Twice a week, Vice President for Student Life Bill Born pushes
his tray through the food lines in Westlawn Dining Hall, selects
his entrée and then asks a random table of students if
he can pull up a chair. During the past year – his first
at Goshen College – he has never sensed that he was unwelcome.
He looks forward to connecting with students in the midst of their
day-to-day lives, to the point of feeling the loss of that contact
if he misses a few days.
“I can feel the distance if I haven’t been there,
and I know I need to go get lunch,” Born said. He invites
them to get to know him better, too, over food. With his wife,
Shawna, and three children, he has hosted 10 groups of students
for a meal (one small group house reciprocated, inviting the Borns
to a group dinner).
The dean of students also attends a wide range of campus events
– from athletic contests to theater, student-led campus
worship to Kick-Off. “This is a college campus where students
are the highest priority. And to understand students, you have
to see what they’re doing and hear what they’re thinking
about. I can’t fathom coming to campus from 8 to 5 and not
having that kind of contact,” Born said.
Born has developed his philosophy of relationships throughout
a career spent working with young people, beginning even before
his graduation from Tabor College where he majored in Bible and
philosophy. For three years he explored youth ministry and church
leadership as a youth pastor at Ebenfeld Mennonite Brethren Church
(Hillsboro, Kan.). He then returned to Tabor as an admissions
counselor and assistant director and also coached men’s
tennis. From 1995 to 1999, Born served as chair of the Southern
District Mennonite Brethren Church Conference youth commission.
His experiences with the church conference were helpful in relating
to a range of people, from senior pastors to fourth- and fifth-grade
students at a camp he facilitated. He earned a master’s
degree in student personnel, higher education administration and
counseling at Emporia State University.
Born then was called by Bethel College (Newton, Kan.) to become
its associate dean for student development. He finds administration
in the Christian college context to be a strong vocational fit.
Born has also found satisfaction in his first year at Goshen College
as head of the Student Life division. “As I reflect back
on the numerous opportunities both in church leadership, at Tabor
and Bethel, it’s clear to me that each step through my faith
and vocational journey has informed and led me to this opportunity
at Goshen,” said Born.
“I’ve felt a warm welcome from the administration,
faculty and staff, as a newcomer and also as someone with something
to contribute,” he continued. “There is openness here
to new ideas.”
Born oversees areas of housing, career consulting, counseling,
learning assistance, new student orientation, recreation-fitness
center, wellness and health center, campus retention, student
activities and clubs and campus ministries. He considers all of
these areas within a broader framework of relationships.
“On a campus this size, you are known. Students recognize
that there are meaningful connections to be made here. They know
that ‘people around here care about me, and I’ve found
our students are very easy to connect with,” he said. “They
are going to experience and explore values of grace, tolerance
and patience here.”
Born said those virtues are particularly important as the issues
that come to bear in students’ lives have become increasingly
complex as they wrestle with how they will live as individuals
and in community. We are not always presented with choices that
are obviously right or wrong, he said. “Life is not clear
cut – so we have to weigh implications and consider our
values, and it’s not always a simple thing to do,”
he said. In getting to know students, he continued, there is the
opportunity to see them as whole people who are not seeking to
be divisive, but to find their own paths.
“If I create an ‘us’ and ‘them’
scenario, then I set the stage for a difficult outcome. Putting
relationships first is a philosophy that allows me to engage students
in a meaningful way. ” he said. “When I was a student
at Tabor, I had mentors who placed relationships above the authoritative
role. I want to emulate them in showing that we aren’t all
right or all wrong all the time but that we can talk about choices
and changes when we are forthright and honest in the context of
an ongoing relationship.”
And there are plenty of examples of how each day brings the opportunity
for conversations, committees and decisions made in the context
of a “student-centered” philosophy. In the past several
months, Born has worked with a committee examining student housing
issues, which have resulted in firm plans – the work begins
this summer – for residence hall renovations for Kratz,
Miller and Yoder, including blueprints for connecting all three
buildings and creating new meeting, eating and lounging spaces
as well as upgraded restrooms and individual living spaces.
“We have some exciting plans that really address student
interests and needs,” said Born, “and that’s
our job. What we do is not an end in itself, but meaning is found
in how we engage one another.”