Sex is a touchy subject. So is alcohol.
Even more touchy than either of those is what a Mennonite university does when a student breaks the university’s rules about sex or alcohol.
Until this past June, EMU had a document called the Community Life Commitment, or CLC, which outlined rules students would be expected to follow while living on campus. This included policies relating to sex, drugs, and alcohol, as well as treating others with respect. At the bottom of the document was a place for students to sign. By signing, students indicated whether or not they agreed to uphold these rules.
A number of years ago, students and faculty began to speak out against the CLC. It needed to be reworked, they said, because it was outdated and was used poorly in cases of misconduct. Rather than treating students like adults by inviting them into a dialogue about what it means to live in community, the CLC was a hammer to bring down on students who messed up.
As Rachel Roth Sawatzky, director of student programs and orientation, said, “Having a contractual relationship doesn’t say anything about the kind of respect we want to have for students.” The CLC fostered negative interactions between students and administrators; it had to go.
Two years ago, a committee was formed whose specific goal was to create a document to replace the CLC. The committee discussed the CLC with many groups on campus. Out of those discussions, it created a new document, called the Life Together statement, which was approved by the EMU Board of Trustees on June 23, 2017.
The Life Together statement is, as Sawatzky put it, “an aspirational document” that outlines the core values EMU strives to embody in its community life. These values include: love for God and one another, wisdom, equality, sustainability, and accountability. The document no longer includes a set of rules for students. The nitty gritty policy details are left to the student handbook.
In cases of misconduct, head of Resident Life Scott Eyre hopes that the shift from rules to ideals will help students “think about how they play into the larger picture.” That is the ideal of community at EMU — to learn how to make decisions based not only on how they will impact you, but also how they will impact the people around you.
How the document will impact students is still unclear. Sophomore Elizabeth Nisly said that the new Life Together statement “definitely feels less antiquated.” Other students interviewed had no idea what the Life Together statement was.
This illustrates what Sawatzky feels is a problem with the document. “I still think that a lot of the language is inaccessible to students,” she said. Moreover, just because the touchy subjects of sex and alcohol were removed does not mean that the document is uncontroversial.
Senior Natasha Bridge was critical of the document’s first value: love for God and one another. “Not everyone’s religious,” she said, “so that raises a red flag for me.”
The meaning of the Life Together statement will become more clear as EMU continues to engage students in discussions about what EMU is, as well as what we want EMU to become.