SERIES INTRODUCTION:  Lisa Schirch’s voice will provide the next three parts in this series of posts in which survivors and advocates respond to the findings released in November by Eastern Mennonite University’s (EMU’s) hired compliance firm D. Stafford and Associates (DSA).  Read Stephanie Krehbiel’s Part 1 “Asking the Right Questions” here. Lisa’s Part 2 now asks 9 critical questions left unanswered by the published report of EMU’s DSA inquiry. In Part 3, she will provide a wider context for the DSA report by looking at Mennonite institutional patterns and the Pandora’s box of secrets the church continues to keep under tight control.  And in Part 4 she will respond to some of the questions and criticisms of SNAP she has heard at EMU. Stay tuned!

 If you are new to this story here’s some background:  In August of 2016 EMU hired DSA in order to, among other things, look into matters brought to light on this website in April of 2016 by two remarkable sisters: Lauren (Benner) Shifflett and Marissa (Benner) Buck. They wrote in detail about the hidden abuses of a former EMU vice president and how the church officials, to whom those abuses were eventually reported, failed to act in the interests of the public safety or in a way that made it safer for additional victims to come forward.  Lauren and Marissa also wrote about why they chose to decline participation in EMU’s DSA inquiry. You can find those articles here and here.  

If you are burning with an untold story of your own to tell, please contact us.  If you have seen, suspected or suffered sexual misdeeds, no matter how long ago the offense occurred–speak up. Protect children by calling child protective services, civil authorities, or a local crisis center.  Start healing by calling a therapist or body worker with special  training in sexual violence or join a survivor support group near you. Expose wrongdoers by contacting law enforcement, journalists, civil attorneys, or the Mennonite Abuse Prevention List. This is how your corner of the world will become safer, adults will recover, criminals will be prosecuted, cover-ups will be deterred, and the truth will surface.

Thank you and welcome, Lisa.

—-Barbra

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Part 2: 9 Remaining Questions on EMU’s DSA Report

Dr. Lisa Schirch

Eastern Mennonite University (EMU) hired D. Stafford and Associates (DSA)  to investigate the adequacy of EMU’s policies and procedures related to sexual violence (aka Title IX and Clery Act are the legal requirements) and “the adequacy of administrative actions taken in response to allegations of sexual misconduct by EMU’s former vice president for enrollment.” Click here to read EMU’s statement on the DSA report  released on November 28, 2016.  A second DSA report on the actions of Lindale Mennonite Church, Virginia Mennonite Conference, and Mennonite Church USA (MCUSA) is still pending.  

The EMU community and wider Mennonite church should be asking critical questions about EMU’s published DSA report.

1) Why did EMU limit the scope of the DSA report to focus only on Luke Hartman, a Black man, when historically, white men are usually responsible for sexual abuse among Mennonites?

By limiting the scope of the report, EMU and DSA unfairly scapegoat Hartman without identifying the broader patterns and problems of sexual violence at EMU.  The DSA report does not bring to light long-term problematic patterns of EMU’s mishandling of sexual violence. The report does not mention EMU’s documented use of secret files on reports of sexual abuse by its administrators and staff, and EMU’s use of secret accountability processes to address cases of sexual abuse by EMU administrators or staff. EMU has not required truth telling or policy changes that go beyond the limited scope of the DSA report.

Most of the experiences with sexual misconduct and sexual violence at EMU relate to white men. White EMU leaders have repeatedly and publicly denied any wrongdoing and refuse to take responsibility for their own knowledge and mistakes in relating to Hartman. EMU leaders even portray themselves as victims of Hartman.  This scapegoating represents unfair treatment of a Black man at a white university without acknowledging the history of systemic racism in the Mennonite church.

The DSA report also fails to identify harms to the African American students, staff and faculty at EMU as a result of the charges against Hartman. EMU faculty and staff brought these concerns of increased racism and fear of Black male students and faculty to the attention of EMU leaders in spring 2016. The DSA report fails to address institutional racism and lack of attention to the experiences of Black members of the EMU community.

2) Why didn’t EMU see an obvious age and power difference in an alleged “affair” as a red flag indicating a non-consensual relationship?

The DSA reports that Lindale pastor Duane Yoder and EMU VP Hartman had reported to EMU officials in September 2014 that Hartman had a “consensual relationship” with a 19-year-old. DSA reports that EMU responded “appropriately” to this report. DSA does not express concern that EMU officials believed their VP could be in a ‘consensual’ relationship with a teenager the same age as students he aimed to recruit and enroll at EMU.

This shows EMU and DSA’s lack of knowledge about the patterns of sexual violence. The Center for Disease Control defines sexual violence as sex “through intimidation or misuse of authority,” and “feeling pressured by being lied to, or being told promises that were untrue; having someone threaten to end a relationship or spread rumors; and sexual pressure by use of influence or authority.” EMU president Loren Swartzendruber said “we had no way of knowing” about Lauren Shifflet’s experience. CDC’s definition makes Swartzendruber’s statement categorically false.  

Shifflett had already told her pastor Dawn Monger, at Lindale Mennonite about Hartman’s threats of violence against her in August of 2014. According to Shifflet, Dawn wrote up her own summary and passed it on to Duane and the elders. She and her family assumed her account would be shared with EMU and hoped that Luke would be dismissed from his position. But EMU did not investigate the situation further, and did not ask the Lindale pastors whether the young woman through her advocate at Lindale would like to submit an anonymous statement describing what had happened from her point of view. EMU had a “way of knowing.”

Given the age difference and the power imbalance in the authority of a Vice President at EMU who had served as a Sunday school teacher for Lauren Shifflett at Lindale Church, it is inaccurate to use the term “consensual.” This is a clear red flag indicating sexual violence, an abuse of power. Yet every single EMU official who heard the report evidently accepted the assertion of ‘consent’ without any further investigation. And the report from a supposedly “victim friendly”, “independent” consulting firm finds EMU’s actions “appropriate” on all counts? If we are to trust EMU leaders in the future, we need to hear them acknowledge the mistakes they have made accompanied by a clear commitment to investigate all claims of “consensual affairs,” especially those between older EMU faculty and staff with younger staff or students.

3) Is it okay for Mennonite administrators to keep secret files or to hold secret knowledge instead of informing the broader church community?  

The DSA report confirms that Lindale Mennonite Church sanctioned Hartman in 2014 by preventing him from giving public speeches. If Lindale Mennonite Church did not think Hartman was fit to give public speeches, why did EMU feel he was fit to serve as VP of enrollment? After Lindale reported to EMU in 2014, EMU did not inform the wider Mennonite community nor did they publicly sanction Hartman. EMU attempted to have a secret accountability group for Hartman without informing the community and while allowing him to continue in his job as Vice President.

What are the standards by which EMU decides what types of sexual misconduct or sexual violence should disqualify someone from being hired or employed at EMU?  When does EMU decide they must inform the broader community? Why didn’t the EMU lifestyle agreement apply to Hartman in 2014? Does the Mennonite community agree that EMU administrators do not need to inform the public that its vice president had an affair with a 19 year old, the same age as EMU students?

4) How could EMU respond to sexual violence in a way consistent with Mennonite theology, restorative justice, and peacebuilding practice?

There is a significant gap concerning credibility and integrity between what EMU programs teach and how EMU leadership responded to the reports on their VP. EMU made an explicit decision to hire an expensive consulting company like DSA, whose main expertise is proving that an institution did not break a law. The DSA report may clear EMU of legal wrongdoing, but EMU leaders’ failure to use this opportunity to address harms across the campus, and instead continue to insist on its lack of any responsibility in this case, represents a significant failure in moral leadership and adherence to their stated mission.

In August 2016, I submitted two sets of recommendations to EMU leaders. Here is a link for the first set of recommendations I submitted to EMU leaders regarding peacebuilding and restorative justice process recommendations.These include the following:

  • Ensure multi-stakeholder participation: Recognize people need to be involved in a process to respond to a crisis that affects them.
  • Listen Actively: Recognize that people need to feel heard and understood.
  • Identify harms and needs of people affected. Address the harms and needs of diverse members of the community.
  • Offer Apologies: Offer apologies to people for harms experienced and identify other ways of addressing their needs.
  • Ensure Public Accountability: Identify who is responsible for harms done

I never received a response to these recommendations or process suggestions. It is ironic that I am viewed as an expert outside the Mennonite community, yet in my own university my voluntary efforts of hundred of hours attempting to show the university how they can truly resolve the problem of sexual violence on campus are ignored.

5) Why did EMU fill the pockets of lawyers and consultants instead of drawing on  experts on sexual violence, restorative justice and peacebuilding from within EMU and from outside EMU?

EMU has many faculty and staff who know about sexual violence. In addition, the Harrisonburg community also has a number of experts and practitioners with experience in preventing and responding to sexual violence. While it may not have been appropriate for these local experts to carry out an investigation, EMU could have saved money by turning to these experts to help review EMU’s policies and procedures related to sexual violence. In August 2016, I submitted a second document to EMU leadership including an extensive roadmap for specific actions they could take on sexual violence to accomplish the following:

  • Prevent sexual violence,
  • Respond to victims of sexual violence,
  • Address offenders who commit acts of sexual violence, including harassment
  • Communicate with the community about sexual violence.

Click here for the second set of recommendations on preventing and responding to sexual violence I submitted to EMU in August 2016.

These proposals are in compliance with legal regulations like Title IX and the Clery Act while also reflecting EMU’s responsibility to the ethics of Jesus, and the principles and practices of Mennonite peacebuilding and restorative justice processes which put victims and public safety rather than institutional interests at the center of the process.

A Fall 2016 task force of EMU faculty and staff adopted some of these proposals from my submission to EMU leaders. Both my original proposal linked here, and the task force’s recommendation are more extensive than and duplicate those that DSA provided.

6) Why did EMU choose not to consult with or listen to survivors’ and advocates’ concerns about the choice of the DSA consulting firm?

Before EMU announced that it had decided to hire DSA in August 2016, I sent an urgent email to EMU officials asking them to please delay the announcement so that they could listen to victims/advocates’ concerns. Lauren Shifflett wrote a blog on why she refused to participate in the DSA process. With her family, as well as SNAP and OSU, we protested their exclusion from the decision making process and the choice of DSA as an appropriate firm for the task of healing those wounded and prevention of further abuse.

Why did EMU leaders decide they did not need buy-in from Lauren Shifflett or her family, the ones most vulnerable to the outcomes of the process, or from survivor networks such as SNAP and Our Stories Untold, the ones closest to the community of Mennonite survivors who have had similar experiences to Shifflett’s?  Given the long history of the Mennonite Church’s antagonism toward victims/advocates, the DSA process has further ruptured the trust they have in  the university.  The DSA report fails to document EMU’s refusal to engage with survivors of sexual violence at EMU and their advocates.

7) How much money did EMU spend on its lawyers and the DSA consultants?

Rumors suggest the cost of the DSA investigation was over two hundred thousand dollars. Is this true? Does this include the cost of EMU lawyers? Are EMU constituents willing to allow the amount spent to remain a secret?

8) What were the budget tradeoffs for EMU’s decision to hire DSA?

Instead of spending money on lawyers and consultants, EMU might have addressed the problem of sexual violence in our community with more integrity by investing in 1) a fund for victims of sexual violence at EMU, 2) a survey of EMU alumni asking  how sexual violence has impacted their lives, and 3) investing in additional survivor- informed sexual violence prevention and response practices on campus. How can the EMU board make such significant decisions affecting the budget tradeoffs without consulting with the skilled and experienced members of their own community?

9) Did the significant staff cuts at EMU relate to the cost of the DSA consultants and EMU legal costs?

EMU terminated the contracts of a number of staff in November 2016. Were these cuts related to the unexpected and extraordinary cost of the lawyers and DSA consultants? It would be a tragedy if the cost contributed to terminating dearly loved, long-term EMU staff.

I hope the Mennonite press and community will ask EMU leaders these questions and hold EMU accountable for the answers. Many Mennonites insist they want to “trust our church leaders” while knowing very little about what they are doing or have done related to sexual violence. While DSA and EMU administrators assert they have handled cases of sexual violence “appropriately,” survivors assert this is not the case. Those of us who love EMU should insist on a higher standard for protecting students and staff, and for living out the mission of EMU.

Dr. Lisa Schirch attends Shalom Mennonite Church in Harrisonburg, Virginia, and is a member of the Anabaptist-Mennonite Chapter of SNAP (Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests). She has written several books and chapters on sexual violence and has provided training on the topic for the United Nations, the Swedish government and as a Fulbright scholar in East and West Africa. lisa.schirch@gmail.com