Subversive ideas that have made us better

On the day that “A Mennonite College for Everyone(?): Goshen College and the quest for identity and inclusion, 1960-2020” came off the presses, (left to right) President Stoltzfus, author John D. Roth and Academic Dean Ann Vendrely posed with the new book.

The late American historian Carl Becker wrote about higher education:

“To establish centers of learning on the assumption that, properly supervised, no subversive ideas will be generated in them is to take a great risk.”  

It is no secret and no surprise: Goshen College has been in many ways subverted – turned from below – by our inquiring and passionate students and faculty and the transformational changes they have brought about. John D. Roth, professor emeritus of history and a leading Anabaptist-Mennonite scholar, illuminates and honors that history in: A Mennonite College for Everyone(?): Goshen College and the quest for identity and inclusion, 1960-2020.

The scope of his work is unusually broad, even for a history that deals with diversity. He opens with the founding of the college in 1894 and then turns his attention to the years after 1960, focusing not only on the topic of race, but also religious norms, gender, sexuality, nationality, ethnicity and politics. It is truly a rollicking read! A good place to start is the epilogue, where John reflects on his own journey through this history.

The stories in this book are very human – in turns dismaying and hopeful, but always soul-stirring. I was moved and fascinated by the vivid accounts and quotations from past leaders struggling to hold the tensions between stakeholders: governing boards, faculty, alumni, church leaders, community members and the students whom we serve. At times the tensions cannot be held. Relationships are painfully severed; obligations to long-held norms and beliefs are released, allowing for growth and new possibilities. Transformation happens, with its various consequences.

In my experience, one of the necessary consequences of transformation may be apology. Goshen College has caused hurt and harm through our exclusions – sometimes unwitting or unintentional, but nonetheless real. Leadership entails owning those harms. Jesus calls us to repentance, and to say we are sorry for our harms and failures in private or in public or both is a part of organizational leadership, especially for those of us who seek to follow Christ.

As it turns out, our deceptively simple founding motto of “Culture for Service” inspired by Jesus as the One who serves (Luke 22:27), continually transforms and challenges us, because the world we serve is dynamic and filled with magnificent diversity. That world is not external to our learning community; the world has become a part of us, and that is good.

Jesus had a big heart for inclusion, reconciliation and justice. Indeed, if the ministry of reconciliation is at the heart of our Christian vocation, our most radical calling is to go deeper — not thinner — on our Anabaptist-Mennonite commitments and how they compel our work toward inclusion and justice. At GC our vision is that: Rooted in the way of Jesus, we seek inclusive community and transformative justice in all that we do.

I recommend the book highly; it will draw you in and expand your heart for our students and the leaders who have stewarded our mission through our storied history.

Rebecca Stoltzfus

Where to purchase

“A Mennonite College for Everyone(?)” may be purchased for $19.99 in paperback at:

All proceeds from the sale of this book will go to support diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives for students on campus.