This is one article in a series explaining changes at Gordon College, called Define: Gordon
By Shalom Maleachi
This is what this Tartan edition is about.
With the graduation of the Class of 2017, the last generation of students who lived through the historic tumult of the last four years will pass on. The era between the “Old” and the “New” Gordon will, in a significant sense, end.
Many seniors will leave bittersweet. Some will look from the podium as they receive their diplomas to find certain key figures in their development as persons, scholars, and Christians conspicuously absent from amongst the crowd. Some will look into the eyes of teachers and friends, perhaps for the last time, with a melancholy knowingness that can never be replicated.
Yet some others will move on without so much of a hitch.
Regardless, come May 20, 2017, the class that lived through the letter of 2014, the budget prioritization of 2015, the lawsuit of 2016—and even now as the school year draws near, the recent legal complaint made by Professor DeWeese Boyd—will officially depart. With their leaving, a large chunk of Gordon’s history in embodied form will disappear from campus.
This Tartan issue in an attempt to re-embody, to preserve the vestiges of collective experience and lived knowledge of these past four years. After all, current students and students to come, in one way or another, will find themselves living in the cumulative aftermath of four difficult years.
Those involved in particular departments, such as Communication Arts, Sociology and Social Work, Philosophy, Languages and Linguistics, and Education—some of which are highlighted in this issue—are learning and living within ruins yet to be rebuilt.
The student body as a whole, too, has lost access to some incredible opportunities and experiences. The once fruitful relationship between Gordon and Lynn remains contentious to this day, and the Elijah Project as a decade-rich, highly influential and successful intentional living program now remains only in the memory of its founders and alumni.
Beyond programs, we all have lost some amazing individuals from among us. With rapid turnover, not only have students lost some incredible teachers (as some of these stories in this issue highlight); faculty and staff members, too, find themselves having lost colleagues and friends, years of collaborations and relationships abruptly ended—relegated to uneasy silence with the circumstance of Non-Disparagement Agreements.
Yet, aside from the stories of their peers, there are no sources for Gordon’s current and future students to learn about what it is that they have inherited, much less understand the magnitude of what has happened. And for faculty and staff members, as they remain here at Gordon, there has been nothing to stand testament to what they have once seen and lived.
This Tartan issue seeks to be that document which stands to speak.
It is important to understand that this issue is not a “liberal hit job.” As the stories themselves reveal, the most crucial and relevant tensions Gordon has had to grapple with at heart revolve not around national politics (not about “religious freedom”), nor around religious identity (not about “culture war”). To reduce the situations to these narratives, and to the single issue of LGBTQ+ rights, would be a gross oversimplification.
Rather, the most significant tensions and conflicts have revolved around internal matters—around the issues of leadership ethics, administrative plays, and frustrating silence. The signing of the letter and the media backlash that followed merely created the perfect storm within which underlying tensions flashed and roared.
As the recollections of Ryan Groff and Tim Ferguson Sauder indicate, as the story surrounding the tragic end of Gordon’s relationship with Lynn evidences, and as the details of Gordon’s recent legal challenges express, fallouts were not so much a result of politics or theological disagreements. Rather, they resulted out of what was perceived as administrative abuse, intimidation, manipulation, and lack of integrity.
Certainly, no matter how broadly echoed these perceptions are, they are still but claims. The only way for Gordon as a whole to tactfully resolve the mystery surrounding the fitness of Gordon’s leadership is by opening a 360 review focused on individual high-level administrative officials, and this may be something highly worth pursuing.
For us in this reading moment, however, that is beyond our scope.
What is within our scope at this moment is to sit with what we have learned, or as the case is for some of us, with what we have just remembered. Of course, one should not dwell in the past, and the intent of this issue as a public recollection is not to dredge up unsavory bits of the past for us to fixate on.
Rather, this issue, so far as it seeks to be a witness for the sake of history, also seeks to create space for long overdue grief—grief that belongs not only to those who have lost directly, but grief that belongs to every single one of us as Gordon community members by virtue of our shared institutional memory.
As the Body of Christ suffers as a whole with the injury of even one part, we too share wounds—and carry together the potential to heal.
While loss and departure are to be expected in life, and while it is understandable from a financial standpoint that cuts had to be made and that Gordon might motion against ENDA as a religious school, the most stinging of hurts and cause of division have emerged from the quality of “how” these events and their repercussions have been handled.
As the stories of some students being left afloat without support after the abrupt departure of their professors testify, events have been by and large handled poorly. Though by no means should we reject exciting new developments or ignore the good that these past four years have yielded, we must also crucially work to rectify what wrongs have been committed and reconcile what trust has been breached.
We can begin this by firstly listening and acknowledging, and by refusing “rebranding” as induced amnesia.
Lastly, this issue serves most of all as a reference point. Where is Gordon College going? Where are we going? There is no sense to moving forward if one does not know where one’s back should be facing and what ground one currently stands upon.
It is up to you, readers, to ultimately decide how you choose to respond upon receiving the information included in this issue, but one thing is clear—you cannot unlearn these stories, and insofar you are still here on campus… you cannot unlive it.