President Stoltzfus speaks during the opening convocation

President’s Speech: Propositions for Global Citizenship

Fall Opening Convocation message, delivered by Dr. Rebecca Stoltzfus, President of Goshen College, on Wednesday, Aug. 29, 2018, in the Goshen College Church-Chapel (as prepared for delivery)


» See photos from the applause tunnel and presidential dunking following the opening convocation

» Read more about the opening convocation

Fifty years ago this fall, on Sept 12, 1968, our first official Study-Service Term, or SST, units left for Costa Rica, Guadalupe and Jamaica.

In the year that the first Big Mac was sold for 49 cents, that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated, and the first Boeing 747 was flown, Goshen College made international education a required part of our core curriculum, with our own faculty leading groups of students in a full academic term of experiential learning in nations that are very different from this one.

This was a phenomenal commitment and innovation for any U.S. college or university at that time, and continues to make Goshen College outstanding today.

This year, as we celebrate 50 years of SST and imagine its future, it is fitting and exciting to focus on our core value of global citizenship.

So let’s start by thinking about these two combined words, and I want to start with the noun. Citizenship is a word with several layers of meaning.

Legal citizenship involves geographic and political boundaries around certain rights and privileges; access to security, resources, freedom. Citizens have a voice.

In these days, so characterized by nationalistic fervor, citizenship brings up strong emotions.

And so I want you to know that regardless of your geopolitical citizenship, at Goshen College you are all citizens of this campus community. You are citizens with full access to security, resources, freedom of this place. You have a voice.

We welcome students from any nation. This year, our student body is comprised of citizens of 28 countries, and 37 of our United States. Unlike most colleges and universities in the U.S., we provide financial aid to students from any nation of origin. At Goshen College, we also welcome students who are undocumented in the United States. To our DACA and undocumented students, we will walk with you, support you and advocate for your rights.

The core value that we claim at Goshen College is global citizenship - a concept not defined by the borders of nations. There is no legal body that gives you global citizenship.

By global citizenship, we also mean something different from one’s inherent rights and dignity as a human being. We hold the worth of each human being to be intrinsic; in the words of the U.S. constitution, unalienable. But that’s not all that we mean in this core value.

Our core value of global citizenship is something that one learns and grows into, or not. We are saying that we intend to learn and grow in this way.

My experience of global citizenship at Goshen College set me on a path that has unfolded throughout my lifetime. Let me begin with a couple of stories.

Opening Convocation, fall 2018

Valuing cultural knowledge

As a researcher, I study the causes and consequences of malnutrition in families, especially in women and children living in low-income communities around the world.

A part of my research is about how babies are fed. Everywhere around the world, mothers and other caregivers have very strong cultural views about how to take care of babies. And so I sometimes find myself in the position of persuading mothers and others to do scientific “best practices” that run counter to their own cultural traditions.

My training at research universities taught me that scientific knowledge is true. But many people understand cultural knowledge as true. We in the West tend to relegate culture to non-science. Notice, for example, that we sometimes refer to cultural practices as “old wives’ tales.” A put-down, by the way, that combines age-ism and sexism; associating truth with being young and male.

How does this relate to global citizenship? I believe in the power of scientific methods and the use of evidence to inform my views. But I have also come to see that my western scientific worldview is one worldview amongst many, and it is one created and promulgated by former colonial powers, and it is not the only one that matters to people’s well-being. Cultural knowledge is also a source of truth, and cultural dignity matters. I believe that health services and health education need to be designed with cultural knowledge and dignity at the core. And that means investing the time to learn deeply about the cultural beliefs of the people I am serving.

Another story comes from my teaching. In my previous work at Cornell University, we developed a global health experiential learning program in the Dominican Republic. Our lead partner was Dr. Angel Pichardo, who is a physician and sociologist. He is also a community organizer in his home neighborhood, where he has created a holistic alternative medicine clinic to serve the low-income families there. His clinic is truly an oasis, offering yoga, reiki, Chi Gong and warm friendship. When we invited him to our campus to lecture in our global health courses, he looked at our syllabus and immediately posed a challenging question: Why is it that in a course called global health you teach only western perspectives?

Huh! I was so immersed in western medicine, that hadn’t even occurred to me!

Seeing from other points of view

So what does it mean for Goshen College to hold global citizenship as a core value?

My first proposition is that Global citizenship entails empathy and imagination - the capacity to see from the others’ point of view.

Global citizenship is not about international travel and racking up visa pages in your passport. There are world travelers that are not global citizens, and there are global citizens that are not world travelers.

As we grow up, part of being human is to be trained in the ways of our family and our culture. We need this cultural blanket to feel secure—especially during childhood.

But from this place of security, to be educated toward global citizenship, we need also to move outside of our home culture—whether that is primarily defined by family, by racial, ethnic or religious group, or by nation.

Travelling into unknown cultures is perhaps the most powerful form of education known. This view is held across centuries and across the globe, from the Persians to the Chinese, from Jesus to Mohamed.

The prophet Mohamed said: Don’t tell me how educated you are, tell me how much you travelled.

Journeys into unknown cultures can be deeply transformative, giving us the perspective to see from another’s point of view. And if we do not shrink from it, to feel the profound disorientation of that. Like looking into an M.C. Escher painting. What is up and what is down? Where is my ground?

From this point of disorientation, we can see our home culture from a new perspective, even as a foreign land. And we have the opportunity to find a new ground of our own being and identity that is not so dependent on our home culture.

Henry David Thoreau said, “not until we are lost do we begin to understand ourselves.”

To state this personally, cultural dislocation enables me to see that my beloved home culture and traditions are one amongst many, each with its brilliance and blind spots. And to discover that part of me who is Becky in whatever context I may find myself. Yes, I adapt and acculturate, but I am me wherever I am in the world, and I know how to honor and care for myself, while also stretching and adapting to honor and care for those I encounter.

See and feel the connections

My second proposition is that global citizens are trained to see and feel the connections between things. Connections direct and indirect, positive and negative, between our daily lives and those of other people nearby and in distant parts of the world.

And as we see these connections, to explore the ethical obligations that follow from those connections. We are changed as our knowledge grows. We are willing to use or even to sacrifice the rights and privileges of our individual citizenship in order to be a good neighbor - trusting that ultimately this will not diminish our lives, but enrich us.

Global citizenship in this time of ecological crisis brings up obligations toward the planet—and not just the humans, but Earth herself, her species and ecosystems.

And in our present moment, when we see nationalism ascending as a social force and ideology not only in this country but in many world nations, global citizenship means being willing to name unjust ways, often based on race, that the U.S. and other nation states have created structures of “citizenship” that continue to oppress others that we deem to be “not really like us” or as deserving as us.

Encouraging transformative justice

My third proposition is that global citizens encourage in one another the disposition and skills to act on those obligations in the interests of transformative justice.

Global citizens have a posture of humility that respects the culture of where you are, whether or not it is your home culture. It means tolerating and even honoring other ways of doing things—not assuming your way is natural or superior. And, at the same time, being willing to share your own values and traditions. Being OK with ambiguity. Offering generous hospitality and warm welcome to other people and other ideas. Being brave. Taking the steps to learn from your travels.

This kind of learning is more likely to happen if we intentionally approach the world with open curiosity. We see reality with clear eyes, but we also seek and expect to find elements of goodness, of beauty. And that is more likely if we are conscious of the beauty and goodness that we carry within ourselves.

Just as the Hindu greeting namaste is often translated as “The divine in me greets the divine in you,” we might approach to the world as “The goodness in me seeks the goodness in you.” “The beauty in me seeks the beauty in you.”

Let me end with a story from my home, told with permission.

When my daughter Lydia was in fifth grade and my son Gabe was in third, for Earth Day, Lydia was assigned to gather certain information about our house and lifestyle, and at school they entered it into a website that calculated our environmental footprint. That afternoon, they walked home from school together and Lydia was explaining this to Gabe. I met Gabe at the door and he was in tears:

“Lydia told me that the world was going to run out of natural resources in 40 years!”

And in my haste to comfort him, I said, “No, Gabe, what Lydia meant is that the world would run out of natural resources if everyone in the world lived like we live. But many many people in the world don’t live like we do. People in Africa don’t use nearly as many natural resources as we do.

Gabe said, “Mom, I’m so glad for those people in Africa. “

And then I realized that the conversation could not end there. And I said, “But there is a problem, Gabe. Those people in Africa don’t want to live like that. They want to live like we do.”

This work takes courage

And so we need to change the way we act; the way we live and work. The biggest part of our carbon footprint at that time was my frequent international travel, to work in global health. Hmm. To see the connections.

I feel that the task of my generation—a task yet unfinished—is muster the courage to be truthful about the depth of the environmental problems we face. To be able to see them, name them, measure them, honestly and truthfully. It will be your generation who will make the discoveries and breakthroughs that might make the earth sustainable for ALL of us. Not to let my generation off the hook—you need us to do our work. But, oh, how we need you.

All of this takes courage. Our most limited resources are not money or airfares or even visas; they are compassion, imagination and courage. It takes what the environmental teacher, Joanna Macy, calls Active Hope. She writes:

“To play our best part, we need to counter the voices that say we’re not up to the task, that we’re not good enough, strong enough, or wise enough to make any difference. If we fear that the mess we’re in is too awful to look at or that we won’t be able to cope with the distress it brings up, we need to find a way through that fear. “

I hope that Goshen College offers you a community of global citizens—a community of travelers, actors, practitioners, and thinkers—who educate you, and in the midst of whom you know that you are not alone. A community that gives you courage.

This community of people is a crucial part of the Goshen curriculum. Can we educate each other to become more courageous, imaginative and connected?

I want you to travel during your years at Goshen College—to travel and learn in other cultures, perhaps in another country, perhaps in the Florida Keys, the L.A. Film School, or as an “outsider student” in the Elkhart County Jail in our Inside-Out May Term. Perhaps sharing a meal or hanging out in an apartment or family home or dorm room of another Goshen student whose home culture is very different from your own. I want us all to always remember that we are a community living in and around Goshen comprised of students from 37 states and 28 countries, and that for many, Goshen College is the most disorienting and challenging place they have ever experienced. Let us approach one another with care and respect, seeking beauty and goodness in each other.

See the connections. Explore the obligations arising from those connections. Act in the interests of justice. Global citizenship at Goshen College begins right here.