At a student forum held in Martin Chapel on Monday, President Loren Swartzendruber explained what many on EMU’s campus already knew. According to Swartzendruber, the university will now start a six month listening process as it examines hiring policies related to sexual orientation. Despite generating buzz on campus, students at the forum expressed concern due to low student attendance.
The forum was kicked off by a summary of SGA activities and an update on the campaign to raise funds for the science center. Faculty, staff, and students who gathered in Martin chapel had come mostly to hear President Swartzendruber speak on the possible changes to the hiring policy.
This fact was underscored by members of Safe Space who stood in the chapel entrance handing out a Safe Space hymn book, and serenaded the chapel with a hymn sing as the forum began. The effect was slightly marred however, as low attendance among Safe Space members meant that the singing was what one attendee described as, “sad.”
When President Swartzendruber began speaking, he reaffirmed EMU’s connection with Mennonite Church USA, and acknowledged the important bonds between the church and the university. However, Swartzendruber pointed out that EMU had academic freedom, stating that, “EMU is not a church, we are an academic institution.”
From there Swartzendruber explained that EMU was revisiting its hiring policies. First, Swartzendruber spoke about the pressure that the policies put on professors, saying, “Professors need to have the freedom to express personal opinions without fears as to employment.”
Swartzendruber then moved on to address the fact that a change in policy would conflict with the Mennonite confession of faith. He pointed out that the confession was founded on multiple articles of faith, and warned that, “We need to be very careful to not focus on any one article as a litmus test of faith.”
Swartzendruber then continued, pointing out that in the past EMU has, “allowed varying opinions on different articles of faith in HR [human resources] and on hiring policy.”
After the forum, students expressed their support for this flexibility. Senior Philip Yoder said, “I think regardless of where you are on the issue, it is refreshing to know that these questions about sexuality are being talked about in a church that has been silent and that individuals are going to be heard during the listening process.”
In a brief time of discussion which followed, students asked questions and raised concerns about the listening process. During this, Senior Mariah Elliot, a member of Safe Space, expressed concern about the negative backlash EMU might suffer from a change to the policy. Sophomore Chris Parks, another Safe Space member, expressed concern that the listening process would only include EMU’s Mennonite population.
Despite this flurry of student involvement at the end, many who attended the event were discouraged to see low student turn out at what many have described as a historical event.
Senior Aaron Erb addressed this, saying, “I appreciate Loren’s dedication to including students in the listening process over these next six months, as this forum indicated a commitment to open discernment. That said, the student turnout was atrocious.”
While Erb was generally supportive of the listening process, he expressed fears that the positive intentions of the process would be derailed by low student involvement. Said Erb, “It is lamentable when students don’t engage in the legislative processes of their institution, but it makes me pretty queasy when students feign interest in this process only to stop short of actually learning about the positions and intents of those in power. Boo EMU.”
This sentiment was echoed by CJP student Patrick Campbell, who said that he was, “surprised by how few people showed up.” Campell also expressed the concern that those in opposition to a change of policy might not speak out because they do not feel that they have a voice on campus.
Despite these obstacles, Campbell expressed hope for the process, but only if students are willing to be involved in it.
Said Campbell, “The most important thing is to create a process which brings different groups together.”
-David Yoder, Co- Editor in Chief
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