Category: student life (Page 1 of 12)

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.

I’m thankful for…

With the Thanksgiving season (and mid-term season) upon us, I decided to take a stroll through campus and do some impromptu interviews. I wanted to start some conversations that would stir up some warm and fuzzy feelings to contrast the stress of studying and blustery weather I saw through my window. And after chatting with some lovely people and compiling the answers, I’d say it was a successful mission. The question?

What are you thankful for, here at CMU?

“I’m thankful for Folio’s coffee” – Sadie McTavish

“I’m thankful that my learning has been lively because it has been lived” – Marnie Klassen

“I’m thankful for how close the profs are to the students. There’s tons of space made for profs and students to connect” – Daniel McIntyre-Ridd

“I’m thankful for my apartment and my roommate who loves me” – Kate Friesen

“I’m thankful for the basketball team and the community and friendships it provides me with” – Andrew Hutton

“I’m thankful for the free flu-shot clinic! You just walk on in and it only takes five minutes!” – Claudia Dueck

“I’m thankful that CMU has a volleyball team!” – Matthew Sawatzky

“I’m thankful for the very large windows in Marpeck that I can look through, and the friends who I see walk down the stairs” – Markus Stahl

“I’m thankful for the sense of belonging, comradery, and fun I get from being in choir” – Madeleine Friesen

“I’m thankful that I’m part of a small enough class that it’s possible to designate someone to bring a snack for everyone at every lecture” – Rhett Neufeld

“I’m thankful for really great interactions with my profs. They know how to have fun and joke around, while also teaching you a lot of new information” – Nicholas Harder

“I’m thankful for the bridge between south campus and Marpeck for keeping me warm and dry during this snowy weather” – Courtney Kuhl

“I’m thankful for all of my friends and my professors, and their genuine happiness and caring attitudes” – Nicolas Willms

And me? I’m thankful that I’m part of a community where I can take a short stroll through this beautiful campus, and be greeted by classmates and friends alike who are willing to answer my whimsical questions. Their smiles and stories are plentiful, and the inspiration they give me is endless.

CMU, I am thankful for YOU!

– Chloe Friesen, 3rd-year Communications and Media student

“So, you’re all Mennonite, right?” A reflection

“So, you’re all Mennonite, right?”

I should’ve began counting how many times I’ve been asked this question the first time I heard it. The number would be laughably high.

Most often, I receive the question in response to me stating that I go to Canadian Mennonite University. They hear the word “Mennonite” paired with the word “university” and their eyes narrow, the wheels in their brain spinning. The person I’m talking to has most definitely never visited campus; they don’t know what we all know.

If you head to the “Fast Facts About CMU” page on the CMU website, you get a quick rundown of what’s going on here on campus regarding faith backgrounds.

  • 44% of students are from diverse Ecumenical traditions
  • 37% of students come to CMU from Mennonite or Anabaptist related backgrounds
  • 19% of students disclose no faith or church background.

Wait a minute… we’re not ALL Mennonites? I laugh as I’m writing this, because I am Mennonite and I have met plenty of other Mennonites during the past few years, but I have also met the most culturally and religiously diverse student body that I have ever been a part of.

Last week in my Theology and Art class, we went around the classroom stating what our faith backgrounds were, just to get a sense of the different angles we would be approaching the art and readings we were about to dive into.

I began writing down what I heard, the “so you’re all Mennonite, right?” question surfacing in my mind. Here’s the list I gathered:

We're all different...

 “Pentecostal”

“Agnostic”

“Evangelical”

“Christian”

“Muslim”

“I’m still figuring things out”

“Not religious”

“Roman Catholic”

“Swiss Baptist”

“Buddhist”

“Mennonite Brethren”

“Mennonite General Conference”

“Anglican”

“Protestant”

“Ethiopian Orthodox”

The diversity of the list was interesting, sure, but what interested me more was the confidence in which these words were being said. No one felt like they were “wrong” or “an outsider”, and there was no perceivable judgement coming from the professor or the class. If anything, there was an feeling of gratitude emanating. If you’re a student or staff member here at CMU, you’ll recognize this feeling.

We all had this amazing opportunity to gather together twice a week, to have conversations about art and theology, and we were already being blessed with such rich conversations because of the religious diversity within our classroom. We were all different, and that was good.

I truly believe that CMU is a place for everyone, not just Mennonites. Yes, the university is built upon a foundation of important Mennonite values (check out the Mennonites and CMU page on the website for more info), but we’re a stronger institution when we recognize our differences. And students, professors, and staff all know it! My education has only benefitted from my conversations with and the contributions of everyone here.

So, are we all Mennonite? Definitely not. Am I thankful for that? Yes.

Chloe Friesen, 3rd-year Communications and Media student

Let’s talk about talking: Radical dialogue at CMU

Welcome to CMU. The land of Blundstones, angry geese, using the word “community” as many times as possible, and endless conversation.

Let’s talk about just that: talking. The art of conversation here at CMU, radical dialogue, how important it is, and how much we value learning from each other, no matter our differences. The people that sit beside you in class, pass in the hallways, and sit with in the cafeteria, are all going to help shape your education here at CMU. They’re kinda like your professors, just without the PhDs.

Like I said before, CMU is a place of endless conversation. And it’s the conversations that I have had in the past two years that have filled in the gaps and rounded out the edges of my degree. Talking is important.

Your professors are a good place to start.

They are going to ignite little fires of curiosity within you, I guarantee it. You’re going to have questions, ideas, worries, inspirations, and your professors want to hear about them all! I’m not kidding! I have walked into countless profs offices to see their faces LIGHT UP when I come to sit and chat, and sometimes/a lot of times, it’s not related to a paper I’m writing or an upcoming test I have. It’s what’s going on inside my head, it’s about that little flame. And your profs want to help stoke that fire.

Your classmates are another great place to start up conversations. These will happen before class, during class, in the dining hall, at Marpeck Commons, in the dorms, at the bus stop, in the gym, I’ve had some good bathroom chats about Biblical Literature and that is not a word of a lie. Sometimes, these classmates won’t even be in the same class as you. I’ve had great conversations with friends who are taking philosophy classes, when I’ve never taken one in my life, and we’re talking about a communications topic from one of my classes, and we’re both enriching each others understanding of classes we don’t own the textbook for.

But here’s the thing—these conversations aren’t always going to be sunshine and rainbows. Sometimes, you’re going to like pineapple on your pizza and the person you’re talking to won’t. This doesn’t mean they are wrong. Sometimes your prof will introduce you to an entirely new pizza that you’re not sure you’re comfortable with, or maybe even a calzone. This doesn’t mean they’re wrong. Sometimes you’ll meet someone who’s never even had pizza. This doesn’t mean they’re wrong. And this is the part where the “radical” in “radical dialogue” comes in. And this is also, where LISTENING comes in.

If there’s one lesson that’s hit me the hardest while studying and living here at CMU, it’s this. THE WORDS I WILL LEARN THE MOST FROM WILL NOT BE MY OWN. The opinions and knowledge and experiences that I have are going to be wonderfully different than everyone else’s. And this is GOOD. Imagine if the keyboard on your laptop only had one letter. Let’s say H. You’re gonna know that letter really well, and that’s great. But all you’re going to be able to type is “Hhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh”.

If you really want to write, and think, and learn, you’re going to need so many more letters, so many more opinions and angles and pushback. So in the midst of these conversations you’ll be having, remember to listen. To really listen. Not just hear and wait for your turn to speak again. Listen and learn, respectfully.

I’m not saying that you should only listen and not speak, no no no. You also need to speak and share your unique perspectives so that others can learn from you. I’m talking to you self-professed “shy-kids”. We need you. You’re the best listeners so you’re obviously the smartest people in the room *wink wink*.

Thirdly, after we’re done talking, and we’re done listening, it’s time to engage. When I think about really engaging in radical dialogue, I think about my first year. I took an International Development course called “Voluntary Simplicity”. A classmate and good pal of mine got to talking during snack one evening about what we had learned in class, which led to us watching a documentary about fast-fashion and the clothing industry, which led us to making a pact that we would both refuse to buy any new clothes for an entire year. Just as an experiment. And we did it! Successfully! We talked about it with each other, with our professor, with our friends and family. It was like stepping into our textbook and frolicking amongst the words and ideas we’d been learning.

One of the best parts of CMU is the ability to have these conversations. The small class sizes, yet beautifully diverse student body has enriched and filled and blessed each and every class I’ve taken. At the beginning, it took a little work to let go of my biases and step out of my comfort zone. To shake hands with a new friend who doesn’t like pineapple on their pizza. But believe me, this radical dialogue you will engage in here at CMU is what will shape you for the better and help you to see the world with more compassion and empathy than ever before.

Chloe Friesen, 3rd-year Communications and Media student

What you’ve heard about CMU? It’s TRUE!

Shpeel (definition): slang often a sales talk or pitch; to speak, usually at length, to present a position or rationale for some course of action or belief on the part of the listener(s).

If you’ve ever been to a CMU Open House or Campus Visit Day, or have even witnessed one in action, you’ve heard the classic “Come to CMU” shpeel.

“The class sizes are SMALL. There’s a wonderful sense of COMMUNITY. Marpeck Commons is NEW and WONDERFUL and FULL OF SUNSHINE and GOOD COFFEE.”

Chloe kickin' it on the bridge
ready to spheel

I’m here to tell you that the shpeel is true. No lies here. As someone who’s given tours of this beautiful campus of ours, I’ve heard these words come out of my mouth many, many times. So many times that sometimes I start forgetting why I’m saying them. Sometimes they sound too good to be true. And then I take a look around me and remember.

For what we have to offer, CMU is grossly underrated. So I’m going to keep doing my shpeel until everyone knows why I love this tiny university of mine.

1) The class sizes are SMALL

Studying with friends in the sun

Some of my favourite classes have been the one’s with the fewest people in them. I like to think back to my Creative Writing Poetry course, where I’d meet with eight of my classmates twice a week to share our poems and critique them together. I produced some of my best work in that class, and I know for a fact that my poems would have sounded a lot worse if they had been written in a lecture theatre. The faculty to student ratio is 1:18 (even for first and second year students). You really get to know your professors and classmates, and I think that those close relationships have encouraged me to do some of my best academic work.

2) There’s a wonderful sense of COMMUNITY

Fun with friends

I remember my first day on campus. I was nervous, stressed out of my mind, and knew almost no one. That all changed when I went to my faculty advisor meeting. We sat in a small circle, ate pizza, and before there was any discussion about classes or schedules or academics, we learned about each other. 15 minutes into my first day, and I was already part of a little community where I felt welcomed and supported. There are students in that meeting that I’ve never had a class with, but I still know their names and we say hello to each other on the way to our separate classes. Walking across campus and not stopping to greet a friend or neighbour is almost impossible, but it’s the BEST. It sounds cliche, but CMU is my home, and the people here are my family.

3) Marpeck Commons is NEW and WONDERFUL and FULL OF SUNSHINE and GOOD COFFEE

folio café coffee with a book

Facts. Marpeck Commons was opened in 2015, and it was entirely paid for by donors, nothing came out of students’ pockets (there goes that community spirit again). It houses CommonWord (CMU’s book/gift shop, that also sells perogies and noodles, of course), folio café (amazing coffee and friendly baristas, and featured in an article called “15 Winnipeg Coffee Shops You Should Go To At Least Once In Your Life”, but I prefer to go everyday…), CMU’s library (spacious tables, comfy reading chairs, floor to ceiling windows, and sweet librarians: what’s not to love?), as well as a public learning space for the community to gather and have public conversations. Oh, and it’s got a cool bridge that goes over Grant Ave. (cheers to keeping warm while crossing the street!). It’s a place you can spend hours in and not want to leave.

There’s a lot more I could tell you about CMU. I live here. I learn here. I grow here. So I’m going to keep on giving my CMU shpeel until everyone I know (and even people I don’t know) sees CMU the way I do.

If you’d like to experience CMU for yourself, I encourage you to stop by during our Open House on Wednesday, March 26 from 10:00 AM
3:00 PM. I’d love to give you my shpeel in person.

– Chloe Friesen, 2nd year Communications and Media student

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