the Goshen College Bulletin | Alumni magazine since 1956

It’s all in the relationships: Bill Born

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.”

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