This article originally appeared in the Spring/Summer 2019 issue of The Bulletin.
BY PRESIDENT REBECCA STOLTZFUS ’83
I AM CONVINCED that we — Goshen College — cannot achieve our mission without our collective and conscious work toward diversity, equity and inclusion.
What are the foundation and cornerstones of the house we want to build at Goshen College?
The foundation of this house — that we are created in the image of God — makes every one of us deeply beloved and unspeakably precious. If we do not speak about it and be reminded of it in our words, rituals and social arrangements, we know what happens. In every time and culture, people who are not grounded in universal human sacredness regress toward bias and discrimination and in the extreme, genocide. Our need for affirmation, our hunger for worthiness, is so profound, that without healthy religion or some other way to stay grounded on this foundation, we create a false worthiness by thinking that people like us are more worthy than others.
Upon this foundation, I want to place four cornerstones that further define the nature and motivations of our world house.
The first cornerstone is truth seeking.
Because of our biases and our highly subjective nature as humans, approaching a question or an event or a thing from multiple viewpoints is the most effective way for us to seek the truth.
At its best, our truth-seeking conversations include diversities of experience, intelligence, identity and academic discipline. And the conversations advance our understanding through creative conflict, not competition or dominance. Research shows us that diverse groups make better decisions than groups that are less diverse.
The second cornerstone is social mobility and economic thriving.
Goshen College transforms communities, and that means enabling all families and citizens to enter the social economy. At Goshen, 58 percent of our traditional undergraduate students are relatively low-income, defined by eligibility for Federal Pell or Stafford Loans. Thirty percent of our first-year students are first-generation college students.
And education is the most effective way to get people into better careers and thus better lives. The lifetime wage difference of someone with a bachelor’s degree compared to someone with a high school diploma is around $1 million.
The third cornerstone is the sheer joy of human connection.
The greatest source of happiness in life is human relationships and connection. Inclusion means belonging to a campus environment in which people are welcomed, accepted by and connected to one another. If we are increasingly able to be open to one another, to connect and belong to one another, we will be more joyful. In a welcoming community, diversity is a source of surprise, wonder and discovery.
The fourth cornerstone is justice.
While it is true that we crave self-worth and self-affirmation, it is also true that we long for justice. We know in our bones and in our hearts that the injustices in our society are wrong, and they hurt us all. We are called to be a college where injustice is revealed and remedied.
Our vision is to seek inclusive community and transformative justice in all that we do. And to do that we need to teach and learn about historical and present forces that perpetuate injustice, as well as creative social movements and action that dismantle oppression.
This work is not easy. And it is not comfortable. We will make mistakes. And so we will learn and we will do better. And it will be highly rewarding, both personally and collectively. Let’s build this house together.
OUR WORKING DEFINITIONS OF DIVERSITY, EQUITY AND INCLUSION
DIVERSITY is the sum of the ways that people are both different and similar. Diversity has many dimensions that intersect in a wide variety of ways; these dimensions include race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, language, culture, religion, mental and physical ability, class, immigration status and others.
EQUITY entails an intentional focus to reduce disparities in opportunities, experiences and outcomes for all members of the campus community. Equity is expressed in a commitment to address historical and current manifestations of social bias and exclusion, including the ways in which social arrangements disadvantage some groups and legitimate others.
INCLUSION means belonging to a campus environment in which people are welcomed, accepted and connected to one another. Community members come together in friendly, caring and authentic ways, and have opportunities to participate in community life and its ongoing evolution.
This article was adapted from President Stoltzfus’ remarks during convocation on Jan. 16, 2019. The full text of the speech is available online.