What’s so important about community anyways? A lot.

Campus candlelight vigil in Schrock Plaza in 2015

What’s so important about community anyways? A lot. It’s the one word present in our mission, our vision and our core values statement.

Here are three compelling voices on community, and why it matters so much to us.

Sharon Daloz Parks spoke at Goshen College last month in the conference, “Healing the Heart of Higher Education.” The unprecedented challenges that we face, Parks said, require an educational community of “shoulder-to-shoulder mentoring.” To thrive, Parks said, we must seek community that offers us:

  • comfort,
  • challenge,
  • creativity and
  • commitment for the long haul.

These distinct qualities of life-sustaining community are illuminating and attractive. How are you experiencing community in terms of these qualities? Are any particularly strong or lacking?

The conference was also an opportunity to reconnect with Parker Palmer, one of my personal guiding lights. At a crucial time in my life, Parker’s writings reminded me that heart and soul are inextricably woven into education, whether or not we are conscious of it. I would not be at Goshen College were it not for this personal awakening, and the opportunity to experiment with his practices in my prior work at Cornell University.

Palmer views community as “something different from gathering endlessly to ‘share’ and ‘solve problems.’” He continues:

“Long before community can be manifest in outward relationships, it must be present in the individual as “a capacity for connectedness” — a capacity to resist the forces of disconnection with which our culture and our psyches are riddled . . . .”

Yes, the forces of disconnection seem frighteningly strong these days, in our culture and in our psyches. How do we resist these forces and form in ourselves and our students this capacity for connectedness?

Some clues are found in David Brooksmost recent book, The Second Mountain: The Quest for a Moral Life. (A special thanks to Phyllis Miller ’55, who pointed me to a passage about community around the same time that I had packed this book to take on vacation.) Brooks argues that the moral life arises from thick communities that have characteristics such as these: members meet face-to-face, often in cramped settings, incorporate music into their life together and have idiosyncratic cultures. Most importantly, Thick communities are oriented around a shared moral cause.” Goshen College is that.

Community is foundational to Goshen College, beloved and imperfect as we are, and for good reason.

Rebecca Stoltzfus