Community and Sexual Violence on a Faith-based Campus | Guest blogger Nathan Dueck

Nathan Dueck

The claim that Canadian Mennonite University has a strong sense of community is clichéd, but it is also true. Most of my classes have fewer than twenty students, many faculty have students over to their houses for meals throughout the year, and office doors are open more often than closed. There is also a real feeling of Mennonite identity on campus, where so many students share faith and genealogy (often an important research task before asking out a peer). This sense of campus-wide community is genuinely good, especially in an era when deep social connection and cohesion can be difficult to find. It is why I decided to attend CMU, and why many students feel the need to foster and protect it semester after semester.

But “community” can pose challenges to responding to instances of sexual violence on campus. I want to highlight two challenges in particular. First, the celebration of community can implicitly discourage actions that may be seen as damaging to it. If a survivor of sexual violence feels that coming forward with their experience might put stress on their university’s valued communal identity, it is plausible that they might feel deterred from addressing it through a disclosure. Second, perpetrators can be included in, or even integral to, campus communities. When this is the case, survivors may be concerned that those in positions of authority will not effectively respond to their disclosures. If a perpetrator is one of only eight students in your favourite professor’s class, if they eat dinner at a senior administrator’s house once a semester, or if you see them regularly drop by a staff member’s office just to chat for a minute because the door was open, it might be difficult to envision how your experience of sexual violence would be handled impartially by the institution. The same bonds that make some university communities so tight-knit can also restrict the sense of freedom that their survivors feel that they have to share their experiences.

Smaller post-secondary institutions like my own need to grapple with this tension between protecting their sense of community and fully supporting survivors who want to share their experiences within them. But even if the tension can never be fully resolved, it is heartening to see my university adopt the REES reporting platform this fall. It is heartening to me because REES is precisely not a product created by, or for, CMU specifically. Instead, as a platform designed for all post-secondary institutions, REES stands distinctly outside my campus’s specific culture. As such, it exists as an avenue through which survivors can disclose their experiences without having to engage directly with another member of the CMU community, if that engagement would cause discomfort.

REES

Yet, even as REES is being introduced as an extra-communal platform, its creators have remained sensitive to the value of community. When I participated in a feedback session for the platform, I was impressed when the session leader stressed that REES is only one, optional way through which a survivor can share their experience in a university setting. In doing so, she made it clear that the introduction of REES still allows for the face-to-face disclosure methods that other survivors might find helpful or even necessary. In other words, the introduction of REES should address the risks of a campus’ communal identity for some survivors, but in a way that does not compromise the presence of a community that can be helpful for others.

Examining the interplay between community and sexual violence can be uncomfortable, but it would be a mistake to fear for our communal identity in doing so. I am convinced that acknowledging the risks of community does not diminish it, so long as our responses to these risks are thoughtful and rigorous. Instead, when we look for new and creative ways to support survivors, like REES, our communities will become stronger than ever before.

Nathan Dueck is a 4th year student at Canadian Mennonite University working towards a double major in history and philosophy. He is a student representative on the CMU Sexual Violence Committee and was 2019-20 Vice-President Advocacy for the CMU Student Council.

Physically distanced job searching | Guest blogger Cassidy Brown

For students, the months of March and April mark a time of preparing resumes and cover letters, and starting the summer job search. Between tuition and basic living expenses, as students we need to know that we have a reliable income for the summer!

The transition from the busyness of classes and exams to summer jobs can often be a hard and stressful time. Obviously, the COVID-19 pandemic has posed an extra challenge in this year’s job search. Many students at CMU work at summer camps, or take this time to do practicum, and as summer plans get cancelled or postponed, it’s critical to find a job that will provide enough income throughout the summer.

Guest blogger Cassidy Brown

So, I decided to start the job search, and here is what I found.

1. People are still hiring!

This surprised me. I thought that with non-essential businesses closing, that would mean the job market is non-existent. There aren’t as many jobs, and options are narrow, but if you have the time to search through your local job postings, you just might find something good!

2. Graduates are in luck!

I’ve seen many companies who are hiring online tutors (specifically in English) to do online tutoring through Zoom, but they want applicants to have a completed bachelor’s degree. With schools closed, parents don’t always have time to assist their children with learning and are looking for people to help their children succeed during this time.

3. Cleaning, cleaning, and more cleaning!

Medical facilities as well as other essential businesses that remain open now have much more cleaning to do and are hiring people in part-time positions to help keep these businesses sanitary and up to all the current health codes. However, these jobs are more high risk, and require that you have no contact with people who have had symptoms or who have tested positive.

4. Fast food all the way!

As dine-in areas of restaurants close, the drive-through line only gets longer! Many businesses are hiring people to work fast food windows, as well as prepare food.

5. There is always government funding!

While it isn’t the same as having a job, and might not be an ideal option for you, the government has rolled out the Canadian Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) and the Canadian Emergency Student Benefit (CESB). If you qualify, these Federal financial aid programs should get you some money to put towards education in the fall. Keep an eye on your school email for more info on that from Heidi Nighswander-Rempel, CMU’s Financial and Student Services Advisor.

Websites like Indeed also have sections where you can specify what type of job and hours you’re looking for, and you can even specify if you want to work online. Talk to friends and family and see what kinds of jobs you can find.

So, if you’re already bored with the “nothingness” that social distancing has brought to some of our lives, freshen up your resume and see who is hiring!

– Cassidy Brown, 2nd-year Peace and Conflict Transformation Studies student

Dear Disappointment… | Guest blogger Natasha Neustaedter Barg

Dear Disappointment,

You suck. I’m sorry to put it so bluntly, but I don’t know what to do with you. When I’m sad I cry, when I’m happy I smile, but when I’m disappointed, I’m lost. I feel angry, frustrated, sad, annoyed, and confused.

Over the past couple of weeks, we’ve met a lot, and I still don’t know what to do with you. We met when my summer job got cancelled, when my grades weren’t what I wanted them to be, when my mom asked me to do something and I forgot, and that time I didn’t get the bag of chips that I wanted. Although that time we kind of just laughed at each other. I’ve noticed that you’ve been quite busy meeting some of my friends too. You met them when they didn’t get to graduate, when they had to go home without giving people hugs goodbye, and at other points too.

As much as I don’t know what to do with you Disappointment, I’m writing this letter to say thank you. Thank you for showing me what I care about, and for showing me that I’ve been vulnerable in telling people what I’m excited about. There’s a woman named Brené Brown, I think you’d like her. She writes that “the boldest among us will be disappointed, because [we are] brave enough to want something even though [we have] no control over the outcome.” She is pretty smart. Disappointment, you show me that I’ve been brave. I still don’t like you or want you around, but thank you.

Disappointment, you’ve taught me that I am in charge of my own story. As Brené Brown writes, “this is a hard part of my story, but it’s part of my bigger narrative and I’m going to own it, because I’m going to decide how it’s going to end.” You’ve taught me how to be creative. You tried to tell me that I couldn’t see my friends, but I went and sat on their lawn and pushed them cookies with a canoe paddle, so that we would be far enough apart. You tried to tell me I couldn’t celebrate my friend’s birthday, but we decorated her house, and sang Happy Birthday through Zoom. You tried to tell me that I couldn’t have movie or craft nights with my friends, but we sent each other craft packages and had Netflix Party movie nights. I may not know how things are going to end, but you don’t get to control my life. I have a say in how my story is going to go.

I still think that you suck, but I also think you’re sometimes misunderstood. You are expectations that aren’t realized. At least that’s what Brené Brown thinks, and I’d have to agree. This doesn’t mean that I’m going to have super low expectations, or no expectations, but that I’m going to try and be better at naming what they are so that others around me know. I’m going to try and keep living life to the fullest, knowing that we’re going to meet over and over again. But I’m not going to give up. When we meet again, I’m going to do my best to acknowledge you, and then say thank you for showing me that I was brave and that I cared.

Sincerely,
Natasha

– Natasha Neustaedter Barg, 3rd-year Social Sciences student

“Who am I?”: How CMU has shaped me | Guest blogger Natasha Neustaedter Barg

When I was younger, I always loved the game Guess Who. There’s something about having to ask good questions and getting to describe the whacky people that I just found fascinating. So, in honour of my childhood, who am I?

I am not an athlete, yet I work for the CMU Blazers.
I am not a musician, yet I play flute in CMU’s Concert Band.
I am not a scientist, yet I can tell you about the ecological revolution.
I am not a historian, yet I can tell you about the history of CMU’s building, Mennonites, and Christianity.
I am not a pastor, yet I can explain to you the different atonement theories and various feminist perspectives on the Bible.
I am not a book printer, yet I can set my own type and create my own stamps.
I am not a winner of the leadership scholarship, yet next year I will be CMU’s Student Council President.

Who am I?

I am a writer and an editor.
I am a friend, colleague, student, employee, teacher, speaker, and traveler.
I am a leader and a dreamer.

I am *drum roll please* …… Natasha Neustaedter Barg, a third-year General Social Sciences Major.

But how is it that I am all these things and more?

One of my two on-campus jobs is doing admissions for home sports games at CMU. Thus, I recognize and can name most of CMU’s athletes and I work for the CMU Blazers.

I also work for CMU’s Admissions Team as a Student Ambassador. I call students, inviting them to upcoming events; stuff envelopes to be mailed out; or do other little tasks for the Admissions Counsellors. I also get to give tours at events and learn about CMU’s building. I’ve gotten to learn about its history as a military base, school for the deaf, and all the spooky basement storage areas. I get a free CMU pen occasionally and also get free gelato at CMU’s Open House and Campus Visit Days.

I’m a bit biased, but I think that out of the 42 different on-campus jobs you can have here at CMU, the ones I’ve had are the best. You can also work in the library, clean the lounges, work at reception, shovel snow, and the list goes on. Having an on-campus job has been a great break from the stress of school, fed my Folio Café addiction, and helped me get to know a lot of different people here at CMU.

Through my degree, I take English classes such as History of the Book, where I learn how books were made; or Peace and Conflict Transformation Studies classes, where I learn about restorative justice in education; or Psychology classes, where I learn about trauma and resilience; and the list goes on.

Throughout the past three years, I have learnt how to look at the world through a lot of different lenses. Because of my degree, the jobs I have, and the practicum I did last year, I have something small in common with almost all the students here at CMU. I can talk to athletes about their last home game, to psychology majors about how weird Freud is, to communications majors about David Balzer and his Oral Communication class, and international students about how hard culture shock is.

Last year I did my practicum in Vietnam. For 11 months I taught English at a secondary school and got a small taste of how hard culture shock is and how different school systems can be. Here at CMU everyone is required to do a practicum regardless of what degree you do. These practicums allow us to take what we learn in class and apply it to the world and vice versa.

I am a writer and an editor.
I am a friend, colleague, student, employee, teacher, speaker, and traveler.
I am a leader and a dreamer.

Who am I?

I am a CMU Student.

– Natasha Neustaedter Barg, 3rd-year Social Sciences student

How student advising helps you make the most of university | Guest blogger Malcolm Reimer

University comes with many opportunities to try new things, meet new and different people, and explore unfamiliar areas of knowledge. But all these options can often be overwhelming and confusing. This is where student advising comes in, and of all the choices to be made at university, making an advising appointment is one of the best.

Every first-year student at CMU automatically gets an advising appointment with our Coordinator of Student Advising, Vern Kehler. This initial session helps students plan out their first year of classes and think about the degree programs they’re interested in. But student advising doesn’t stop there.

Malcolm explored both music and science at CMU!

Students can attend near-weekly academic workshops, held by professors and staff, on topics like note-taking, essay writing, speed reading, and many other helpful skills. Personally, I’ve always learned something new at these events!

CMU also offers financial counselling, specific academic advice from faculty advisors, and career advising. I sat down with Adelia Neufeld Wiens, CMU’s on-campus career counsellor, to talk about her work with students.

Malcolm: With all the advising options at CMU, what’s the difference between academic advising and what you do?

Adelia: Sometimes in academic advising sessions, students get bogged down with course choices and degree audit forms, which takes up most of their time. But I get to give students an opportunity to step back and ask the questions, “Who do I want to be? What am I good at? What am I passionate about?” It’s a chance to talk openly about the big picture and reflect.

So, career advising means a lot of resume work, right?

Academic advising helped Malcolm decide what he wanted to study.

Yes and no! From time to time, we’ll look at resumes. But lots of people can write good resumes, and lots of people can coach you on how to write a good resume. A resume can always be improved, but I’m really about asking, “Does your resume reflect who you are? And who are you outside of this piece of paper?” I’m a big believer in asking questions that help students get at that clarity of personality. When you think about these questions, it helps you practice your personal “elevator pitch.” And it’s fun!

What advice do you have for students about to go into university?

Sometimes the question of “What do you want to be when you grow up?” is really more of an obstacle. High school students have heard it their entire lives. People had an answer that came easiest in Grade 2, which became the expected answer in Grade 9, and by Grade 12 they don’t have any other ideas. But university ends up being a reality check — maybe that answer doesn’t match who you are anymore. For some people it crashes and burns, but that’s okay!

I often use the word “strategize.” And the strategizing starts now! Not just in what classes you’re taking, but also in what you’re learning about yourself as you take these classes. The earlier you start, the more deep and meaningful your degree will be for you.

So, you like to take a look at the big picture?

CMU faculty and staff are here to help you!

Career advising is self-examination, but it’s not just “Me, me, me” — but, “Me in the context of other people.” I also encourage students to ask, “Who am I in the face of economic disparity? Or climate change?” And CMU is such a good place to do that.

What do you enjoy about advising students?

I love meeting first-year students. I like learning about what high school was like for them, what their hopes and dreams were and are, and what they’ve learned about themselves after a semester at CMU. And what do they find themselves drawn to now? I love watching when the light comes on.

Thanks for taking the time to chat! Any final thoughts for students?

Career advising isn’t about leaving the meeting thinking, “I know I’m going to be an accountant.” Instead, I like to help students get a better idea of what’s important to them and what their strengths are. And then, you can start exploring some new things.

– Malcolm Reimer, 2nd-year Science student

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