EMU describes itself as "a leader among faith-based institutions" in emphasizing "peacebuilding, creation care, experiential learning, and cross-cultural engagement."
Worldwide, EMU is probably best known for its Center for Justice and Peacebuilding (CJP), especially its graduate program in conflict transformation. CJP has educated and trained more than 3,000 people from 124 countries. CJP's founding director, John Paul Lederach, and its expert in restorative justice, Howard Zehr, are considered to be international leaders in the fields of peace and justice. CJP alumna Leymah Gbowee was a co-recipient of the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize. In her autobiography, she speaks of EMU as "an American college with a well-known program in peace-building and conflict resolution" and with an emphasis on "community and service." President of Somalia Hassan Sheikh Mohamud is also an alumnus of Eastern Mennonite University's Summer Peacebuilding Institute based in Harrisonburg, Virginia. In 2001, he completed three of the SPI's intensive courses, studying mediation, trauma healing, and designing learner-centered trainings. He credits the tools and instruments that he acquired while attending the SPI with having equipped him with the necessary diplomatic skills to successfully engage challenging circumstances in his everyday work.
More than half of EMU's undergraduate students do not come from Mennonite backgrounds, though the majority are Christian. EMU's graduate students represent a diversity of faiths, as exemplified by the mini-bios on Islamic, Jewish, Buddhist, and Hindu alumni posted on EMU's website.
The school made national news in 2015 when it, along with Goshen College (also associated with the Mennonite Church USA), added sexual orientation to their nondiscrimination policy. This decision prompted two fellow Council for Christian Colleges and Universities (CCCU) member schools to quit the organization in protest. The two Mennonite schools later chose to withdraw their membership from the consortium in order to spare "significant division" within the CCCU's ranks.
Eastern Mennonite University was launched in 1917 by a handful of Mennonite church members. They recognized that their church-centered communities needed to offer schooling beyond the basic level for young-adult Mennonites who were hungry for more knowledge and for opportunities beyond the farm. These church leaders sought to stem the tide toward enrolling in secular educational institutions. One of that founding group, Bishop George R. Brunk Sr., stated that “the world standard of education is self-centered, self-exalting, and materialistic.” By contrast, he advocated a form of Christian education that “expands and develops the God-given powers both natural and spiritual, guides them [students] into channels of activity most conducive to God’s glory and the blessing of mankind.”
Eastern Mennonite's first registrar, John Early Suter, advocated that Eastern Mennonite not limit itself to being a Bible school, but also offer academic courses such as English, Algebra and Latin. This proposal was accepted when he and A.G Heishman agreed to teach these courses on the condition that their pay come out of any money remaining after the Bible teachers were paid. The Suter Science Center was named in honor of J. Early Suter's son, Dr. Daniel Suter, who taught in the Biology department from 1948 to 1985.
From exclusively serving members of the Mennonite church in the early and mid 1900s, EMU has evolved to educating thousands far beyond its original constituency of “Anabaptists,” a broad term for Mennonites and kindred subscribers to the theology of Anabaptism. EMU and its seminary are affiliated with the Mennonite Education Agency of the Mennonite Church USA, as are five other higher education institutions in Kansas, Indiana and Ohio – Bethel College (Kansas), Goshen College, Bluffton University, Hesston College and Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary.
Though it is difficult to sum up almost five centuries of evolution and differentiation among the Anabaptists, five distinctive attributes of Anabaptist Christians can be discerned: Firstly, they do not practice infant baptism – they believe it is important for someone to be old enough to make a mature choice about whether to be baptized and to be a church member. Secondly, Anabaptists have put special emphasis on the New Testament’s teachings on nonviolence and peacemaking. They also have stressed simple, non-materialistic lifestyles, and communities based on service to others or “works of love.” Finally, they have tried to put their understandings of Jesus' teachings into daily practice. As explained by Menno Simons, the 16th-century leader from whom the term “Mennonite” comes: “True evangelical faith cannot lie dormant. It clothes the naked, it feeds the hungry, it comforts the sorrowful, it shelters the destitute and it serves those who harm it. It seeks those who are lost. It binds up what is wounded. It becomes all things to all people.”
These core beliefs are shared by the Anabaptists who belong to the conservative Mennonite streams (including the Old Order, horse-and-buggy-driving groups) – who tend to dress distinctively and to live separately from mainstream society, thus avoiding higher education – as well as those modern Anabaptists who attend EMU and who go on to become physicians, nurses, social workers, counselors, lawyers, business people, teachers and other highly educated citizens fully functioning in the larger world.
EMU attempts to graduate people oriented toward the wider world and toward helping others. "Motivated by faith and a philosophy of service, the Mennonites – cousins to the generally more conservative Amish – have come to be regarded as leaders on the international relief stage," stated an article in the Philadelphia Inquirer on 10 August 2010. The article described "massive volunteer effort" to ease suffering worldwide, especially in the face of disasters, "despite the fact that there are fewer than 370,000 Mennonites in the United States and only about 1.5 million worldwide."
This culture of service is reflected in the university's mission statement. EMU’s insists on linking peace and social justice – it is home to the Center for Justice and Peacebuilding, and its mission statement refers to Micah 6:8 on doing justice, loving mercy and walking humbly with God. ”It’s no exaggeration to say that the graduate program in conflict transformation epitomizes the mission of EMU as a whole,” reported All-American Colleges in 2006. President emeritus Loren Swartzendruber has said: "We're a people who don't always talk a lot about our faith. But we do put it into action."
In 2015, EMU, along with Goshen College announced in an employment policy change that it would begin hire faculty or staff members who were in a same-sex marriage. The action initially prompted a crisis within the CCCU - with two schools immediately leaving the Council - and threatened a broader split over what was seen as a challenge to the authority of Scripture. The crisis was averted with the announcement on September 21, 2015 that both EMU and Goshen had graciously withdrawn from the Council, thus preserving unity within the organization.
In 1948-49, EMU quietly admitted two local African American students, becoming one of the first historically white colleges in the U.S. South to integrate, defying written and unwritten rules enforcing segregation prior to the Civil Rights Act of 1964. (The University of Arkansas also admitted African American students, beginning in 1948.)
In the last 20 years in particular, EMU has attracted people from all over the world and various faiths who are interested in the way it combines peace, social justice, simplicity and community. EMU orients its students toward “experiential learning” (i.e. hands-on learning, connected to real-world work), “creation care” (environmental sustainability), and “cross-cultural engagement” (required of all undergraduates).
In August 2010, a 1991 graduate of EMU, Glen D. Lapp, was among a group of 10 unarmed volunteers with International Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, who were shot and killed while returning from providing health care in a remote region. "As with many of our alumni around the world, Glen was fulfilling EMU's mission of serving and leading in a global context, which often involves great personal sacrifice," said university president Loren Swartzendruber. Suraya Sadeed – an Afghan-American graduate of EMU's MA degree in conflict transformation and the founder and executive director of Help the Afghan Children – told a newspaper reporter that such murders would not deter her and others from continuing to provide humanitarian assistance in Afghanistan.
In January 2015, the NPR program All Things Considered profiled the work of EMU alumnus Michael Sharp ('05) convincing FDLR fighters in the Democratic Republic of Congo to lay down their arms. The approach he undertook, of engaging combatants in conversation and working toward a third way, seeking to find common cause between opposing sides by aligning needs and desires, typifies the Anabaptist approach toward conflict and work in international development.
EMU claims that it is a leader among universities countywide in low-energy consumption, solar energy production, sustainable new construction, recycling, and composting efforts. Three residence halls meet the gold-level requirements of LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design).
In the mid-Atlantic region of the United States, EMU positions itself as a university that produces "servant leaders" who, it says, are readily hired or accepted to graduate schools. Over the past 10 years, more than 80% of EMU students who completed EMU’s pre-medical program were accepted into medical school For education majors, 98% who seek teaching positions are employed within six months of graduation, according to EMU. In total, the job and graduate school placement rate is 98% within 12 months of graduation, with 88% working in their field of study.
EMU's current undergraduate programs include 35 majors, 16 teacher education certification programs, 9 pre-professional programs such as pre-engineering and health sciences, and 4 associate degrees. A relatively new major, digital media arts, focuses on internet, digital video, audio and photography. A popular option at both the Harrisonburg and Lancaster locations is called the Adult Degree Completion Program.
EMU was one of the earliest colleges to require cross-cultural study of all undergraduates, with a university-sponsored program beginning in the 1970s. EMU recommends that its undergraduate students earn 15 semester hours of credit by living, studying and serving in cross-cultural settings. Nine cross-cultural credits are the minimum number required for graduation; these can be earned through in-class study and a summer stint of three to six weeks in a cross-cultural setting. Most undergraduates embark on semester-long, faculty-led, cross-cultural experiences, usually involving home stays in non-U.S. settings, such as Israel, Guatemala, South Africa, India, Spain and Morocco. But some students opt to satisfy the cross-cultural requirement by studying and interning in Washington D.C., while living in EMU-owned housing supervised by faculty members. Others choose individualized alternatives, such as a summer of studying business with an international manufacturer or 11 months of service with the SALT program of Mennonite Central Committee.
More than 75% of EMU's faculty members have lived in a cross-cultural context. The leaders of EMU-sponsored trips are drawn from the ranks of faculty and staff members who have had extensive experience in the settings to which they are leading students. Since 2001, three EMU faculty members have been Fulbright Scholars.
Each year EMU offers high-achieving high school students the opportunity to be part of the university's honors program. Selected students can receive 50% to 100% tuition scholarships, renewable for each year of undergraduate study. They also receive mentoring from assigned faculty members and attend honors seminars and social gatherings together.
Students who struggle academically receive free support through EMU's academic support center. "Many students with diverse backgrounds come to the university to pursue their degrees," wrote graduate student Sanjay Pulipaka in 2006 in The Hindu, a national newspaper in India. "Given their diverse backgrounds," he continued, "there is disparity in the communication skills of the students. ... The university runs an academic support center where the students are provided with various services such as proofreading and editing of their term papers." A young woman hit by a drunk driver – leaving her unable to walk, track with her eyes, retain information in her short-term memory, or write by hand – was able to graduate from EMU after five years, with the help of the academic support center and one-on-one help from faculty members and fellow students. In 2006 Fadi El Hajjar, a blind man from Lebanon, completed a master's degree in conflict transformation on a Fulbright scholarship, after EMU personnel made it possible for him to learn to walk with a white cane, cook for himself, use an electronic reader, listen to books on tape, dictate his papers for transcribing, and receive support from fellow students.
EMU's Graduate School offers accredited master's degrees through the following programs:Biomedicine
Master of Arts in Healthcare Management
Master of Arts in Biomedical Science
Master of Arts in Biomedical Teaching
Center for Justice and Peacebuilding
Master of Arts in Conflict Transformation
Master of Arts in Restorative Justice
Master of Arts in Counseling
Eastern Mennonite Seminary
Master of Arts in Church Leadership
Master of Arts in Religion
Master of Divinity
Master of Arts in Education
Master of Science in Nursing
Master of Arts in Interdisciplinary Studies
Organizational and Leadership Studies
Master of Arts in Business Administration
Master of Arts in Organizational Leadership
Extensive summer study programs are available through: EMU's Summer Peacebuilding Institute (four consecutive sessions); Washington Community Scholars' Program; Summer Bridge Scholarship Program, in which EMU collaborates with the National Science Foundation to offer scholarships for incoming science students to spend a summer working with faculty; a Ministry Inquiry Program in which upper-level students are able to spend 11 weeks as an intern in a congregation; nine-day Summer Institute for Spiritual Formation; graduate-level courses for teachers. The Intensive English Program attracts students who need to improve their mastery of spoken and written English before continuing into higher studies at EMU or another American college. Some simply use it to advance in their careers around the globe.
Eastern Mennonite University is situated in a small (48,914 population), city in the scenic and historic Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. Heading south and east from EMU, a traveler reaches hubs of urban activities in five minutes; heading north and west from EMU, a traveler immediately enters rural farming scenes laced with meandering two-lane roads that may be unpaved.
Eastern Mennonite's 361-word "Community Lifestyle Commitment" was adopted by the Board of Trustees March 23, 2001. With this document as a guide, the institution expects its employees and students to commit themselves to a lifestyle based on "clearly stated expectations [to] promote orderly community life," coupled with "trust in and responsibility to one another." It calls for "stewardship of mind, time, abilities and finances," and takes the unusual step of asking for "social responsibility in my standard of living and use of economic resources." Recognizing that "some social practices are harmful to me, as well as harmful or offensive to others", EMU expects community members to "respect and abide by the university policy that prohibits the use of alcohol and tobacco on campus or at university functions and the misuse of alcohol off campus."
The statement also asks community members to refrain from "sexual harassment and abuse, pornography, acts of violence, abusive or demeaning language and the use of illegal drugs" as well as "sexual relationships outside of marriage." However, the school does permit homosexual activity within the confines of marriage.
In the fall 2006 issue of the EMU alumni magazine, university president Loren Swartzendruber wrote a four-page essay on refusing the mantle of either liberal or conservative and daring to be "different from other colleges," in keeping with Anabaptist tradition and theology. "How do we define ourselves within a cultural context that wants to reduce complex realities to simplistic clichés?" he asked rhetorically. He told the online journal Inside Higher Ed: "We are, I think, a different kind of Christian... If [students] assume they’re going to find at EMU what they would also find at Liberty University [the nearby institution founded by the Rev. Jerry Falwell] they’re not going to be very happy here. They’re going to run into it headlong. They’re going to hear about the peace tradition. They’re going to hear a lot of language about what it means to be a follower of Jesus in this world. From our perspective, that means less nationalism, and a much more global perspective, care for creation. What they would find here is a concern for personal piety … but we’re not willing to stop there because we also believe that the New Testament is pretty clear that there is a social dimension to what Jesus called us to be and to do.”
The school’s “Community Lifestyle Commitment" statement has in past times been cited as reason for terminating the employment of faculty and staff members who are practicing homosexuals or lesbians. Defending the termination of two practicing homosexual faculty members as recently as 2004, then-President Loren Swartzendruber stated that the university's and Mennonite Church USA’s policy was that "sexual relationships are reserved for a man and a woman in marriage" and applied equally to faculty members who are heterosexual. He noted that two heterosexual employees had also been let go after having extramarital sexual relationships.
But less than a decade later, the shifting winds of societal mores found Swartzendruber on the opposite side of the issue. In November 2013, EMU's Board of Trustees suspended the enforcement of its same-sex relationships policy and authorized Swartzendruber to lead a six month study of whether or not to allow tenure-track faculty to pursue same-sex relationships without censure.
On July 16, 2015, EMU’s board would go on to add “sexual orientation” to their non-discrimination policy, allowing for the hiring of faculty and staff involved in same-sex marriages. The decision would put the school somewhat at odds with its affiliated denomination, the Mennonite Church USA, and out of step with the interests of the CCCU, of which it was a founding member. To spare the CCCU "significant division" within its ranks, EMU voluntarily withdrew its membership from the consortium and Swartzendruber would resign his position on the CCCU board. Prior to EMU’s withdrawal of its membership, two member-schools – Union University and Oklahoma Wesleyan University - had resigned from the organization in protest.
Residential undergraduates, faculty and staff gather for twice-weekly chapel services, planned by the campus pastoral team. Voluntary Bible study and worship also occur in smaller settings during the week and on weekends.
The Campus Ministries program says that it offers a "supportive community, place to nurture and form faith, and caring faculty and staff who mentor students" and sponsors activities such as: campus-wide chapels on Wednesday and Friday mornings, a student-led praise-style service on Sunday evenings, monthly hymn sings and Taize worship services, annual "spiritual life week," and service experiences under the Young People's Christian Association. Campus Ministries is led by the three trained pastors, assisted by students at various stages in their education, including in graduate-level studies in the seminary at EMU. Pastoral Assistants live in residence buildings and plan voluntary weekly activities.
As a result of EMU's location, bicycling is popular among the faculty and students as a means to commute, do errands, and for recreational jaunts around the countryside, both on and off roads.
Other popular outdoor activities are kayaking & canoeing, swimming, golfing, hiking, horseback riding, hunting & fishing, spelunking and skiing & other winter sports at nearby private and public parks and centers, such as Shenandoah National Park, George Washington and Jefferson National Forests, and Massanutten Four-Season Resort. On campus, students, staff and faculty maintain a greenhouse, an arboretum, and a large vegetable garden.
Indoor recreational possibilities include gyms (for basketball, volleyball, indoor soccer, etc.), fitness center with exercise equipment, and climbing wall. Swimmers head 2.1 miles to the year-round municipal swimming pool at Westover Park.
EMU's sports teams are known as the Royals. In most sports, EMU competes as NCAA Division III, a member of the Old Dominion Athletic Conference. Sports include field hockey, cross country, basketball, volleyball, soccer, baseball, softball, indoor and outdoor track and field, and golf.
Team victories and individual record-breaking are celebrated, but EMU stresses a holistic approach to athletics: "The athletic program provides men and women with the opportunities to integrate personal growth in leadership, athletic skills, wholesome attitudes and spiritual understanding," says a statement posted online by the athletics department. "EMU emphasizes a balance between academic achievement and athletic accomplishment" and aims to graduate every student-athlete.
Two-thirds of EMU's students participate in intramural sports, playing against peers as well as college employees, in friendly, often coed competitions. In 2009-10, dozens of teams competed at various levels in basketball, billiards, floor hockey, flag football, golf, table tennis, and dodgeball.
Beyond physical activities, students at EMU are involved in clubs and groups typical of college campuses, such as student government, the student newspaper, literary magazine and theater productions.
Students can also chose to participate from a variety of choral or instrumental musical groups, including men's, women's, and mixed vocal ensembles, as well as chamber and wind ensembles, a jazz band, and a chamber orchestra. EMU's music department is home to the proficient hymnal editor, faculty member, and chamber singers director Ken J. Nafziger, who also directs and conducts the annual Shenandoah Valley Bach Festival and the Winchester Musica Viva.Ingida Asfaw '62 – Leading cardiovascular surgeon in Michigan and major philanthropist on behalf of health care in Ethiopia.
Rick Augsburger '91 – Managing director of the KonTerra Group. Formerly deputy director and emergency services director for Church World Service.
Emmanuel Bombande, MA '02 (in conflict transformation) – Executive director & co-founder of West Africa Network for Peacebuilding. Winner of the Millennium Excellence Peace Award 2005.
Sam Gbaydee Doe, MA '98 (in conflict transformation) - Co-founder and first executive director of West Africa Network for Peacebuilding. As of 2011, employed by United Nations on development and reconciliation. A fellow Liberian, worked with Leymah Gbowee on Liberian peace movement. Has PhD in social and international affairs from University of Bradford (UK).
Leymah Gbowee, MA '07 (in conflict transformation) - A co-honoree for the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize for leading the women's peace movement that brought an end to 14 years of warfare in Liberia in 2003, most recently the Second Liberian Civil War.
Ali Gohar, MA '02 (in conflict transformation) - Founding director of JustPeace International, which has combined restorative justice with traditional jirga practices into community-level conflict resolution implemented in much of Pakistan as of 2011. Translator and adapter of Howard Zehr's Little Book of Restorative Justice into Pakistan’s languages of Pushto, Urdu and Persian.
Merle Good '69 - Writer and co-owner/publisher of Good Books, a supplier of books to Target, Costco, Wal-Mart and other major outlets, headquartered in Intercourse, Pa. Co-author with wife Phyllis Good of the bestselling 20 Most Asked Questions About the Amish and Mennonites.
Maven Huffman '98 - Professional Wrestler best known for his time in the WWE and WWE Tough Enough.
Erik Kratz '02 – Baseball Player for the Kansas City Royals. Played in the 2014 World Series
Donald Kraybill '67 – Expert on the Amish, Mennonites and other Anabaptist topics, frequently quoted in the worldwide media. Author of more than 20 books, including the bestselling The Riddle of Amish Culture and the Upside-Down Kingdom, which won the National Religious Book Award in 1979.
Glen D. Lapp '91 - A Mennonite Central Committee volunteer who was one of 100 members of the International Assistance Mission murdered on 21 August 2010 while returning from a medical relief trip in the mountains of northern Afghanistan.
Hassan Sheikh Mohamud '01 – President of Somalia. Founder and Chairman of the Peace and Development Party (PDP). Co-founder of the Somali Institute of Management and Administration (SIMAD).
Anthony Pratkanis '79 – Expert in techniques of propaganda and ways it can be recognized and resisted, often quoted by the media. Co-author, The Age of Propaganda: The Everyday Use and Abuse of Persuasion; founding editor of journal Social Influence.
Larry Sheets '87 – Former major league baseball player for Baltimore, Detroit, Seattle.
Allen Grant Stoltzfus '65 - Founder of Rosetta Stone language-learning software, in partnership with family members John Fairfield '70 and Eugene Stoltzfus '72
Konrad Wert - known as Possesed By Paul James since 2005, an American folk singer, songwriter and musician
Hizkias Assefa – Part-time EMU professor since founding of CJP in 1995, who works internationally as mediator for protracted national conflicts in over 50 countries, often as a consultant to the United Nations, European Union or NGOs. Has master's degrees in law (from Northwestern) and in economics (from U. of Pittsburgh) and a PhD in public and international affairs from the University of Pittsburgh.
Myron Augsburger '55, ThB '58 – Former president of EMU, global evangelist, author of more than 20 works of fiction and non-fiction.
John Paul Lederach – Founding director of Center for Justice and Peacebuilding at EMU. Professor of international peacebuilding at the Joan Kroc Institute of the University of Notre Dame. Author, co-author, or co-editor of eight English-language books on peace, healing and/or reconciliation.
Lisa Schirch - Former Fulbright Fellow and current faculty member at EMU's Center for Justice and Peacebuilding since late 1990s. Executive director of 3D Security initiative at EMU. Author of five books on conflict prevention and peacebuilding. Huffington Post blogger and frequent public speaker on U.S. foreign policy. She holds a PhD in Conflict Analysis and Resolution from George Mason University.
Howard Zehr – EMU professor known as "grandfather of restorative justice." Quoted widely on the subject in academic and media outlets. Author, editor or co-editor of more than 30 books, including the 16-volume series of Little Books on Justice and Peacebuilding.