Category Archives: Features

Wheaton joins the fight against poverty

“I came into this year thinking, ‘I don’t have anything where I’m affecting ministry directly … am I doing the work of a Christian?’” sophomore William Braden told the Record, putting his hands over his mouth in mock-consternation.

Then he discovered ONE, a poverty-fighting advocacy group that currently has more than 9 million members. He and sophomore Lyndi Tsering co-founded a ONE campus chapter for the first time in Wheaton, ushering in a new outlet for students of all backgrounds to serve the world.

ONE’s foundational goals are to lower poverty and preventable disease rates around the world, particularly in Africa. Partnered with many important, influential figures and companies, such as Apple, Bank of America and Coca-Cola, ONE aims to advocate for government involvement in effective poverty and disease-fighting policies across the globe. The non-partisan organization was co-founded by U2 lead singer Bono and Bobby Shriver on May 16, 2004. The organization enjoys a position as “a trusted voice on Capitol Hill with both parties when it comes to development and global health issues,” according to Michael Gerson (‘89), nationally syndicated opinion columnist for the Washington Post and a Senior Advisor at ONE.

Gerson first got involved with ONE before its conception. During his recent visit to campus, he told the Record that he met Bono while he was the Assistant to President George W. Bush for Policy and Strategic Planning. According to a 2010 article published by ONE, Gerson was a “key advocate for the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) and the President’s Malaria Initiative (PMI), the fight against global sex trafficking and funding for women’s justice and empowerment issues” during his service to President Bush. Gerson’s meeting with Bono laste 2.5 hours. “I was just amazingly impressed with his knowledge and commitment,” said Gerson.

When Gerson left government employment in 2006, he wanted to stay involved with ONE because the group had been so dedicated to their non-partisan stance. “They were willing to praise success wherever it came from, even from a Republican Administration,” Gerson said, “and they’ve remained that way over the years … [while being] the main grassroots organization in America for this set of issues.”

The non-partisan aspect of ONE also attracted Braden. “I’m a political science major,” Braden told the Record, “but I don’t like to determine things along party lines, and so [ONE], a non-partisan organization, [is] focused on an issue that almost everyone can get behind, the elimination of extreme global poverty. That was really attractive to me: just seeing their commitment to just being non-partisan, but also their commitment to accomplishing their tasks.”

Tsering and Braden first found out about ONE during the 2018 Wheaton in Washington program, where they met Jared Noetzel (‘13), the Lead for Faith Strategy and Engagement at ONE, and Gerson. “We had a Q and A session there, and after it … [they told us], ‘We don’t have a campus chapter at Wheaton, but we’d love if you guys started one!’” Braden said, chuckling a little. “And so Lyndi and I looked at each other, and we said, “‘We should probably start one!’” There are currently 98 chapters on college campuses across the US.

The current executive board of the Wheaton ONE Chapter is made up of Braden, Tsering, sophomore Aaron Doci and sophomore Samantha Wolf. Tsering explained that there are a few different objectives for this year. “One of them,” Tsering said, “is educating, raising awareness on these issues, on the role of people in the US to advocate [for effective political strategies to decrease poverty and disease levels] and then how foreign aid is being used in other countries.” Another major part of student involvement is using their newfound knowledge about advocacy and aid to lobby for new legislation.

Already, the group has written letters to senators asking them to support the international affairs budget for fiscal year 2020, which will help fund international aid.

Braden and Tsering plan to connect with other chapters in Illinois. “Illinois congressional district six has their own chapter,” Tsering told the Record.

“We just met with the coordinator last night … so we might work [with them], which would be extending our campus [chapter into] the larger community in Illinois, but then we’ll pretty much stay regional.” Braden added that while the leadership of campus chapters nationwide is discussing strategies and staying in touch through group messaging, the mission of ONE is moldable to Wheaton’s campus. “I think what’s unique about Wheaton is that we can kind of talk about the faith aspect too,” Braden said. Although ONE is not a faith-based organization, it does include many people of faith. Gerson characterized it as a faith-friendly organization adding that “faith makes a big difference in living a balanced life, but it also provides a certain anthropology, a view of human beings, their rights and dignity, that requires you to be engaged in the world in some way or other in elevating that ideal.”

According to Gerson, it is the Christian’s duty to be involved in protecting and providing for those in need. “I think it should make a difference for every Christian,” he told the Record. “They have a certain view of the image of God present in every life, and that should really affect the way that they approach the kind of citizens they are as well.”

This respect for humanity is central to ONE’s method. ONE is dedicated to empowering individuals in their own location, respecting them as autonomous and enabling them to become self-sufficient. Braden emphasized that ONE specifically avoided the so called “savior-complex,” which foreign aid policies have often propagated. Instead of putting a bandaid on one issue in struggling countreis, ONE lobbies for 17 different developmental goals. “[They focus] on everything from energy infrastructure to cleaning up pollution in the oceans, clean water, providing food, healthcare, [and] educating women and children … The way that they also connect with the [local] government and make sure that there’s transparency with people in the country … really impressed me,” Tsering told the Record.

Her hope for the newborn Wheaton chapter is that it will be equally diverse in the skills that it grows. The chapter welcomes a diverse array of students from a variety of departmental and organizational backgrounds, in hopes that it will be better equipped and more well-rounded. “There [are] so many focus issues and ultimately all of us as Christians … should be playing a role,” Tsering said soberly, looking at Braden, who nodded. He said, “I started to think about how the ONE Campaign … [is] serving needs that need to be met, [just] in different ways.” Tsering agreed.

Her voice rising as she leaned forward, she put feeling into every word. “Working here to do what we can…. It’s so easy to get right in the ‘Wheaton bubble mindset,’ and finding ways to affect issues externally is difficult, but ONE has such a good opportunity with the campus chapter that is focusing on our campus community, on being present here, but then also doing … tangible actions that can actually make a difference.”

 

The big picture

“I could talk all day about how wonderful my mom is,” Leah Schoonmaker (‘20) told the Record, her eyes crinkling about a wistful smile. Her mother, Gail Schoonmaker (‘93), will be visiting campus for her 25th reunion during homecoming, and Schoonmaker is the illustrator of children’s Bibles familiar to many of us: the Big Picture Story Bible and later, the ESV Big Picture Bible. Her notable career as an illustrator does not preclude her from being a wonderful mother to four children, who have grown up reading and treasuring their own Story Bibles.

Schoonmaker did not always dream of being an artist. In a Southport, Ind. preschool, she briefly had aspirations of being a doctor, until she had a run-in with her pediatrician and a rectal thermometer. She told the Record in an email, “I decided then and there that practicing medicine was not for me, and I would rather be an artist.

After all, I was never happier than when coloring, cutting, folding and pasting (unless you count eating ice cream, which is harder to translate into a career).” She initiated most of her pre-college artistic training herself, checking out “How to Draw” books from the library, watching Bob Ross and making recycled materials into art before it was trendy to do so. “In high school I took oil and watercolor painting lessons from local artists,” she said.

“While these pursuits did not make me cool, they did make me happy, so it never crossed my mind to major in anything but art.” When she did begin thinking about where to attend college to pursue her artistic goals, Wheaton was not at the top of the list.

Accompanying a friend to Wheaton’s campus as a high school junior, she attended a chapel service and fell in love. Her experience at Wheaton was inaugurated by song: “I sat in chapel with a few thousand young men and women who sang their love to Jesus, and I wept upon discovering that such things happened. I wanted to spend four years learning from and with outstanding people who love God and intend to glorify Him with their lives.”

After her four years studying at Wheaton, Schoonmaker moved with her husband, Keith Schoonmaker (‘91), to Chicago to start a church plant of College Church in the South Side of Chicago. Out of the process of starting what is now Holy Trinity Church, Schoonmaker realized the disconnect between the dozens of separate Bible stories taught to children and the central message of the gospel. Thus, she and the teaching staff of her church designed a program that included catechism, Sunday school curriculum and family devotionals to explain the Bible as a single narrative pointing to Christ.

When Pastor David Helm (‘83) created a Story Bible to replicate this program for young children, he asked Schoonmaker to illustrate it. Although the project started on a small scale (Schoonmaker said that Helm originally asked for “about a dozen” illustrations to photocopy for the children), Schoonmaker told the Record that it eventually, “became a fully illustrated 450-page story Bible first published by Crossway Books in 2004 and subsequently translated into more than a dozen languages.

It was the first in a wave of many excellent single-plotline story Bibles.” Schoonmaker’s goal in illustrating the Big Picture Story Bible was to reflect the larger, cohesive narrative of the Bible. In an April 2013 article written by David Shaw for Volume 38, Issue 1 of Themelios, an international theological journal published by the Gospel Coalition, Schoonmaker’s illustrations are analyzed and praised for their consistency with Scripture.

“Schoonmaker’s illustrations have a strong relationship with Scripture,” Shaw wrote. “First, they are full of biblical detail, supplementing a more stylised and generalised text. Second, they make visual connections very effectively, linking OT promises and typological patterns with their fulfilment. In that respect they are without equal in story Bibles.”

In 2015, Schoonmaker was commissioned to illustrate 226 new paintings for a full-text Bible for older kids (six to nine year olds). She told the Record, “I got to enjoy choosing, studying, meditating on and painting a fresh variety of biblical texts … some scenes, proverbs, laws, warnings and encouragements that I’ve never seen illustrated before. The whole process was one of spiritual growth as I immersed myself in Scripture and prayerfully sought to create images that communicate its truth. It is a wonderful and important thing when a child opens God’s Word, and I want any illustrations included to instruct, confront, delight and encourage the reader to explore further.”

Schoonmaker’s unconventional illustrations seek to spotlight both the good and the bad in Scripture. Too often, children’s Bibles are totally clean of any sort of repercussion for sin, and if they do address some of the darker themes of Scripture, they avoid discussing them in detail. However, Schoonmaker illustrates underrepresented scenes in the Bible, such as Baal and Elijah, as well as non-narrative theological teachings like those in Colossians 3 about putting off the old self and putting on the new self. In an interview published by Crossway on June 18, 2015, Schoonmaker gave an example of how abstract biblical concepts translate into visual art for a children’s Bible: “I chose to contrast Wisdom and Folly. The fool stands with his arms crossed and nose in the air, amid dark images of him shaking his fist and plugging his ears, linking arms with men of violence and drunkenness, cowering in fear and chasing after a seductive woman.

Wisdom, often personified in Proverbs with feminine pronouns, stands in an attitude of praise. She is surrounded by light images of herself reading and praying, listening to an elderly couple, working hard and sharing her bread with others.

All of the images — dark and light — were gleaned from repeated phrases throughout the Proverbs.” Schoonmaker’s main motivations for illustrating are her own children and other young students. She told the Record that her work as a Sunday School teacher for three to five-year-olds has provided an outlet for her to create Bible craft projects to “reinforce each Bible story while simply adding to kids’ delight in church attendance,” which Crossway is now marketing as a collection. “Nothing beats watching them listen on the edge of their seat, hanging on my words as I tell them stories from the Bible. It brings home God’s Word, ‘Unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.’” Leah Schoonmaker agrees: Her favorite part of her mom’s job is the fact that she gets to see young students in the church grow up reading, discussing and learning from the well-rounded and beautifully illustrated Story Book Bible.

The award-winning Kodon

“Upon first glance at ‘Kodon,’ one would be forgiven in mistaking the oversized journal for a high-end fashion catalog,” wrote graphic designer Anne C. Kerns a judge from the Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP). Her high praise for Kodon’s design accompanied a $1,000 cash prize for design as part of the 2018 National Program Director’s Prizes for Undergraduate Literary Magazines.

The prestigious award, which Kodon received for graphic design and layout, is one of two given nationally by the organization. Kodon’s achievements will be acknowledging in a forthcoming issue of the prestigious literary publication “The Writer’s Chronicle” and at the 2019 AWP Annual Conference and Bookfair, which, according to Ciera Horton McElroy (‘18), is the largest literary conference in North America.

McElroy was the supervising Editor in Chief of Kodon for the issue that won the prize. She told the Record in an email that this award is “quite the honor, since we were competing with undergraduate programs (of all sizes!) and literary journals from around the country. This award really speaks volumes to the artistic vision and creativity of the Wheaton students who made this journal possible — and to the way Wheaton continues to support the arts.”

Kodon has a rich history of being particularly effective at spotlighting the creative ingenuity of Wheaton students. The journal is a biannual art-centric journal that features students’ fiction, nonfiction, poetry and art. Kodon was first published in October of 1946 and was originally a monthly publication with short stories, cartoons, pictures and editorials.

After several formatting changes, it became a seasonal publication in 1960. Kodon has seen its fair share of controversy over the years; its artistic community sometimes had different opinions than the Board of Trustees on the appropriateness of its content. After several suspensions in the 1960s, student editor in 1962 Wes Craven (who went on to direct such famous horror movies such as “Scream” and “Nightmare on Elm Street”) wrote that “it is the conviction in this office, that, in the arts the Fundamentalist Christian world, and more specifically Wheaton, is sadly short of its potential and far behind its contemporaries.

Therefore the copy of this magazine will remain (as long as the present staff remains), free and limited only by the criteria and the boundaries of artistry.”

His statement, followed by a similarly controversial winter issue, caused the Board of Trustees to suspend the student publication. The next year, Kodon was allowed to resume activities and has remained a mainstay for the artistic expression of the

Wheaton student body. A diverse student staff led by Kodon Editor-in-Chief Amanda Laky oversee each division of the issue, Wheaton students are invited to send in their literary and artistic work to be reviewed by other students and potentially featured. The graphic designing of each biannual Kodon publication is often overlooked. Students’ original designs and layout adorn each issue, centered around a theme.

This year, Kodon’s Spring Semester 2017 design received favorable feedback from national designers as a result of winning the AWP award. Kerns, the judge for the competition, raved about the evocation of a “gravitas that often accompanies black and white photography … Such restraint and exuberance set the stage for the content that follows. Each piece of art and writing, although independent, is held together with the dynamic tension of a quiet palette paired with solid type.” This restraint and exuberance were also reflected in the unique color blocking and text distribution of the issue, according to Kerns. She noted that “this push-pull, like breathing, creates a rhythm that carries the reader through the pages and allows the content to be savored. The publication is lively and contemplative at the same time, bookended by grid-based typographic layouts for the table of contents pages in the front, to short reflections on the theme in the back. The design is strong and cohesive and really quite lovely.”

Kodon staff who talked to the Record continually brought up Kerns’ comment that the design was evocative of a “high-fashion magazine.” Arah Ko (‘18), the poetry editor at the printing of the issue and the editor in chief at the time of submission, explained that the original vision for the design did indeed come from a high-fashion publication: “It’s not necessarily something you’d expect from a literary journal, but we have the opportunity to be a bit experimental as a student publication … so that was a really fun opportunity.”

The high level of design skill is equally unexpected for an undergraduate publication. In fact, Ko remarked that one of the original reasons for entering the Spring 2017 issue of Kodon into the competition was hope of recognition for the amount of work and resources that are poured into the journal.

“The quality was unusually high, school invests a lot in it, we train a lot of students to work on the staff and it wasn’t really getting to a wider audience or getting recognized outside of the immediate Wheaton community…. [and so through the AWP competition,] it was really great to be recognized in our first go.”

The design process is made easier by Kodon’s friendly relationship with their printer. Hannah Lane (‘19), the publicity manager for Kodon, told the Record what a difference it made for Kodon to have a close tie with the printers. She said emphatically that “We have a fantastic relationship with our printer; they have been working with us for years … it’s great, because printing costs for magazines (especially of the quality of Kodon) are really going up nationwide right now because there’s so much [competition].”

However, for Kodon, the printing price is kept low because the printer sees printing Kodon as part of their ministry. This special connection speaks volumes about the community- bridging impact of Kodon’s work, as it attempts to display thought-provoking art and writing in a God-honoring and beautiful way.

The printer also helped Kodon’s staff who worked on the winning issue brainstorm their design. Ko told the Record about this process. “They said, ‘you know, if you just find a sample of something that you’d like us to do, you can just bring it in and we can see how close we can get to that.’ So she actually found a fashion magazine and she was like ‘I like the feeling of this’ and so she brought it in, and there was this big meeting with the printer and the editorial team and the designer and they all collaborated and decided on the issue that we got.”

Building on the success of last year’s issues, Kodon is attempting to emphasize the universality of their mission through their design in this year’s offerings. “This year we’re really starting to explore the vibes,” Lane said with a grin.

“The vibes that we want Kodon to have this fall [are going to be] a little more homegrown, something very, artistic and bright and interesting because we’re really trying to emphasize that Kodon is for Wheaton.” As opposed to previous years, which Lane characterized as seeming to be “the English department and the art department putting out a shared effort,” Kodon is aiming to reflect the wide array of talents and backgrounds of Wheaton as a whole. The next issue will be “something very much about campus,” Lane told the Record. “Anyone can make art and write and do beautiful things, so I think that’s something that we want to reflect in our aesthetic.”

As opposed to the dark, subtle and simple edition that won the National Program Director’s prize, Kodon’s future issue will be eye catching, according to Lane. When asked about how winning the prize has impacted the Kodon staff, Lane told the Record, “It definitely has put the heat on,” laughed and then quickly added “In a good way, a good way!” Kodon’s success last semester has motivated the current Kodon staff, who are mostly new to their positions, to distinguish this issue. Lane explained, “We have something big to live up to now, and we’re a lot more visible, so it’s exciting because it feels like we’re recognized and validated for the first time.” The new, national visibility is exciting but also comes with its own set of responsibilities. Kodon must show itself to be well-made, conventionally excellent and yet altogether unique in order to garner accolades on the level of last year. Lane summarized Kodon’s mission this year as “hoping not to necessarily outdo ourselves but at least create something equally as impressive … it’s going to be different for sure, but we have no doubt that it’s going to be of the same quality, because we want to represent the college well.” Kodon is currently accepting submissions for their fall issue.

Submissions can be sent to kodon.submittable. com by Saturday Oct. 13 at midnight.

Unidad: Unity, not uniformity

“We’re really cool and really fun. We’re really eye-catching and

enduring. We care a lot.”

That is Unidad in a nutshell, according to the president of the organization, Gabidel Miranda (‘18). After observing the work the group is doing on Latinx students among campus, Miranda’s words ring true.

Unidad was founded in 2002 and operates under the Office of Multicultural Outreach. The group is led by a cabinet made up of Miranda (President), Cristina Guevara (Vice President and Business Manager), Sarai Lopez (Events Coordinator), Estefania Hernandez (Chaplain) and Emanuel Acosta (Publicity Manager).

“Unidad is the group on campus for anyone who celebrates or desires to explore their Latin heritage,” Miranda said. “We focus on building community as we celebrate, explore and develop an identity in Christ.”

More so, Unidad hopes “to reflect the Kingdom of God by portraying unity amidst diversity,” according to Hernandez (‘21). Unidad achieves this mission through weekly dinners at Saga called “mesas,” along with movie nights, one-on-one meetings, monthly homemade meals and larger group events.

“There’s a super high emphasis on the relational aspect of our club. We’re not just hosting a dance. Every event that we have, we’re trying to create a space where people are building connections,” Guevara (‘18) said.

To achieve these connections, cabinet members make themselves readily available and initiate one-on-one conversations with students over meals or study times.

For a student who is part of a minority group at Wheaton, adjusting to the environment — especially as a freshman — can present some challenges.

A major way Unidad works to care for their students is to walk alongside them and initiate dialogue as they discover more about their ethnic identity and strive to embrace it.

Hernandez spoke about the influence this care has brought her during her time at Wheaton.

“When I came here, I experienced what you would call ‘culture shock.’ I didn’t know how to deal with that … I missed hearing people speaking in Spanish and I missed seeing my culture. Even though there are Hispanics here, my particular ethnicity is Colombian and there was very little Colombian representation; that was a little upsetting,” Hernandez said.

“The Lord really tugged at my heart to be that representation for the campus if no one else does it. So I began to be more involved with Unidad.”

Now, Chaplain Hernandez is able to work closely with students of all Latinx backgrounds as they discover their ethnic identity as well as their spiritual identity.

Within the Latinx community, there are numerous smaller communities, many of which are represented by the Unidad cabinet. “This year is actually the year that our cabinet [is] most diverse. We’re all from different backgrounds and I’m so happy and proud of that,” said Miranda, who is a Mexican-American.

The other cabinet members represent the diverse heritage of Colombia, El Salvador, Puerto Rico and Costa Rica.

“We don’t all fit the same mold,” Hernandez said. “We don’t aim for uniformity, we aim for unity.” Indeed, the name of the group, Unidad, reflects this mission. In Spanish, Unidad means “unity.”

“It speaks to how we as a whole, as a body of Christ, should be united with each other. Coming from similar backgrounds … we should unite in those beautiful similarities and connections,” said Miranda.

Students have a chance to exchange their unique traditions at Unidad’s yearly retreat. “There was a time to tell our stories and how we got there and it was cool to see how everyone has a different story within their Latin background,”

Hernandez said. “When we would listen to music, it was nice to hear music that I hadn’t heard in a long time since I’d been here.”

Although uniting Latinx students is Unidad’s primary goal, the organization also hosts events that allow students of other backgrounds to gain exposure to Latinx culture and unite with those of a different ethnic background.

Hispanic Heritage Month, which lasts from Sept. 15 through Oct. 14, offers an opportunity. Alongside their usual weekly activities, Unidad is hosting a dance in conjunction with College Union, as well as a taquiza and a Coffee House in celebration.

Members of the organization will also appear in chapel alongside upcoming guest speakers. “We’re eager for each of the chapels Unidad has supported us in planning,” said the Chaplain’s Office in an email.

Students who wish to immerse themselves more into Latinx culture are encouraged to attend these events. However, Guevara reminds students that while attending Unidad events gains exposure, it does not lead to total understanding of the Latinx culture.

“It’s not enough just to come to one of our events and be like, ‘Oh wow, I’m a [Latinx] expert.’ I would encourage people to talk to students of color on campus,” Guevara said.

Miranda offers some other methods of becoming more informed about other cultures: “Read diverse literature, listen to different types of music, watch different kinds of TV, ask how you can get involved.” Above all, she asks students to listen. Cultural engagement and racial reconciliation have been principal goals on campus as of late.

The Unidad cabinet emphasized that while this goal is achievable, it is up to the institution to bring about this change by hiring more faculty of color and actively recruiting students with diverse backgrounds.

Organizations such as Unidad, Koinonia and the William Osborne Society are there to support minority students.

“We are tasked with building community and making our students feel safe and cared for. We focus on that more than making a cultural impact on Wheaton,” Miranda explained.

Hernandez points out that collaboration is a key way that Unidad and other organizations can bring about cultural engagement and unity.

“When you work together, you have to listen to each other and to different opinions,” said Hernandez. Successful collaboration requires all parties to consider the needs of those they are working with.

Unidad is currently exemplifying this by working with the Chaplain’s Office to lead chapel services.

In the meantime, Unidad will continue hosting events aimed at providing a welcoming community for Latinx students.

More information about these events can be found in Lower Beamer on the Unidad board near Sam’s.

Wading through literature

There are two leather armchairs in Dr. David and Dr. Crystal Downing’s office. They are positioned in front of a window which overlooks the front yard of the Marion E. Wade Center. On an overcast day last week, with the sky spitting raindrops, I sat in one of them next to Crystal while David pulled over a chair from behind the large desk to join our conversation. In this green-carpeted office, surrounded by bookcases holding various volumes written by or about the Wade’s seven authors, the Downings were clearly in their element.

“The other day I was having a geeky conversation … about [whether] Tolkien visualized elves as having pointy ears,” David said, laughing. “Those are the [kinds] of discussions we get into over here on this side of the street.”

“This side of the street” is an unfamiliar place to most Wheaton students, who have perhaps heard that the Wade Center houses “the Narnia wardrobe” but know little else about the English-style manor at the corner of Washington and Lincoln streets.

As the Wade Center’s new co-directors, the Downings seek to change that. “We’ve only been on the job a little over two months, and [already] we’ve met a couple who flew in from Ireland [to visit the Wade Center] because they had just recently discovered C.S. Lewis, and a woman who flew from Romania and is wanting to start a C.S. Lewis center [there],” Crystal said.

“These people all over the world are recognizing what this place has to offer, and it’s kind of ironic because a lot of students right across the street have no idea that it’s here.”

The Downings are transplants from Calif. by way of Pa. Crystal, whose PhD is from the University of California at Santa Barbara, taught English and film studies at Messiah College for over two decades, while David worked as a professor of English at neighboring Elizabethtown College.

The Downings met as undergraduates at Westmont College and are noted scholars on two Wade Center authors: Dorothy Sayers (Crystal) and Lewis (David). The Wade’s unique and expansive collection of resources — a wealth of unpublished letters by the seven authors, original manuscripts, books from their personal libraries and scholarly literature written about them — drew the Downings to visit the Wade Center for research in 1994.

The Wade Center was started by Wheaton English professor Clyde S. Kilby in 1965 as a “C.S. Lewis Collection.” The other six authors — J.R.R. Tolkien, Sayers, Owen Barfield, G.K. Chesterton, Charles Williams and George MacDonald — are all writers that Lewis either knew or read extensively.

Today, the Wade Center serves 12,000 visitors each year through lectures, an open reading room, community events and support for research surrounding the seven authors.

Walking into the Wade feels a bit like entering an English cottage, perhaps one in which Lewis or Tolkien would have smoked a pipe and scrawled out manuscripts. The rich colors of the Downings’ office — green carpet, dark wood — are present in every room, and the glass-doored bookcases make recurring appearances throughout the building.

When the Downings first visited, David had already written one book on Lewis. “Planets in Peril: A Critical Study of C.S. Lewis’s Ransom Trilogy” was published in 1992 and born out of a fascination with Lewis which started during David’s undergraduate years at Westmont College.

“[At Westmont] I had the classic faith crisis where I felt like my conservative upbringing was not intellectually satisfying,” he said. “I realized that my church wasn’t giving broad enough or thoughtful enough answers to my questions. So when I read ‘Perelandra’ by C.S. Lewis in college, I thought, ‘Oh, here’s a much more expansive way to express my faith, a more intellectually satisfying way.’”

“Lewis kept David from losing his faith in college,” Crystal nodded as we sat in our armchairs. “I wouldn’t say Lewis kept me from losing my faith,” David interjected.

“I’d say the Lord kept me from losing my faith, but Lewis was the instrument.” Both Downings laughed. “Better theology that way,” David added. While David’s interest in Lewis initiated the Downings’ first visit to the Wade Center, Crystal was curious about the collection of Sayers, the only female author archived at the Wade Center.

Crystal eventually received the Clyde S. Kilby grant from the Wade Center to further her research on Sayers and published her first book,“Writing Performances: The Stages of Dorothy L. Sayers,” in 2004. In the decades that followed, both David and Crystal continued to publish about their respective authors of interest and come back to the Wade.

“I like to say [that] you’ll come for the books and you’ll stay for the people,” David said. He began listing off the names of the librarians and administrators who make the Wade tick. “Marge Meade, Laura Schmidt—” “Everyone on the staff is fantastic,” Crystal concurred. “Smart, hard-working. I’ve never been surrounded by a group of people that work so hard, and it’s because they all believe in what this center offers and what it can do.”

With their enthusiasm for the work of the Wade, the Downings fit in well with that group. After the retirement of former director Christopher Mitchell in 2013, the Wade staff began to suggest to the Downings the possibility of making Wheaton their home. In this scenario, one of the two would become the director of the center.

At the time, the Downings were still teaching in Pa. “Her college was always knocking my college out of the national playoffs, so I stopped telling people where my wife worked,” joked David. “When they talked to me about [being director] I said, ‘Yeah, but Crystal’s so happy at Messiah.’ And when the Wade staff talked to Crystal she said, ‘Yeah, but David is so happy at Elizabethtown.’”

If one professor took the position, it would mean uprooting the other from fulfilling work in order to move to Wheaton. A similar conflict had caused the Downings to move from Calif. to Pa. upon completion of their doctorates: finding career tracks for two PhDs in the same place — especially when many higher education institutions do not hire spouses in the same department — is a challenge.

Then, a little over a year ago, the idea of being co-directors came under discussion. “And we both said, ‘Huh, that’s something,’” David recalls. “I think that was what clinched the deal. We liked working with people at the Wade, but we needed that two-career strategy.”

As co-directors, Crystal and David will share scholarly and administrative responsibilities. They envision the Wade remaining a prominent scholarly destination with international reach, as well as attracting a growing number of local Wheaton College students by revealing the continued relevance of its seven authors.

“One of our principles is to talk about ‘The Seven Plus,’” Crystal said. “We have seven authors here, but how have these authors generated other forms of creativity? … It’s important to assess where our culture is going and show how these authors are still relevant to contemporary culture, and not just in the arts, but in terms of political issues, about the questions that people are grappling with today, about vicious attacks against Christianity.

How would those attacks today be handled by these brilliant authors in the past? They can help us think through these issues.” The Downings hope to host more workshop events in which students can meet with contemporary authors and artists to learn more about their creativeand professional processes.

They will also speak in classes across disciplines and hope to engage the campus in regular conversation about the Wade authors and their influence. “We want to stress that it’s a living legacy,” David said. “This is not a mausoleum where you come visit the manuscripts of dead authors, but their ongoing inspiration.”

Telling the truth about the humanities

When last year’s interim Dean of Humanities, Lynn Cohick, stepped down to pursue the provost position at another institution, Dr. Jeffry C. Davis admitted that he did not immediately consider the possibility of taking her place. Davis revealed he was hesitant at first as just last year he had taken on a new role as chair of the English department along with his current position as the director of interdisciplinary studies and his duties as an English professor.

“The question in my mind was whether or not this was the right time to even think about a new position,” Davis told the Record. He went on to say that, after discussing it with his wife, Ruth Davis, and mentors, “they thought it was something that I should approach with open hands [toward] God, and so I did.”

Davis, who has been on faculty at Wheaton since 1990, is known around campus and among his colleagues as not only a lover of English literature and the humanities but also as a strong advocate for the liberal arts.

“I think we need someone with a strong vision for the humanities, and I think that Dr. Davis has a long track record of thinking through the Christian liberal arts in really deep, interesting, important ways,” Associate Professor of English Dr. Christine Colón said to the Record.

When asked about what inspired him to take on any one of his many roles, Davis launched into an oral love letter to the Christian liberal arts. “The pursuit of truth is central to the liberal arts, and it’s central to the Christian faith … but at the heart of liberal arts is a pursuit of what it means to be free as a human being. How does someone truly live freely? And I believe you can’t answer that question without the gospel,” he said. “[The integrated power of gospel and truth is] the most exciting aspect of being a teacher at Wheaton.”

Davis is not the only one looking forward to this new chapter. In a phone interview, Associate Professor of English and Director of First Year Writing, Dr. James Beitler, expressed excitement for Davis’s vision. “I think he’s just going to be a great advocate for the humanities, and the liberal arts as well … he really wants to have conversations about how we can move forward as a division in ways that showcase what we’re doing really well. I think it’s going to be a great thing for us.” Colón agreed with Beitler, emphasizing, “He is really committed to helping the division think through what the humanities have to offer beyond the simplistic idea that we teach people critical thinking.”

With regards to his own vision for the humanities program, one of Davis’ main goals is to foster an environment in which “the different departments that represent the humanities have more face time and more opportunity to collaborate meaningfully, to promote the important work that we already do.”

Throughout his conversation with the Record, Davis constantly referenced his devotion to collaboration with others and said he could not be making this transition, which began in August, without the help and support of those around him.

In addition to what Davis called “meaningful collaboration,” two other main themes consistently came up when discussing his mission: advocacy and imagination.

“The humanities are vital to the mission of Wheaton College,” he said. “We serve Jesus through the liberal arts, in the formation of whole, Christian students so that they can serve the church and bring benefit to society. That is a distinctly human activity.”

In order to serve as God intended by connecting honestly and intentionally with those around us, even when they may be different from what we are used to, Davis emphasizes imagination as a crucial component. “We have to be able to use our imagination to consider what it is to be somebody in the world who needs something that we might be able to humbly offer. Not as one with ultimate solutions, but maybe as a single contribution,” Davis said.

His emphasis on imagination is not lost on his colleagues. “I love the way he thinks about the power of imagination … to enter into the lives of people in literature and not just leave it there, but how that [imagination] can transform us and transform the ways that we think about living our lives as Christians,” Colón told the Record.

Despite his vigor for the subject, Davis maintained that not enough people know about the practical applications for life that the humanities offer. “What I want to do is tell the truth about humanities. According to one source, a significant number of CEOs in the United States have a background in humanities.”

Davis leaned forward in his chair and continued, “Whether it be in business or government or in the church, the humanities [are] a great preparation for leadership, and that’s borne out in all sorts of studies … we’re not telling this story enough.”

Coming from a “business family” with both his parents owning their own businesses and all five of his siblings having created and owned their own businesses as well, Davis expressed great respect for business studies.

Nonetheless, what he wants prospective students and their parents to know is that the study of humanities should not be discounted when thinking about future employment. His colleagues within the English department agree.

“There are always reports about the humanities and the liberal arts declining in importance and concerns about students’ ability or success after graduation to land a job … it’s just not true,” Beitler told the Record.

“One of the things Dr. Davis will do really well is to spotlight that reality to our students,” he said. Davis is considering “a humanities cohort,” which he explained as an environment where students interested in humanities can get together to read, write about and engage with important texts in order to let the students take ownership of their learning and responsibility of the conversation.

Almost as much as he enjoys discussing the humanities, Davis delights in asking questions about them. One of the “great questions” he likes to ask with respect to studying humanities is: “Are you the kind of person that you want to be? Or do you need to grow?” If the answer is the latter, he says, “the humanities are essential to that growth.”

Davis reached for a simple modern lamp on his desk as he explained that the humanities are about reaching for the things that are great but difficult to grasp. “It’s easy to grasp things that are close. Some people fill their lives and their shelves with easy trophies, but the humanities ask us to reach for things that are noble, true and beautiful.”

He went on to say that “when we reach for those things, we don’t possess them, but in our reaching we become more human.”

It is plain to see that Davis is a wealth of intellect and wisdom, and when asked if he had any advice for freshmen considering the humanities, he answered with seven words of counsel: “Take holy risks and test your faith.”

He referred to the tendency of today’s culture to promote striving for security and safe bets, and the inconsistency of this message with biblical messages of faith.

“All the great biblical characters didn’t live with absolute security,” Davis said, “they didn’t have a safe bet, they didn’t choose something that was easy or secure. I think we really need to live out of our convictions when we live out our educational philosophy.”

Davis grew up in a non-Christian home. He came to his faith just before going to college. “I chose Wheaton much to my parents’ disappointment as they wanted me to study at the state university, but as somebody who was being called to something bigger and greater than I could even understand at the time, I knew I had to be faithful to that prompting by attending this college,” he said.

Davis graduated from Wheaton in 1983 with a B.A. in English Literature. He went on to receive an M.A. from Northern Illinois University and a Ph.D. from the University of Illinois in Chicago, both in English.

He now urges his students to participate in what he calls “holy risk-taking.” He explained it as moments where “we come before God and we say, ‘Lord, fearfully and wonderfully you made me. How do you want me to live with my college education?’ knowing that to whom much is given, much is expected.” Above all, Davis wants students — especially freshmen — to enter into college life and education with an open mind.

“I loved science in high school, all science. [I] didn’t love the humanities … but when God got ahold of my heart, He showed me things about myself that I didn’t know myself.” Davis’s final bit of advice?

“Don’t think you have it all figured out. If you do, you might be surprised one day.”

Building bridges

“It was the highlight of my summer,” exclaimed Estefy Hernandez (‘21), eyes alight with excitement as she talked about the summer program where she worked for six weeks. It isn’t your ordinary summer camp; the BRIDGE program allows students to work “amidst diversity and different thinking, different backgrounds,” Hernandez told the Record. “It made me more open to think.” The ability to think critically and to open one’s perspective to different life experiences are two main goals of the BRIDGE program.

The BRIDGE program, which stands for Building Roads to Intellectual Diversity and Great Education, is a pre-college program that provides academic, spiritual and leadership training for academically excellent, first-generation college-bound, low-income and minority high school students. It is a free, two-year program located at Wheaton College that allows a select number of students from the Chicagoland area to experience life for a month each summer in a residential, private academic institution.

The idea for the BRIDGE program was first conceived by then EVP of Community Diversity, Veronica Ponce (‘08). She had participated in a similar pre-collegesummer course at Stanford when she was in high school, and she decided to propose the idea to Wheaton’s Student Government board in February 2006. In a 2007 Record article about the emerging program that was implemented in 2009, Ponce talked about her inspiration for the initiative, saying that “almost all California state colleges and private schools have some kind of summer program … the idea seemed normal to me.”

Wheaton already had a pre-college, science-based program in the 1990s called Project S.O.A.R, but it was funded by the Hughes Medical Foundation, which prohibited Wheaton College from attaching a specific Christian significance to the curriculum. Project S.O.A.R. was also unsuccessful in its attempt to recruit low-income students to Wheaton College. Then-Provost Stan Jones summed up Project S.O.A.R. in the 2007 Record article: “It did not help us advance our progress in the area of diversity on campus.” Unlike Project S.O.A.R., BRIDGE was a source of much excitement for Jones and the Wheaton Admissions Department who hoped that the program would allow more interaction between urban communities and Wheaton’s campus.

The purposes of the program, stated in the 2005-06 proposal document, were to prepare Christian, urban high school students from low-income areas for college, to positively affect the partnering communities through outreach projects created by students and to increase cultural and economic diversity through recruitment. Doing so would “help Wheaton College better represent the diversity of the Church.”

The application process is rigorous; former BRIDGE student Valeria Pineda (‘18) told the Record in an email exchange that the first application step involves an essay, numerous recommendations from teachers and pastors and a high school transcript. Students who are selected for the next application step must prepare a community outreach presentation, group interview and individual interview.

Each year, around 20 students are admitted into the program and become part of the BRIDGE family. These students enter the BRIDGE program during the summer of their sophomore year in high school and complete the program in two summers. In their first year, students take four individual, week-long classes. This past summer, the courses offered were Coalition Politics and the Rhetoric of Rap with Dr. Theon Hill, Chemistry with Dr. Angela McKoy and School and Society with Dr. Mark Jonas.

Additionally, they take a writing course, taught by Dr. Alison Gibson, who told the Record in an email that she “designed it as a course that would support and prepare them for the writing assignments that were assigned in the discipline-specific weekly courses.”

These classes help the high school sophomores learn time management and how to function well with a rapidly moving, intensive course load.

During their second summer, students take a month-long Sociology class with Dr. Kim, a Wheaton professor in the sociology department. Two assessments, a group paper and a presentation of that paper are all requirements of the advanced Sociology class.

They are also able to take a professional development class that helps them create and present a community outreach project. If they complete the full program, they receive a minimum of 6,000 dollars in scholarships to Wheaton College, which provides many of the students with the chance to attend college.

Pineda, who was a student in the program from 2012-13, added that the BRIDGE courses alsohelped her with the process of applying to colleges. “As a first-generation college student,” she told the Record, “the BRIDGE program guided me throughout the college application process and throughout my years at Wheaton.

They provided workshops to complete FAFSA, provided insight and help with financial aid … revised our college application essays.” Without the BRIDGE program, Pineda says, she would most likely have never attended a four-year private college as a freshman.

Ultimately, Pineda returned to the program as a mentor and teaching assistant (TA) in the summers of 2017 and 2018. There are three different areas of leadership in which college students and other leaders can be involved: residence life, teaching assistance and coordination of a part of the program, such as spiritual life coordination.

She told the Record that her favorite part of her time in BRIDGE was how all the participants became a family.

“My closest friends are BRIDGE [alumni] who I did the program with, and my mentors were former [BRIDGE] staff,” she stated.

“The BRIDGE program creates a space in which we can be vulnerable, accepted and cared for.” As a student TA who had gone through the program herself and stood in the students’ shoes, she felt immense pride as her second year students presented their papers for Dr. Kim’s sociology class. She described herself as “extremely privileged to be there alongside them as they worked on their papers.”

However, not every student leader has had experience as a student participant in the BRIDGE program. Estefy Hernandez (‘21) heard about the program from a friend during her freshman year at Wheaton College. She decided to join as a residential assistant (RA) and spiritual life coordinator for the first-year students. This involved going to their classeswith them, reading their materials for homework assistance and mentoring a group of four girls.

She told the Record that she learned from the classes just as much as the students, especially one entitled “Coalition Politics.” “I learned that systemic racism is still something that exists today and something that we need to work on. There are still people being oppressed by discrimination and by poverty,” she said, passionate in sharing her newfound discoveries.

“It was very eye-opening to see how fortunate we are and how that’s not fair for other people that are just born into a system where they are immediately looked down upon.” Coalition

Politics helps students learn that they have a voice and that they are the mouthpieces for their underrepresented or overlooked communities, and Hernandez credited this class with allowing her to realize that she had a choice to speak out for these communities as well.

In addition to her role as a student counselor, Hernandez was in charge of coordinating devotionals and weekly worship nights and sermons, which contributed to the spiritual dimension of the program.

She mentioned that a specific group time called “community building” was key to helping the students feel accepted and allowing them to grow together as a spiritual family. “There was so much diversity, so much uniqueness, so much difference, but we grew from that,” she told the Record emphatically. “There was something really special we did and that was listen. Not everyone takes the time to do that. And so that was a time that we specifically set apart to listen to each other where the students, for the first time some of them, were able to be heard.”

Although the students come from all kinds of backgrounds, incomes and ethnicities, they can bond in the shared experience of being empowered, perhaps for the first time.

Even so, BRIDGE students that attend Wheaton after completing the program do experience difficulties that no amount of empowerment at BRIDGE can remedy.

Jenny Soberanis Arreola (‘19) mentioned that for her as a Latinx woman, it was hard for her once she transitioned into Wheaton. She noted that “BRIDGE” was a great stepping stool, for lack of a better word, into Wheaton culture specifically.”

Yet while she was prepared academically, spiritually and professionally she still becomes frustrated with the lack of Latinx representation at Wheaton. “For BRIDGE,” she told the Record in an email exchange, “there seemed to be a lot of Latinx representation, but at Wheaton anything that has to [do] with race seems to be literally and figuratively black and white, which is a step in the [right] direction, but often times it seems like it’s a ‘one and done’ step.”

According to Gibson, the interaction between BRIDGE high school students and Wheaton College students during each summer goes a long way to promote diversity at Wheaton. “The program shows the BRIDGE students that Wheaton College, though majority white in its student body, is committed to supporting students who are racial minorities,” she noted.

Wheaton College students often serve as the RAs and TAs for the summer courses, and the BRIDGE students get to see the diversity of race, gender and class that is present at Wheaton. The faculty that teach the courses at BRIDGE are also a resource for BRIDGE students who decide to attend Wheaton.

The true mission of the BRIDGE program is to empower students with the chance to grow in confidence, intellectual experience, professional skills, time management tools and spiritual engagement. The BRIDGE program is more than a summer tutoring session: It is a life changing time of growing in one’s own identity.

As Hernandez told the Record, with hand gestures to emphasize every word, “BRIDGE is a program that promotes diversity and promotes difference and hears your story and doesn’t force you to fit a mold but

encourages you to be you.”

A place apart

As the last day of Student Leadership week draws to a close and night falls on HoneyRock lake, nearly 300 Wheaton students cram into canoes. As they arrive in the middle of the lake, canoes awkwardly scrape against each other while gathering around a pontoon boat where the new chapel band team stands, ready to lead worship on the water.

As with most HoneyRock experiences, worshipping together in canoes is engaging, beautiful, intimate, spiritually formative and a little uncomfortable. HoneyRock is the one of few opportunities for Wheaton students to separate themselves from the stress of their everyday routines at Wheaton and step out of their comfort zones. This is especially true for the student leaders who will return to campus to train their staff and prepare for a year in service to the community.

HoneyRock was built to serve as both a college campus and a campsite where students and families of Wheaton College and other Christian communities can experience transformational discipleship.

According to Honey- Rock’s website, it is “a place apart, where people have a chance to get away from the distractions, noise and busyness of everyday life to a quiet place encompassed by God’s creation.” HoneyRock offers retreat spots for church groups, families, young kids and college students to engage more intentionally with each other and God through activities such as kayaking, canoeing, climbing rock walls and horseback riding.

Two weeks before the fall semester begins, incoming students arrive at HoneyRock for Passage. Passage is Wheaton’s optional student transition program. It invites students to engage in fellowship with other Wheaton students without the added distractions of technology and provides them with two course credit hours in CE 131: Introduction to Spiritual Formation.

New students enjoy a time of bonding with small, same-gender cabins while also completing coursework that helps ease them into rigorous Wheaton academics. New students spend a week in camaraderie with student leaders and professors, having small group discussions, solo times to commune with God, fun activities and sports and a community service day.

Passage wasn’t the only Wheaton organization that sent members to HoneyRock in the weeks leading up to the fall semester. Student leadership programs, which consist of different on-campus organizations, were also at the HoneyRock campus. Student leaders take their teams to HoneyRock for a week to help

them make connections with each other and establish a vision for their ministry during the upcoming year. Current Office of Christian Outreach (OCO) member Nate Wallace (‘18) talked about his third and fourth year at HoneyRock for RA staff team and the OCO staff team respectively, as helping him grow in his faith. He affirmed HoneyRock’s ability to provide a “break from the busyness of life [to allow you] to reflect on your own identity and just on a lot of the things that truly matter.”

RA Rose Wright (‘19) also participated in Student Leadership Week this year on the RA staff team. She connected her experience this year with her Passage experience, calling it “a family reunion with these people that I had never met before. It’s kinda a funny thing to say, but [HoneyRock] was just so welcoming and hospitable and exciting for me and getting out in the wilderness was something I’ve always loved to do, so that was really the start of my Wheaton family experience, which hasn’t ended.”

Many incoming freshmen, like Passage students Blake Andrews (‘22) from Missouri and Joey Robinson (‘22) from Illinois, first heard about Passage from current Wheaton students who participated in Passage before their first year at Wheaton. Robinson told the Record that his older siblings recommended Passage because it would allow him to experience spiritual growth and vulnerability. Passage provides students with an easy path to deepen involvement in the Wheaton College experience without the stress of beginning classes and settling into campus life. According to Wheaton’s website, Passage is second only to dorm life in its ability to provide students with meaningful and lasting friendships.

Andrews affirmed that the process of meeting new people is “one less thing I have to worry about once I get to school.” Passage student Carlson Chiles (‘22) from Georgia agreed. “I’ve loved, even though we haven’t stepped foot on campus, [that] there’s still a Wheaton community of guys in the cabin… you can already tell that these are guys that obviously care about each other and are looking out for each other and have a love for the Lord.” The physical and spiritual exercises that the students participate in together.

Passage student Edward Carrington (‘22) from Pennsylvania said that he specifically appreciates the outdoor group worship time at HoneyRock as a way to be involved with other students because “it’s different from your regular church setting… it’s outdoors and it’s a bit more involved.” The spiritual practices put in place at Passage prepare students to learn about the world in a Christian liberal arts context, and many freshmen are excited for their new learning opportunities. Passage student Marion Geary (‘22) said that she was “excited to have classes that incorporate the Bible and Christ.”

Another Passage benefit is the small size of cabins. Andrews noted that instead of being thrust into a huge group of people, students are able to be themselves in a smaller group of companions. He mentioned his cabin as being one of his favorite parts of the Passage program, as he and his seven other cabin mates have been able to share their lives with one another. “I’ve gotten to get really close to seven individuals, and even if it’s just seven people that I get close to throughout my entire experience at HoneyRock, it’s worth it for me,” he said.

Andrews believes that the community of his cabin will most likely follow him throughout his college career. “I know a lot of these people are going to be people that I keep in touch with well after HoneyRock and throughout my Wheaton experience.” He said the cabins serve to reinforce Passage’s purpose as a way to connect new students to each other, as well as to their current student mentors.

Passage leaders are often sophomores and juniors at Wheaton College, many of whom participated in Passage during their freshman year. As a former Passage leader, Wright met her best friend, roommate, and fellow RA during Passage.

Wallace, who in addition to working as a student leader was also a Passage leader two years ago, received lasting friendships as a Passage student and Passage leader. He said, “I was super excited to lead just because of my great experience at Passage [during my freshman year], and so just going into Passage as a leader … seemed very similar to being a student at Passage, except without any of the work and a whole lot more fun.”

Freshmen look up to their Passage leaders, and student mentors learn great leadership skills through guiding book discussions and activities. Chiles said, “When we’re doing debriefs or we’re doing discussion about the book that we read, [my Passage leader] does a great job of prodding us but not forcing false answers which is really nice.”

Wallace recalled some advice he gave the freshmen in his cabin that he had learned through the HoneyRock and Wheaton communities: “to be themselves, and God loves them for who they are, and there’s nothing that they can do to change that. When you’re coming into a new environment as a freshman into college, you have the ability to create someone new, someone you weren’t in high school.”

Wallace’s advice speaks to some common new student insecurities that are often confronted through the Passage experience. These fears range from fear of heights, such as reaching the top of a climbing wall as Wright noted, to fear of loneliness, failure and homesickness. Passage is specifically tailored to help freshmen bond through confronting their fears. Mu Kappa member and former

Passage student Lily Huang (‘21) recalled a specific moment of vulnerability and togetherness at Passage that changed her entrance experience. During an exercise where students wrote their fears on a slip of paper and listened to them read aloud anonymously, she realized that her “fear of not being good enough, [and] fear that Wheaton College [was] going to be so academically rigorous” were both shared struggles, and that common ground helped her to feel more comfortable with her peers and with her new stage of life. And that is what HoneyRock does: It allows people to prepare their hearts in a place apart to grow in community with each other and with God.

We can heal the world one stitch at a time

April 19 2018

Senior Jill Kuhlman smiled as she looked down at the white fabric squares stacked in her hand. Delicate stitches held together the small “leaves” of a fabric book, which was bordered in blue. She gently turned the cover over to reveal a myriad of small, embroidered pages. While colorful abstract shapes stitched into the book’s pages give the book aesthetic appeal, they hold a deeper meaning — they depict universal emotions. Fear, shame, worry — just to name a few.  One participant in the project, junior McKenna Biedebach, used embroidery to represent the feeling of being overwhelmed. “I just want to cuddle up with the book. It just feels like a companion — just the book itself,” Biedebach said. “Like something you can cry into or rest your head on. It’s just so beautiful!”

How does a simple book made of fabric squares and thread transform into “a companion”? Kuhlman set out to uncover the power of embroidery for both healing and community building for her senior community art capstone project, which is now on display in Buswell Library. She organized a group of 16 women, chosen from her friends, roommates and classmates. Most of the women had not had personal relationships with each other before this workshop, but as they continued to meet during “Stitching Sundays” they became a sisterhood. She emphasized the importance of her previous relationships with these women in initiating her project, explaining that she wanted to share her love of beauty with “a community that I knew.”

The women gathered together for an hour and a half every Sunday for five weeks to learn several simple embroidery stitches under the instruction of Kuhlman. Kuhlman was previously acquainted with the art of embroidery. “I’m not that great at making the best art,” she explained, laughing. “But I like to make art with people, so embroidery was the kind of thing that I could take ownership of … And I felt like I could make pretty things without being the most skilled artist.”

The women would begin each Sunday by participating in a story circle, each telling a story about an emotional experience in five sentences. Then, Kuhlman would play a song by quilter Cathy Miller for the women called “One Stitch at a Time.” This song embodies what she set out to accomplish through the embroidery circle. She sang the chorus to me: “We can heal this world, one stitch at a time.” The connection between emotional health and stitching was not lost on Kuhlman; she set out to show women that when they understand “embroidery and stitching as a metaphor for healing,” they can better understand how to process emotion. The anonymity of embroidery especially helped the group to foster the development of this process. “By designing and stitching my page in the book, I was able to express something that I hadn’t really talked about before and it didn’t need to make sense to anyone but me,” junior Emma Brummand said.  “My specific page was about anger. I have always thought of anger as a scary thing and I think embroidery helped me show in a visual way what anger looks like to me and why it scares me.”

Kuhlman’s goal going into the project was to allow the women to build community and realize that emotions are not weaknesses. “I notice that women in particular … often will feel like being perceived as emotional or having a lot of emotions will sort of prohibit them from being a capable leader or capable for a lot of the work that a lot of Wheaton students would like to do in the future,” she said. Kuhlman shared that embroidery had helped her cope with her journey to understanding emotions in a healthy way, and she wanted to share this method of therapy with other women.

Junior Jackie Westeren said that this project especially helped her “explore how emotions, specifically worry, can cloud my daily life…. This was embodied on the page by a colorful background being clouded by ugly, black, disheveled lines covering up the beauty. This defines worry for me because my excessive worrying about [what] could happen often keeps me from enjoying and focusing on the present.” Junior Emma Brummand agreed with Westeren, saying that the way that Kuhlman taught the group to see emotions as akin to data stuck with her: “The idea that we can use our emotions as a way to learn more about ourselves and our relationships gives them a validity that they did not really have for me in the past.”

Yet Kuhlman still found herself surprised by the results of the project. Some who had never before had any interest in art now incorporate embroidery into their daily routines. “[One participant in particular] never would have thought of doing something like this before, and she told me that she was surprised to find that she really enjoyed it,” Kuhlman said. “I would come home, and she would be stitching for fun — It’s sort of unlike her to be making [something artistic, but] she said that it was healing in a way that she was able to just sit and do something with her hands.” Biedebach, who never had the opportunity to embroider before, now carries her embroidery hoop with her into classes and chapel. “I get to be an artist, I get to treat myself while I’m in class and do something and make something potentially beautiful,” she said.

Often, too, embroidery helped the participants manage their health conditions. For instance, Biedebach has ADD, and embroidery allows her to keep focused during long lectures. “I’m not thinking about how much I want to move around, because I’m doing something,” she told me. “And it kind of opens the doorway into a potentially life-long work of having something to do.” This appears to be the predominant attitude of the participants of Kuhlman’s workshop: Many women in the group feel as if they now have a useful and accessible way to process their emotions.

Kuhlman did not expect her group to continue with embroidery after the five weeks of working on the “emotion book,” but she has found that a majority of the women are now inspired to continue designing and sewing. “They’re coming up and showing me a new project with a new design and a new idea, and they’re continuing to embroider, because it seems like they feel empowered and they feel like they can make something beautiful!”

The women in the group grew into a sisterhood and community, according to Kuhlman and Biedebach. Art has the potential to bring people together in community, especially an art as accessible as embroidery that is both cheap, transportable, and has an attainable skill level for a variety of people. One participant in particular “just didn’t know that other people also struggle and also fall into the same sort of sin, or just festering in anxiety, or festering in worry,” Kuhlman told me. “She didn’t know that that was so common … she felt really understood by the other people in the circle.”

Kuhlman’s own journey through the making of this “emotions book” was one of healing alongside the women that she introduced to embroidery. She felt surprised at the support and love that she received from the women in the group, and insisted that the group members helped her process emotions even though the project was for their benefit. This was perhaps the biggest takeaway for Kuhlman. “It’s easy to think that with community art and ministry in general, you’re gonna set out [to] give them the tools to make their lives better,” she said soberly. Yet she realized that even as her mission was to allow women to realize their emotions were not manifestations of weakness, she herself had fallen prey to this same mentality. She told me that she discovered that she “wanted to do this project because I see my own emotions as weakness. And the community really supported me…. [When] you try to do something like community art, healing and missions, you’re going to learn from [the people you set out to help.]”

Biedebach also talked about her own experience in being vulnerable with other women — she related that this was perhaps the most healing part of the book-making process for her. “It was just really nice to be able to sit in this room of all women who all have stories of struggling,” she stated. “I feel like in Wheaton, it’s so common to just put on the face of ‘Everything’s fine, I got it all together.’” Ultimately, the act of sharing about and then stitching negative emotions as a group allowed the women to take their pain and transform it into something tangible. Westeren agreed: “There were a couple occasions when women were extremely vulnerable with one another, and that was a great depiction of what Stitch Club had become — a safe space for conversation and community.”

This healing power is innate in art, Kuhlman told me. “I believe that art is not and should not be considered just decoration, or some excess thing for upper class people who can afford to go to museums and afford to buy expensive art,” she said. She ascribes to the mentality that art is something that every person can engage in and with, “because they need to, because it’s just part of their living and breathing.” The mending power of creating something physically beautiful reflects a spiritual reality to Kuhlman. “We need [to make] beauty,” Kuhlman said, in order to engage in “expressing, and releasing, and processing through feelings … and it’s a way to have your voice heard, and it’s a way to protest despair and de-creation, and [to] contribute to beauty-making that the Holy Spirit does every day.”

Kuhlman has watched her senior art project become a ministry of emotional and physical healing. This journey to healthy ways of processing feelings and experiences is not simply contained in one simple, bound cloth book, but carries into a variety of lives with those who learned the value of community as they mastered simple embroidery stitches. Biedebach and Westeren both marveled at the diversity among the women’s depictions of many of the same emotions. Westeren called it “a community and vulnerability formed between an unlikely group of participants.” This diversity reinforces the solidarity among this group of women, who now understand that negative emotions do not make them any less worthy, and are equipped with a tangible embodiment of the power of community. Biedebach said it best — as the women learned to “one stitch at a time, heal the world … [we] heal ourselves.”

 

The LGBTQ+ community at Wheaton: student stories

April 12 2018
By Elisabeth Stringer and Laura Howard

Junior John Mark Daniel is an RA, Human Needs and Global Resources (HNGR) student and Community Art major from Eden, North Carolina. He constantly reminds his friends to take care of themselves — he once handed out lavender oil to his HNGR cohort after a stressful meeting. He’s constantly working on creative projects and searching out the beauty in the world. And as someone who’s gay, he’s also a part of the LGBTQ+ community on campus.

Daniel and four other LGBTQ+ students sat down with us to talk about their experiences at Wheaton. These are glimpses into their stories.

Coming to Wheaton

Daniel, who grew up in a conservative Christian home, was initially reluctant to face his sexuality at Wheaton. “Because, you know, it’s the first time I ever left home,” he said of his first year here. “The last thing I wanted to dive into with all these other changes was my sexual identity.” Over the course of his time at Wheaton, he slowly began to open up to mentors and friends. “They all reacted in different ways,” Daniel remembered. “Some people just said ‘Oh!’ and then would just sit there in silence and try to think of a question to ask me.”

Senior Emily Paddon had a different experience. She realized she was bisexual when she found herself attracted to one of her female friends the week before finals her junior year. “So I kind of freaked out a lot,” she said. “I remember telling one of my friends. He was the first person I told, and I was just kind of scared.” Paddon’s friend assured her that her sexuality would not change their friendship, and after spending hours over Christmas break watching other people discuss their sexuality on YouTube, Paddon began to accept it and immediately began to come out to her friends. “I actually had a lot of insecurity about [that],” Paddon remarked. “Like, you’re supposed to be in the closet for a while because that’s how everyone else’s story goes … and then I was like, ‘No, I don’t care, I’m happy and I don’t have any regrets.’”

Mary* knew she was bisexual coming into Wheaton. Since she grew up in a conservative environment in the South, she had been hopeful that at Passage she could talk about her sexuality and “kind of kickstart being more open at Wheaton” than she had at home. Before she had the chance to tell her story, however, the other women in her group had a conversation about the LGBTQ+ community that dissuaded her from sharing: “They just said a lot of very hurtful stuff that I don’t think they ever would have said to me if they knew that I was gay.” Mary is accustomed to “people very much assuming that I am straight,” whether at Passage or in the classroom or in her DSG. She feels it’s as if Wheaton community members think to themselves, “we’re all Christians, we’re all straight here,” and encountering this assumption is painful.

Every story we heard was different. “There are a lot of letters in the LGBTQIA+ [lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning, intersex, asexual] acronym because there are a lot of different experiences,” Mary warned. “Please don’t take one person’s experience as a queer person to be the universal experience.

Experiences at Wheaton

“I have never felt normal here,” senior Jon Gonzalez shared when we asked about his experience on campus as a gay man. Gonzalez, an Art and Communication double-major from Austin, Texas, attempted to suppress his sexuality throughout high school. He came to Wheaton in part because he imagined Wheaton would be a place where he could continue to ignore it. “It wasn’t at all,” he said. “I had to come to terms with it. Wheaton was not the best place to do that; it made for a lot of obstacles.”

For Gonzalez, certain places on campus feel less safe than others. One of those places is Traber, where he lived during his first and second years at Wheaton. “[In Traber], there’s a heavy emphasis on what it means to be a ‘man’ — put that in quotes,” he laughed. “I had to present myself in a certain way to be accepted.”

Despite the pain he’s suffered at Wheaton, Gonzalez remains grateful for the people and places that have welcomed him and invited him to flourish. Adams Hall has been one such place for him: “I can express myself through art there. It’s a safe place for me to ask questions, to be myself. It’s a place of liberation.”

Creating artwork has been a way that he’s been able to come to grips with his sexuality and tell his story. Gonzalez’s recent senior show, titled “THX4NTH” (Thank You for Nothing) featured pictures of him and his friends modeling clothing he made from plastic trash bags emblazoned with the words “thank you.” He explained, “I’ve often felt like trash . . . having been underestimated and reduced in a lot of ways and just kind of trampled on, and for me this project is about reclaiming [my] dignity.”

As Gonzalez has stopped making attempts to hide his sexuality, he has also faced the threat of physical violence: “The other day an employee attacked me at Sam’s out of the blue based off of surface level assumptions — my voice, the way I look, knowing nothing about me — came at me with Scripture, and Public Safety wound up getting involved. He was later fired.”

It is encounters like these throughout his life that have contributed to Gonzalez’s difficulty to reconcile his faith and sexuality. In high school, Gonzalez remembered, “I would just ask God, ‘Why?’ I was so angry, like, this isn’t fair, I can’t control this! I hated myself. I had to stop thinking like that.” He now is more comfortable with his sexual identity, but has struggled to reconcile himself to the church. “A lot of how I have come to know and understand God has been out of total fear,” he explained. “I don’t want to abandon my faith, but it’s hard to have faith when you’re not really validated as a Christian and you’re kind of getting put in a box that is being shipped to hell.”

As we talked, Gonzalez seemed to surprise himself, realizing recent ways in which his understanding of God has improved. He named his Christian Thought class this semester as a place where he’s been able to reflect on the life of Jesus more positively. Gonzalez wishes others would view him with the love and understanding that he’s learned Christ has for him. “Jesus lived my pain and my suffering,” he said emphatically. “So that is reassuring and that is beautiful. But [that understanding] fades so quickly because I associate myself more with a sin and a crime than I do with the love of God — because I’ve felt more pressure and pain than I have love from the Church.”

Gonzalez is not the only LGBTQ+ student to feel unwelcome on campus. “Obviously seeing the stuff on the CPO board is hard,” Mary said, “even if it’s not directed toward you. No one ever wants to hear that no one wants you here.”

Teresa* echoed these sentiments. As a first-year bisexual student, Teresa came out to one of her Passage professors and found him a safe and helpful person with whom to discuss her story and theological questions. When asked about how her sexuality affects her experience on campus, Teresa said she feels that the reality of her being made in the image of God is often questioned in covert ways at Wheaton. Teresa recalled one chapel that prompted her to turn to Rebecca Meyer, ministry associate for care and counseling, and ask, “Rebecca, am I not in the image of God?”

Despite her feeling unwelcome in some places, Teresa has found community with other LGBTQ+ students, especially in Refuge, the group on campus run by Meyer dedicated to supporting such students. “Mostly it’s about processing how far we’ve come and where we’re at,” she described, smiling, “and reminding each other that you are very, very worthy, and you have come this far, and you are strong.” Though she’s still processing, Teresa’s at a point where she feels able to encourage other LGBTQ+ students. “I would say, it’s okay,” she said. “You are not broken. God doesn’t hate you. You are made in the image of God. You are worthy and you are loveable.”

Changing the conversation

While they identified positive aspects of life as an LGBTQ+ student at Wheaton, our interviewees were quick to point out areas that could change for the better.

Paddon proposed that the college could better communicate love to the LGBTQ+ community. “A common sentiment among the LGBTQ community is that, like, the administration allows us to be here, but do they really want us? And I think they do! I just think they do a really bad job communicating that.”

To begin with, Paddon wants the theological conversation to be expanded. “I really wish there were more opportunities just for queer students to tell their experiences,” she lamented. Though she recognizes the college’s official theological stance, Paddon would like to give students an opportunity to engage with affirming voices. (An “affirming” theological stance holds that God is not opposed to monogamous, consensual same-sex relationships). “It’s very problematic that we’re not allowed to have theologically affirming speakers here,” Paddon explained. “I think that’s kind of anti-liberal arts, and it doesn’t make sense. It would actually be to Wheaton’s advantage to let students learn about different perspectives while they’re here.”

Daniel pointed out a lack of conversation on campus — even among the LGBTQ+ community — about those who are transgender or genderqueer. He observed, “Gender identity isn’t even a conversation. The fact of the matter is that there are people on campus that are suffering that we don’t even talk about at all.”

Mary reminded us that the terms used in conversation are important. “Associating yourself with a label is not something everyone wants to do, and that’s definitely okay,” she said. “As someone who definitely does identify with the label ‘bisexual’ — and having that identification process be something that’s very important to my experience — it definitely is very frustrating and pretty invalidating to have someone say, well, you’re not allowed to use those terms.”

She also identified a need for conversation about LGBTQ+ issues to go beyond the LGBTQ+ community. “I think a lot of straight people go through Wheaton without having to think about these issues. What better place to begin discussing these ideas than the college environment — and a Christian college environment?” She explained, “This needs to be something you think about regardless of your sexual orientation.”

Looking Forward

Each student we interviewed expressed a desire to use their experiences as sexual or gender minorities for the sake of other LGBTQ+ students on campus. Daniel has become more open about his sexuality partly because he remembers the  encouragement of seeing older students who were out as part of the LGBTQ+ community when he was a first year student. “I’m not ashamed of being honest about my story and being authentic to who I am and just being empowered by my own story,” Daniels said about where he ended up. “And that is something that is immensely healing.”

Mary testified to the tension she experiences as she feels both the desire to come out “for my sake and for the sake of other queer people on campus” as well as the threat that she poses to herself the more open she becomes: “I have to acknowledge that [being more out] still is going to be opening me up to receiving a lot more backlash and putting me in a lot more vulnerable position with some of these people who do and say pretty insensitive stuff.”

Gonzalez urged closeted students to come out and to find a community that will love and support them, though he acknowledged that being an LGBTQ+ student at Wheaton can be difficult. “Don’t make sense of yourself from the institution, make sense of yourself from relationships with your friends,” he advised. “Don’t construct an idea of yourself from hatred and bigotry, make sense of yourself from the way that Jesus Christ lived his life.”

Our interviewees had advice for straight students, too. “Give me the chance just like anyone else,” Gonzalez said. “Don’t limit me and strip me of what makes me human because of this one thing.” Mary wishes that straight students would create and find spaces to learn about the LGBTQ+ community in order to alleviate the pressure of teaching from those in the community. She also reminded us, “Everyone here is either Christian or coming from a Christian background … It’s exhausting, how much we’ve heard these arguments.”

Each student encouraged straight students to listen. “If someone ever comes out to you or mentions it to you, don’t brush it off like it’s nothing,” Daniel advised. “Ask them how they’re doing, ask them what it’s like, ask them about their story. I think that that’s one way that we can humanize the story a little bit on campus.”

*Name changed for privacy reasons.