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By David Crane
Institutions of Christian higher education, specifically Bethel University, are in a unique place right now. College students and young adults seem to be running faster than ever from Jesus Christ, Biblical truth, and the Church; Bethel University is attempting to change this notion. This is clearly seen in the mission and vision statements of the university. A portion of the vision statement reads, “Bethel will be the Christ-centered university of choice for this century. Rooted in faith. Committed to excellence. Bethel will become the leader in Christian higher education…” The central question for Bethel is how to remain rooted in Biblical convictions when our generation no longer holds the values the institution was founded on.
In the original article, “Safe Places, Brave Spaces,” author Callie Schmidt compared Bethel’s safe spaces to other schools in the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (MIAC). This was a central mistake because the MIAC is an athletic conference alone. Using other MIAC institutions is useful in comparing factors such as athletic budgets, facilities, or number of sports offered, but this specific article was not related to anything pertaining to athletics. Thus the athletic-based MIAC is an inadequate measure for comparing safe spaces, or anything having to do with campus atmosphere. However, because MIAC institutions were used in the original article, I will continue to use them.
After a quick Google search, it is easy to see how institutions in the MIAC have different guiding principles. These differences should not be resented, but seen as options for students seeking a liberal arts education.
In her article, Schmidt used Augsburg College as her main example for comparing safe spaces. Part of Augsburg’s mission statement says the institution is, “Guided by the faith and values of the Lutheran church”. Another example of different values of MIAC institutions is Gustavus Adolphus. Part of their core values reads, “Without expecting conformity, we encourage an honest exploration of religious faith and seek to foster a mature understanding of the Christian faith” .
It is clear our university is not like the rest of the MIAC, as Bethel’s mission is to, “Prepare graduates to serve in strategic capacities to renew minds, live out biblical truth, transform culture, and advance the gospel”. While I address three specific institutions, Bethel is the only one out of the thirteen MIAC member institutions that makes Jesus Christ and advancing the Gospel a top priority.
This mission is the reason why many students, including myself, are choosing Bethel: to pursue a Christ- centered and world-class education in the secular age we live in. Those who do not believe in the very values our institution were founded on cannot and should not use other universities whose guiding principles are vastly different from ours as an example as to why Bethel University should change. If a student does not “identify with the Christian faith,” I would ask why he or she chose to attend this institution.
The term safe spaces has exploded on college campuses across the country and must be addressed by students at Christian institutions of higher education. In the original article, safe spaces are defined as “A place where students can be present together and be able to express themselves, their beliefs and their doubts, without fearing judgment or criticism.” This definition presents an idealistic and unrealistic expectation for any place of learning. If young adults cannot have professional and healthy disagreements with one another in an academic setting- much less a Christian one- how will we make it outside of Bethel? As students, we are entering a workforce with peers who have drastically different values than we do. Being able to ask difficult questions, offer counterpoints, and disagree with one another in constructive and professional manners, without having to worry about if an individual feels criticized is vital if we are truly committed to excellence.
While I have not had the experiences of some who believe Bethel is a not a safe space, I believe our institution is a safe space. To say otherwise is doing a disservice to the many university leaders who have dedicated their careers and life’s work to being at Bethel in an effort to advance its mission.
Bethel University is full of safe space. We have them in personal relationships with peers and professors. We have them in the clubs and organizations we are part of. We have them in the many ministry-related programs offered. And yes, we even have them in official university offices such as Campus Ministries, Counseling Services, and, dare I say, Student Life. If you do not believe me, I challenge you to get to know our university leaders in a deeper and personal way.
A safe space is a place where you can articulate your thoughts and feelings in a freeing way with people you trust. A safe space is a place where differences are approached with love and problems are addressed with constructive criticism. A safe space is not a space without consequences.
I will be the first one to say I do not agree with everything our University does, but I believe in its mission and what our leaders are setting out to do. I write this not to criticize you, but offer another side rooted in research and a commitment to seeking views different than mine. This is my perspective as a student who is excited about Bethel and what it is setting out to do, but I realize it is not the only perspective, and I welcome conversation about that.