Explore EMU's Diversity Timeline

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  • 1910 - 1919
  • 1917: EMC’s mission statement welcomes non-Mennonites.

    Non-Mennonite students are welcome though they must be in agreement with Mennonite principles and cannot hold office in the Young People’s Christian Association (YPCA) or the Alumni Association. Only Mennonite students have mandatory belief classes and a dress code.

  • 1917: First class includes four women and 15 men, all Mennonite.

  • 1917: Elizabeth Heatwole Grove joins four men to form the first faculty.

  • 1920 - 1929
  • 1924: Keeping to the (straight and narrow) path.

    From the catalog: "The Eastern Mennonite School may be counted on to oppose war, secret orders, life insurance, the marriage of Christians to Non Christians, popular athletic contests, movies, theaters, card-playing, pool rooms, dancing, fashionable attire, entanglements in worldly commercialism and political issues."

  • 1930 - 1939
  • 1935: YPCA begins outreach into the local African-American neighborhood, Newtown.

  • 1939: Catalog drops ‘indoctrination’ statement.

    The catalog no longer states the Mennonite Church duty “to indoctrinate and establish her young people in her Articles of Faith and Doctrine Standards.”

  • 1940 - 1949
  • 1940: The first African-American student applies to take Bible courses.

    He is told he will have to do so by correspondence because of “opposition likely to arise between the attitudes of the northern and southern students,” and because the state had ruled against integrated public schooling.

  • 1943: Roberta Webb joins the Mennonite Church.

    The first African-American person to become a Mennonite in Harrisonburg, she is a member at the YPCA-founded Broad Street Mission.

  • 1945: Margaret “Peggy” Webb, one of Roberta's three daughters, applies, but is told to attend Hesston.

  • 1945: Board of Trustees voices sympathy for African-American applicants.

    Faced with African-American applicants, the Board of Trustees states in the minutes, “We feel that at this time it would be unwise to admit such students into the co-educational institution. However we express our heartfelt sympathies for our colored brethren and sisters with their education problems and are ready to open up such measures of opportunity for them as such opportunities are expedient and possible.”

  • 1946: First international students are admitted: a Russian man from Belgium and a brother and sister from China.

  • 1948: Virginia Mennonite Conference cedes authority of the decision to admit African-American students to the Board of Trustees.

    Shortly after, Willis Johnson and five other African-American students enroll at the high school. None finish their degrees.

  • 1949: Roberta Webb is admitted as the first full-time African-American student, but does not attend.

    She transfers to Hesston College, and later graduates from La Junta School of Nursing (Colorado) in 1955.

  • 1950 - 1959
  • 1950: Marjorie Thompson, the first African-American student to live in the residence hall, leaves after one semester.

  • 1952: Peggy Webb Howard is invited to attend by a personal invitation from President John R. Mumaw.

  • 1954: Peggy Webb Howard graduates with a bachelor’s degree in music, social science, and secondary education.

  • 1954: Brown v. Board of Education rules segregation in schools unconstitutional.

  • 1957: Mary Emma Showalter is the first female faculty member to earn a doctorate.

    Then, in 1958, she is the first female to head an academic program (home economics), and become a full professor.

  • 1958: Virginia public schools integrate.

  • 1958: Records show 46 students from 15 countries (excluding Canadian students) had been on campus for a semester or longer.

  • 1959: The Richmond Times-Dispatch notes that among the six Virginia colleges accepting African-American students, EMC was the first.

  • 1960 - 1969
  • 1962: Activists Vincent and Rosemarie Harding visit campus and challenge Mennonites to advocate for racial equity.

  • 1962: The Mennonite Hour radio program amplifies the cause of racial equality and gets community pushback.

  • 1962: Basketball teams representing both the high school and college compete against the African-American students of Lucy Simms High School.

  • 1963: A second visit from the Hardings inspires change in Harrisonburg.

    After the Hardings visit campus and Broad Street Mennonite Church, professors John Lapp and Samuel Horst form a committee largely responsible for the desegregation of Harrisonburg schools and hotels.

  • 1970 - 1979
  • 1971: The YPCA continues outreach to the African American community in Newtown.

    The Shen yearbook records this observation: An elderly African-American man who lives across from Broad Street Mennonite Church thinks EMC has helped in his community. ‘EMC students have been involved with the kids. Mennonites respect African-American people more than any other church group in the area.'

  • 1973: Dorothy M. Harnish is the first female seminary graduate.

  • 1973: Diversity in religious affiliation grows.

    Students come from 13 countries. Approximately 75% are Mennonite, with the remainder of various Christian denominations and including one Jewish student, one Muslim student and 61 with “no church listed.”

  • 1980 - 1989
  • 1980: Dr. Abraham Davis, first African-American professor, directs the Cross-Cultural Center for five years.

  • 1983: The Multi-Ethnic Student Union is formed.

  • 1984: Dorothy Jean Weaver is the first female full-time faculty member of the seminary.

  • 1985: Lee Snyder becomes academic dean after serving as interim dean the prior year.

  • 1990 - 1999
  • 1993: Lee Snyder is acting president.

  • 1994: Beryl Brubaker is the first woman to serve in a vice president's role.

  • 1996: Latino Student Alliance is formed.

  • 1997: EMU graduates 70 American students of color.

  • 1998: A small group of faculty, staff, and community members begin an off-campus group called Open Door, a support group especially aimed at LGBTQ EMU students and their supporters.

  • 1999: Nancy Heisey becomes the first female full-time faculty in the Bible and religion department.

  • 2000 - 2009
  • 2000: In February, 18 EMU faculty and staff sign a letter that was published in the Mennonite Weekly Review calling upon the Mennonite churches to be more welcoming.

  • 2000: Black Student Union takes the place of the Multi-Ethnic Student Union.

  • 2003: Beryl Brubaker is interim president for six months.

  • 2005: A Black Student Union reunion attracts 25 alumni.

  • 2006: EMU graduates 148 American students of color.

  • 2006: Descendants of slaves and slave owners unite.

    Coming To The Table, an affiliate program of the Center for Justice and Peacebuilding, is formed. The nation-wide organization brings together descendants of slave and slave-owners to address racial division, history and healing.

  • 2007: Sara Wenger Shenk is vice president and dean of the seminary.

  • 2009: Safe Space is approved by the Student Government Association. The group provides “an open and loving space affirming people of all sexual orientations. We long to engage respectfully with students, faculty and administrators as a presence in our community for the Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Questioning community, creating safe dialogue regarding the issue of sexual orientation.”

  • 2010 - Present
  • 2010: Abraham’s Tent, a center for interfaith dialogue, is founded.

    The organization continues today as the Center for Interfaith Engagement.

  • 2012: Dr. David Evans, a Methodist, is the seminary’s first full-time professor of another faith tradition and also the first African-American seminary professor.

  • 2013: ‘Listening Process’ begins.

    After growing community concerns about employment decisions based on sexual orientation, the Board of Trustees authorizes a “Listening Process” to determine whether or not the hiring policy should be altered in regards to faculty and staff in covenanted same-sex relationships.

  • 2015: ‘Listening Process’ ends; hiring policy updated.

  • 2015: The Diversity Task Force is founded.

  • 2015: The first Donning of the Kente ceremony is held to celebrate accomplishments of graduating students of color.

  • 2016: EMU hosts the National Gathering and 10th anniversary celebrations of Coming to the Table.

  • 2016: Lee Snyder is interim president for six months.

  • 2016: Embracing Diversity is the theme of the fall faculty/staff conference.

  • 2017: Three students join Kappa Alpha Psi, Inc., under a sponsoring chapter at Virginia University Lynchburg.

  • 2017: Susan Schultz Huxman becomes the university's first female president.

  • 2017: Our Diversity Grows

    More than fifty denominations and faith traditions in addition to Mennonite are part of the EMU community. More than 50 unique countries of citizenship are represented for all currently enrolled students. Approximately 37% of the student body are students of color.