A truth-seeking community

This presidential column originally appeared in the Spring/Summer 2024 issue of The Bulletin.

By REBECCA J. STOLTZFUS ’83President of Goshen College

WHAT ARE YOU curious about? What questions are you asking, and how do you reach a satisfying answer?

It is a GC tradition that on one day in April, all regular classes are set aside as students and faculty present their various questions and pursuits of truth in our Academic Symposium. This year marked the 25th anniversary of this tradition and celebrated the work of many mentors and 146 student presenters. That is extraordinary!

One of the beautiful aspects about a liberal arts college is the multitude of questions being asked by our students and faculty, as well as the variety of approaches used to pursue them. A liberal arts education affirms the breadth of our curiosity and liberates us from fear of our questions and the answers we might find.

Parker Palmer, an author and friend who writes about education, leadership, spirituality and social change, describes truth as “an eternal conversation about things that matter, conducted with passion and discipline. . . .” The things that matter to our students are wide-ranging — from music pedagogy to genetic replication to the nature of evil. The academic disciplines teach us practices and standards for making inferences and holding conversations about truth.

This eternal conversation happens in our laboratories as well as our ecological and social communities. And it is ongoing in our classrooms. Teaching is a vocation that is terribly demanding — and often delightful. This creative delight is possible when, in the words of Paulo Freire, a Brazilian educator and philosopher:

“The teacher is no longer merely the-one-who-teaches, but one who is taught in dialogue with the students, who in turn — while being taught — also teaches. They become jointly responsible for a process in which all grow.”

I have immense respect for our faculty. In their classrooms, our students learn to listen deeply, to be curious about differences and to create a conversational space when questions become uncomfortable. A Goshen education fosters respect for the intrinsic worth of every member of our campus community, and also our freedom to ask challenging questions and speak opposing views.

May questions abound, and may we pursue them fearlessly and with discipline. Because learning is joy.