HARRISONBURG, Va. — Eastern Mennonite University’s tradition of Christian diversity took the form of around 500 voices joining in the litany of investiture to welcome and bless EMU’s ninth president, Susan Schultz Huxman, during the inaugural ceremony April 7 at Yoder Arena.
The confluence of voices was part of what Huxman spoke about in her inaugural address as “an awesome mystery . . . something really unusual and unconventional unfolding before you.”
Acknowledging EMU’s 100-year-history, its growth as a diverse, Christ-centered community and its historic commitment to nonviolence and peace, the litany, written by professor Vi Dutcher, blended voices of EMU’s students, faculty and staff, and the board of trustees, as well the broader community, including representatives from Mennonite Education Agency and Mennonite Church USA.
The choice of Huxman, the university’s first permanent female president, to represent EMU’s educational mission in working toward peace, racial reconciliation and restorative justice is significant, said Harrisonburg Mayor Deanna R. Reed.
“I am prayerful and hopeful we can further cultivate a community even more closely reflective of EMU’s mission, vision and values,” said Reed on behalf of the city. She framed the university’s unique role as “the very moral compass which a vast number of residents reference for social, political and spiritual wisdom and guidance.”
She recalled how, in 1948, Eastern Mennonite became the first historically white college in Virginia to open its doors to African-American students.
EMU “continues to be a trailblazer in social justice education,” she added, linked inextricably to the “sacred premise that all students are viewed as gifted people created and loved by God” and to the school’s mission to “educate students to lead and serve in a global context.”
In her address, “Behold and Enter the Countercultural Story,” Huxman pointed to other such moments and the trajectories that followed. The first was the “leap of faith” taken by church leaders to open Eastern Mennonite School in 1917 with 20 students and four faculty members in the Shenandoah Valley. Now EMU includes nearly 2,000 students, two additional instructional sites, more than 100 faculty and 60 academic programs.
Huxman said students experience a life-changing visible academic and invisible communal curriculum and are immersed in “eyes-wide-open” moments leading to life-changing and “counter-cultural” transformation.
“I love to tell our unfolding, unconventional story in harmony with the ‘old, old story of Jesus and his love,’ ” she said.
A family legacy of leadership in Anabaptist higher education was affirmed in an introductory address by her father, Harold J. Schultz, president emeritus of Bethel College in North Newton, Kan. Anabaptist institutions have through their graduates a multiplier effect, a cloud of “living epistles” who “make a difference, no matter where they live,” he said.
“Beware students, if you come to EMU, there is both a promise and a warning that you risk becoming a changed person,” he said.
As the first woman invested as president, Huxman has already contributed this countercultural theme. She was previously president at Conrad Grebel University College in Waterloo, Ont., and prior to that, director of the Elliott School of Communication at Wichita (Kan.) State University.
Wendy L. Fletcher, president and vice chancellor of Renison University in Waterloo, Ont., affirmed the selection of Huxman to lead EMU in a tumultuous and dangerous time as the tenets of the faith call for radical action and a powerful voice.
“Susan is a disciple and a leader who will be able to take this journey with you,” she said. “She is feisty; she doesn’t give up; she will speak for you no matter what wolf may bang on the door nor what shadow fall across your floors; she is smart and strategic; she is full of energy for life and good work.”