by Into Account Staff
Erin Bergen, Student Advocacy Coordinator
Stephanie Krehbiel, Executive Director
Hilary Jerome Scarsella, Director of Theological Integrity
with video featuring Rebecca Schrag, Erin Bergen, and Anneliese Baer
Your silence today is a pond where drowned things live
I want to see raised dripping and brought into the sun
Adrienne Rich “Twenty-One Love Poems”
A Note from Into Account’s Executive Director
In March of this past spring, Into Account received an unexpected invitation from Mennonite Church USA, the largest Mennonite denomination in the U.S., to present two panels at their biennial convention in July 2019, together with an offer for free booth space in the convention’s exhibit hall. While we were honored by the invitation, we struggled initially with whether accepting it made sense to our organizational mission. Mennonite conventions are historically abusive spaces for marginalized people. Our Into Account co-founder and Development Chair Jay Yoder, for instance, was the target of vitriolic, homophobic sexual harassment and profound spiritual violence at every MC USA convention they ever attended. We feared that any Into Account presence would legitimize us institutionally on the backs of people who do not receive such invitations.
In the end, we said yes, and I think the reason why can be seen in the contents of the following video, taken on Saturday, July 6 at the Kansas City Convention Center.
Rebecca Schrag, Anneliese Baer, and our Student Advocacy Coordinator Erin Bergen addressed a room of over one hundred convention attendees, made up largely of youth and the parents of prospective or current college students. When they concluded their powerful, instructive presentations, the whole audience gave them a standing ovation.
We knew the convention would provide a forum for speaking truth in ways that could meaningfully alter the seemingly insurmountable power dynamics that these women are facing at Mennonite colleges.
After Saturday, we’re hopeful. And dear readers who care about Mennonite colleges, what happens next is largely up to you.
Our Mennonite #MeToo Experiences Matter
Together, Rebecca, Anneliese, and I (Erin Bergen) created a space we were deprived of in our institutions of learning and exploration. We made space for anger, sadness, regret, tiredness, and justice. With the help of Stephanie Krehbiel and Hilary J. Scarsella, we felt validated and safe enough to name our abusers and the members of the administration who were complicit in the violence against us. We also called into the space people who were unable to be in the room with us: our fellow survivors who feared retaliation, people who feel unsafe in a space claimed by MCUSA, and folks who have never been welcomed by a church steeped in a history of colonialism, racism, sexism, and homophobic and transphobic violence.
We welcome you to join in this space with us through this video.
You Watched the Video: Now What?
Are you upset? Angry? Grieving? Stay with your emotions for as much time as you need.
Now, for action:
The first and easiest thing you can do is share, share, share this post. That’s what will amplify the power of these stories. On social media. With your friends and family members who are Mennonite college alumni and/or donors. With prospective students and their parents.
For donors: Put your money where your mouth is.
- Put aside the donations you would normally give to Mennonite colleges and universities to help fund Callisto, the national gold standard in online sexual violence reporting systems, and inform administrators, board members, and Mennonite Education Agency officials that you are doing so.
- Tell Mennonite Colleges to publicly commit to Callisto if they want to receive your donations again.
- Tell the boards and administrations of Mennonite colleges that they must commit, immediately and publicly, to end the practice of silencing victims of abuse and sexual violence with the use of non-disclosure and non-disparagement agreements if they want to receive your donations again.
For Goshen College specifically: If they can afford to buy a victim’s silence, they can afford a real investigation.
- Demand that Goshen administration commit to a thorough investigation of their Athletic Department. It’s easy! They can use the full $26,000 they were prepared to pay Anneliese Baer for her silence to fund a thorough investigation of their athletic department by GRACE, and to pledge total cooperation with investigators. GRACE is far and away the best organization we know for investigating Christian colleges, and their lead investigator specializes in Title IX.
- Demand condition-free financial restitution for the Goshen women soccer players who played under abusive coaches. Withhold donations until this happens.
For Bethel College specifically: This perpetrator is still an active threat.
- Contact board and administration and demand that they publicly release the name of the serial perpetrator Rebecca Schrag refers to in her comments, as per their moral obligations as educators and their legal obligations under the Clery Act. He has many more victims. Secretly banning a determined sexual predator of many decades from campus through private agreement is naive, cowardly, and functionally useless. Placing the onus on survivors to risk retaliation by naming him for the sake of communal safety is a gross dereliction of institutional responsibility.
- Contact board and administration and push for a stated annual commitment to funding bystander education training for at least five students. When Into Account Executive Director Stephanie Krehbiel, serving as Rebecca’s advocate, asked Bethel for funding to send more than one student to this training, Bethel President Jon Gering suggested that Into Account provide the funding instead. (Into Account is a small 501(c)(3) nonprofit with three employees and an annual budget of approximately $60,000 a year.)
If you’re noticing a theme, you’re not imagining things: Money talks. Earnest appeals to conscience that aren’t backed by the threat of financial loss and decreased enrollment are almost never as effective. If you have any financial leverage, use it for the sake of people who don’t.
For parents and pastors: Your concern is warranted.
- Talk to your college-bound children and youth about this. Find out what their questions are. If you’re struggling to answer those questions, please reach out for help.
- Tell the boards and administrations of these colleges that you won’t encourage kids to go to their schools until there is clear evidence of change. (This is one of the most powerful actions you can take.)
- If your kid is being recruited by one of these schools, particularly if a coach is doing the recruiting, insist that all scholarship promises are put in writing . Make sure the college admissions department has a copy. Lack of communication between athletic departments and admissions is a huge red flag.
- If you’re a Mennonite college alum hoping for your kids to follow in your footsteps, do not let institutional loyalties cloud your understanding. Mennonite schools have traditionally relied on those loyalties to protect them from accountability for sexual violence and other forms of institutional abuse. It’s up to people like you to break that cycle of community-wide enablement.
For current Mennonite college students: YOU HAVE POWER.
- We know it probably doesn’t feel like it. But you really do.
- Contact recent graduates of your school who you know have worked on sexual violence prevention activism. Pick their brains and ask them what they know. One of the hardest things about student activism is that its leaders are constantly graduating. One of the best ways to build on previous successes or learn from previous mistakes is to ensure that graduating seniors and recent graduates keep passing down their knowledge to the next generation of students.
- Your administration may treat anti-racist work, LGBTQ+ justice, disability justice, and sexual violence prevention as totally separate things. Students can push back. It’s hard work, but building coalitions between your student of color associations, LGBTQ+ groups, disability rights and sexual violence activist groups will make it harder for your school to pit marginalized groups against one another. It helps protect students of color, disabled students, and queer students from abuse, and it fights back against the constant racist scapegoating of student athletes of color as the sole perpetrators of campus sexual violence.
- Contact our Student Advocacy Coordinator, Erin Bergen, and let her know what things are like on your campus. She can help you brainstorm organizing ideas, find you an advocate if you need one, and introduce you to other students who are working on the same issues.