursday, Jan. 14 at the Indiana State House and at Goshen College during the Martin Luther King Jr. Day festivities on Monday, Jan. 18.
Shands Stoltzfus has some advice for Goshen College students who are interested in making social change.
“Make sure you make space for joy in your life,” she said. “Your passion for justice won’t sustain itself without joy.”