China is a wonderful country. I spent two months there and was astounded by the hospitality and kindness of everyone I met. I will look back on my SST experience positively. I will miss the food and the friends and my families. I will even miss the insanely hectic traffic and ceaseless honking.Unfortunately, there will always be some regret coupled with my great feelings about SST. I feel regret because the rest of my group is still in China. I am back in Goshen as I was recently dismissed from SST in China due to alcohol use. Even though I have returned early, I will be able to finish my semester for full credit. I am very grateful for this opportunity.
Nevertheless, I feel I am being unfairly punished, so I want to tell you my story. I do not intend for this to be only self-serving. While I do wish to dispel rumors and clarify the events that led to my return to Goshen, the true purpose of this perspective is to encourage critical thought and discussion regarding policy at Goshen College. I want others to scrutinize the ways that the administration adheres to, interprets and implements the core values of Goshen College. This is not purely self-serving because if this situation happened to someone else I would feel the same way that I do now. I am not bitter only because I am the one being punished. I am bitter because I feel this punishment reflects poorly on the administration’s conformance to the core values.
One weekend night during the study portion, a large group of us decided to go out to some bars. One of these students foolishly decided to sneak out of her/his host house. Naturally, the host family freaked out and called everyone, including the police. In the end, all twelve of us involved were punished because we had been with the student and drinking alcohol, even though the rest of us made it home safely and in a timely manner. We were given a fierce warning, which stated: “One more call in the night equals a ticket home.”
The message was clear. We were only allowed to drink if it was offered to us by Chinese people and we were not to become inebriated. In short, we were not to do anything stupid related to alcohol that would result in a call in the night.
Part two of the story describes my second call in the night. One evening in my service portion, some students in a restaurant wanted to talk to a friend and me because we spoke English. We chatted with them for a bit and they offered me some alcohol. I accepted and had plenty. I made it back home safely without issue, well before my curfew. My host father then woke me about an hour later and told me the friend I had been with was missing. S/he had been locked out of the apartment and my dad and I must have just missed him/her when we searched. My host father called our leaders and the university in China. He mentioned that I had been drinking and was drunk. The powers-that-be reacted swiftly. Within a day, my leader came and interviewed me. A few days later, I was told I was going home.
After the decision was made, my host father felt terrible. Drinking is much more culturally acceptable in China, as it is in most SST locations. For this reason, my father did not care that I had been drinking; he was simply concerned for the safety of another student. To him, my alcohol consumption wasn’t important to the story. He had simply mentioned it offhand. His exact words, which he repeated over and over, were “I will regret this for the rest of my life.” He still emails me and continues apologizing. He is such a generous and wonderful man; I feel absolutely terrible for him.
I recognize my error in this story. I feel bad for my host father because I know it’s partly my fault. I drank more than I should have. But nothing bad happened as a result of that drinking. In both cases, I drank responsibly and made it home in a timely manner, yet I am now back in Goshen. The real issue is curfew and communication, aspects I did not struggle with in China.
The relationship between Goshen College and the university in China is vital to continuing SST in China, and the first event especially was embarrassing for the university. Given this aspect, I do understand that the Goshen College administration was in a tough position.
In the end, though, the administration used this analogy to explain why I was being punished: “If you are driving while intoxicated and get pulled over for a broken taillight, you will still be arrested for DWI.” This analogy holds no water because Goshen College does not have to follow a strict set of written rules like a police officer does. I want to know where the “Christ-centered” grace and mercy was in this situation. When asked this, one of the administrators responded with a question, wondering, “So where does it end?” Absurd. I think Jesus taught us that legalism does not coincide with true Christian values. Legalism promotes harsh punishments to make examples of wrongdoers. And that is what I am—an example, a warning, a story to tell the next China SST group.
Through all this, I wonder: is it coincidence that violations have increased in the past years and then this happens to me? Is it coincidence that, as my friends and I are hoping to move into a certain apartment next semester, administration instead places a security guard in that exact student apartment?
Zach Clouse wrote a perspective on Oct. 6 that is extremely noteworthy, given the topic of this discussion. He said, and I couldn’t agree more, “I’m deeply saddened by the way this issue has blown up over my time here at Goshen. It’s true that relationships have suffered, but it is not because people are breaking the rules and consuming more alcohol than in the past, which I do not think is happening. Relationships are suffering because the student body feels like we are being restricted.” We are not only being restricted but are living in a legalistic world at Goshen College.
I invite all of us to think critically about what this institution’s policy enforcement means. I want to encourage continuing dialogue about these issues. This story is one event, punishing one person. But what does it say about the agenda of the administration? I hope we can all engage in constructively discussing this question.