New Senior VP for Student Life brings “warm, joyful personality” and a unique background to Bethel
Kelly Hinseth | Staff Writer
It’s 8 a.m. as members of Bethel Student Government, Welcome Week, Shift and Pray First bust through the doors of BC 468 ready to move in the new Bethel freshmen.
The room is mostly quiet with the exception of a few scattered conversations. Suddenly, the theme from Mission Impossible blares through the speakers as the back doors swing open. Dr. William Washington enters as he ducks and rolls his way up to the front of the room.
His voice booms from the front of the large room.
“You know what we’re going today? We’re going to set this campus on fire! This is our Daytona 500! This is when we get the engines running! This sets the stage for everything that happens at this university!” Before his booming speech even ends, students are already on their feet, roaring with cheers.
As the new Senior Vice President for Student Life, Washington’s presence on campus has been apparent. It’s also been one that has received positive response from students and faculty alike.
The story of how he arrived on this campus begins in late 2014. Washington was at Walt Disney World, visiting his daughter who was in the middle of a professional internship. At the time, Washington was working at Trinity International University in Deerfield, Illinois as the Senior Vice President for Student Affairs. Tenured at TIU for 28 years and possessing what he called “an endowed chair at the institution,” Washington hadn’t thought about leaving prior to that time.
“I was pretty comfortable there, but the Holy Spirit said to me ‘I don’t want you to be comfortable, I want you to be compliant. I want you to go to Bethel in Minnesota,’” Washington remembered.
After hearing this calling, Washington said a decision didn’t come easily. “We started wrestling like the Lord and Jacob. ‘Course I’m 5’2, so he beat me.” Washington said lightheartedly.
“I said ‘Lord, are you sure you want me to go here? ‘Cause… it’s cold… it’s cold… and it’s cold.’ I said to the Lord, ‘You’re gonna have to do two supernatural things in order to get me at that school.”
The first “supernatural thing” Washington alluded to involved his wife. She had told him that if he ever left his position at Trinity, it needed to be to somewhere with a warm climate. Bethel, unfortunately for Washington and his wife, did not fit the bill.
He went back to his hotel room in Florida and wrote down three things he was demanding of the Lord.
“Number one: warm climate. Number two: warm climate. Number three: warm climate,” Washington said with a chuckle.
Next, Washington had to approve the move with his daughter, Kendra, then a senior at Bethel.
“When she was growing up, we had an understanding,” Washington said. “Her and I could not coexist at the same school.” Washington said there were ground rules for when he would visit his daughter at Bethel, including things like not wearing any TIU gear on campus and not bringing his “man-bag” on the trip.
“She called it a ‘murse,’” Washington said.
Washington knew that he would eventually have to break the news to his daughter and share what the Lord was telling him.
During January of 2015, Washington had his wife discussed the matter with their daughter. He insisted that she would get the final say.
“She’s my daughter, and you know how them girls are.” After a short conversation with her mother, Washington’s daughter requested that he come into the room.
“I love my daughter, she is special and gorgeous, she’s about 4’11” but lemme tell you something, she is not to be messed with,” he said. “I’ve been through a lot of tough stuff throughout my career, but walking into her room at that moment was the most fearful I have ever been in my entire life.”
“Sit down,” she said sternly. Washington then went on to explain to his daughter his calling to go to Bethel.
“I think you’d be good for Bethel,” she said. “Bethel would be good for you. You have my permission to go.”
Three weeks went by and after a series of phone calls with the search committee, Washington accepted the position on a phone call with President Jay Barnes.
According to Washington, Barnes’ message was very clear.
“I want you to bring that warm, joyful personality to our school,” Barnes told him. “That’s what we need and I don’t want you to change anything about who you are.”
It wasn’t long before Washington felt at home in his new position. “The people here have been so welcoming and inviting,” he said. “I just have this attitude of gratitude towards this place.”
Washington’s message to students, that “God’s love and joy is available for them to have and to give them peace,” and his role of “encouraging people, telling [them] the things they can do and achieve,” comes from one of his favorite verses, Proverbs 11:25.
“A generous person will prosper; whoever refreshes others will be refreshed,” the verse says.
The journey that has brought Washington up to this point in life has not always been one of joyous circumstances. He grew up dirt poor in North Carolina, his biological father was murdered at age 13. “My life could have gone a number of different ways but God has been generous to me. And I want students to experience that generosity.”
Washington recounts a time he “broke away from the Lord” during his freshman year of college at Trinity. Out of money and struggling to make it on his own, Washington turned to his parents, who refused to sign his financial aid documents, so he walked into the office of the school’s minority director.
“I was in a pickle,” he remembers. “I was expecting him to tell me that I need to humble myself and go and speak with my parents and make it right.”
The minority director, however, had a different plan.
“He told me to just go in and lie to them. Tell them what they want to hear. All he needed was for them to sign a piece of paper,” Washington said.
He couldn’t believe the advice he had just heard. “I walked out of there praying ‘Lord, if I ever get into the position of being an advisor, help me to help people’.”
From there, things took off for the young man from North Carolina. “You gotta be careful what you pray for,” he said. “Because I started stepping into roles that I had no business being in.” He notes beating out several candidates for leadership positions, some with PhDs. Washington did not receive his doctorate in higher education from Loyola University until years later.
As Washington settles into his role of helping students at Bethel, there are four things toward which he, along with Bethel’s Office of Student Life, strives: service, excellence, humility and love.
“Bethel gets my ‘A’ game every day,” he said. “I’m here to love students. We want students to have the best Bethel experience that they could possibly have.”