About EMU

A History of Eastern Mennonite University

EMU offers a four-year liberal arts undergraduate program, more than a dozen graduate and professional degree programs and trainings, and is home to the Center for Justice and Peacebuilding, Eastern Mennonite Seminary, and the Center for Interfaith Engagement.

2017-18 is our centennial year

Check out an interactive timeline to learn more about our history.

Beginning in 1917 as a small Bible academy of the Mennonite Church on the outskirts of town where the church’s young people would be protected from the larger society, EMU has transformed to a thriving university that prepares students for professions that serve the community and the world.


In addition to excellent academic preparation for careers in fields such as nursing, education, visual and communication arts and engineering, EMU has been committed throughout its history to preparing students for service.

For example, during World War II many EMU students served in Civilian Public Service in mental health institutions, ultimately transforming the mental health care system in the United States.

Today nearly 20,000 EMU graduates serving around the world as scientists, health care professionals, church and community leaders, business owners, peacebuilders, educators and more!

Social Justice

One way EMU students develop a worldview, appreciation for varied viewpoints and critical thinking skills is through our cross-cultural program. The program was one of of the first of its kind, focusing on immersion in another culture, while traveling and studying with a group, mentored by faculty members with experience in the region. Cross-cultural study — around the world and in various U.S. cultures — has been a graduation requirement for all students for more than three decades. More than 75% of faculty have lived and worked internationally, bring that experience to their classrooms and conversations.

EMU was the first college in Virginia to admit African-American students. The first African-American student graduated from EMU in 1954, the same year Brown v. Board of Education was decided. Virginia public schools would not integrate for four more years.

Christian Discipleship

Christian discipleship and faith formation — alongside academic excellence — have always been key to EMU’s mission. Community worship and Bible and theology courses have been a part of the educational experience from the beginning.

Student-led worship services such as Celebration have been around since the late 70s. Students are involved in campus ministries and spiritual life on campus in as ministry assistants and pastoral assistants, leaders of Fellowship of Christian Athletes activities, and initiating their own support and accountability systems with faculty, staff and peers.

In 1965 a graduate theological school had evolved and Eastern Mennonite Seminary was launched. The seminary serves students from varied denominational backgrounds including Mennonite, United Methodist and and others. The programs walk with students as they discern their call to ministry. The seminary offers an intensive, well-rounded program of biblical, theological, historical and practical studies.


The Anabaptist-Mennonite Christian tradition emphasizes peacemaking and resolving conflicts with words rather than weapons. Practical training in conflict transformation and the field of restorative justice are core to EMU. EMU’s Center for Justice and Peacebuilding (CJP) was launched in the early 1980s. CJP is a graduate and training program of EMU offering master’s degrees in conflict transformation and restorative justice, training in trauma resilience, and a Summer Peacebuilding Institute. 2011 Nobel Peace Laureate Leymah Gbowee’07 received training in trauma healing from Lutheran church workers trained by CJP Professor Barry Hart. Gbowee went on to rehabilitate child soldiers.

Today undergraduate and graduate students experience this emphasis on peacebuilding through coursework and student life practices.

EMU alumni all over the globe work passionately to transform organizations and create people-to-people connections in their workplaces and in their own businesses, churches, communities, families and workplaces. Many work with organizations such as World Vision, Amnesty International, Oxfam, Mennonite Central Committee, and Heifer Project International.

An academic timeline

Over the years our school has grown from a small Bible academy into a fully accredited university with over 1,800 students in more than 35 undergraduate programs, seminary and more than a dozen graduate programs.

  • From 1917 to 1982 the academy included what is now Eastern Mennonite School, K-12. Today, whether you’re at our beautiful campus in Harrisonburg, Va., at our thriving site in Lancaster, Pa., or part of an online program, you’ll notice the focus on hospitality and community that is so important to EMU.
  • In 1947 EMU’s first four-year degree program was approved by the state of Virginia. Regional accreditation by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools followed in 1959.
  • In 1965 Eastern Mennonite Seminary added advanced theological study and ministerial training to the list of offerings available at EMU.
  • The first graduate program (other than seminary) – counseling – began in 1993. It was followed by two others in the next two years – conflict transformation and education.
  • In August 1994 our name changed from “college and seminary” to “university.”
  • An adult degree completion program was established in 1994 and by 2010 nearly one third of graduates were adult students completing their degrees.
  • A distinctive MBA program began in the fall of 1999, and the late 2000s began offering tracks focused on nonprofit entrepreneurial management and general stewardship.
  • In 2010, EMU first offered a masters in nursing leadership and management.