Hesston College protest

Thank you for covering the student walkout at Hesston College in response to reports of sexual assaults on campus (Dec. 23). I appreciate that you noted the college’s handling of historical sexual violence. As a trauma counselor, I see a direct link between taking responsibility for past misconduct and being a safe place in the present. These students are offering the college a wonderful invitation to courageously center the truth and those most affected, historically and presently, rather than being defensive and protective of their reputation and survival. Colleges are concerned about how their constituents will react to whatever comes to light. That is where the larger church needs to own our place in supporting needed change.

It is a natural response for us as Mennonites to deny or minimize misconduct. We intuit that an honest assessment will lead to challenging our very foundations: patriarchy rooted in a certain reading of Scripture, the silencing of vulnerable individuals for the “peace” of the group, our pride in the appearance of godliness. It is easier to allow the survivors to bear the burden alone and to see them as the problem. Those who benefit most from maintaining the status quo will not welcome being called out, and they wield power. 

Change won’t happen until enough of us stand up and, in the spirit of Christ, the courageous truth-teller, say: “No more.” We need to stage our own symbolic walkout alongside those who are hurt and vulnerable. We can raise our collective voice in support of survivors. We can welcome the work of institutions like Mennonite Abuse Prevention (themaplist.org) and Into Account (intoaccount.org) and listen to the stories they publish. We can publicly name offenders, and those who have enabled them, while offering a path to restoration through taking responsibility, providing restitution and submitting to accountability.

Mary Lou Schmidt Bonham, Portland, Ore.

 

As an alumnus of Hesston College (Academy 1957, College 1959), I found it troubling to read about the student protest of the college’s handling of sexual assault reports. Historically, student protests at Hesston are extremely rare. The last one I remember occurred some 50 years ago when a group of students created a stir in the community by protesting the Vietnam War. The voices of today’s students deserve to be heard as well.

I believe the college had good intentions, but there is always room for improvement. College officials should be applauded for engaging a reputable neutral organization to make a thorough assessment. Hopefully this process will lead to changes that make the campus a safer learning environment.

Russel Yoder, Kansas City, Kan

Anabaptist World

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