Maggie Weaver is a sophomore at Goshen College. She is double majoring in English-writing and interdisciplinary: journalism, communications and music. She is from Lititz, Pennsylvania.
On March 20 and 21, I participated in Sister Care at Goshen College. Sister Care is a program of Mennonite Women USA (MW USA) that travels locally–as well as globally–presenting women-specific seminars on healing and care for women. The seminar I participated in, piloted by Goshen College, was the first Sister Care specifically focused for college students. Beth Martin Birky, professor of English and Gender Studies and MW USA board member, coordinated the event.
Carolyn Heggen and Rhoda Keener, the creators and organizers of the Sister Care seminars, worked with a focus group in April 2014 to adapt the program to fit the needs of college students. I was fortunate enough to be a part of this group, along with a few other Goshen College students and faculty members.
The main goal for the focus group was to identify the key issues that college-aged women face, so that Keener and Heggen could adjust the Sister Care curriculum appropriately. In small groups we listed the main issues we face as college women; the list that we developed was overwhelmingly large. Later, we narrowed the list down to four topics for the March seminar: self-worth and body image challenges, stress, the cultivation of healthy friendships, and exploring our life mission to shape decision-making.
Walking into the seminar, I found myself becoming anxious for the weekend. I had been so involved in the process, talking about what challenges I, as a college woman, face everyday. I felt as though I had placed a small piece of myself into Sister Care.
I was welcomed into the seminar space with the friendly faces of other Goshen College woman, fresh fruit, and freshly-made chai provided by women from four local churches. I sat down at a table (which had been practically covered with chocolates) and, with growing excitement, waited for Keener and Heggen to begin.
On Friday night, the focus was on self-worth and body image.
Heggen opened by emphasizing the values held by Sister Care and describing a Buddhist word: maître. This word means, to have tender, loving compassion for ourselves, and served as the perfect segue to talk about body image.
Heggen emphasized that quite frequently, preadolescent girls find joy in what their bodies can do; however, as young women these feelings often change to “What must I do and look like to be sexually
appealing?”. These feelings can quickly change into shame or fear of the body.
“Women go from feeling prideful and joyful of their bodies, and get the feeling that their bodies belong to males,” said Heggen.
She highlighted a concept she titled “self-bullying”. We are often over-critical of ourselves, insulting ourselves in ways we would never do to others. “We say things to ourselves that I hope we would never say to a friend,” said Heggen, “I am saddened by how frequently women confuse themselves with their bodies”.
It was at this point that Heggen and Keener had us do two activities: a body prayer and a personal timeline.
For myself, the timeline was one of my favorite parts of the entire weekend. We were told to place five different categories on a sheet of paper:
Preschool, elementary school, middle school, high school, and college. Under each category, we
described how we felt about our bodies, how we were told to feel about our bodies, the joy we found within our body, and the hurt we experienced at each stage.
Together, we laughed about our awkward stages in middle school and elementary school, but for me, it was eye-opening to see how my perception of my body has changed throughout the years.
On Saturday, after indulging in a breakfast that surpassed the college dining hall on many levels, we explored the concept of healthy relationships. We looked at friendships as well as romantic relationships; then spent most of the morning talking about acquaintance rape and sexualized violence on college campuses.
We watched a short clip from “Beyond the News: Sexual Abuse”, which told true experiences of date rape from both the female and male perspective. This led into what, in my opinion, was the most meaningful discussion of the entire weekend.
In this safe space created for us, we discussed how society views and reacts to rape victims. We discussed the policy on Goshen College’s campus, focusing specifically on the terminology used when dealing with a rape case (“complainant” and “respondent”). We discussed how rape education is lacking—especially with males. We also discussed how to forgive, without falling into what Keener described as the “forgiveness trap”.
From there, we moved to stress and decision-making, which led to a section focused on exploring our life mission. We ended this part of Sister Care by taking some time alone to list our gifts, values, what we love doing, and our experiences.
In many ways, the weekend exceeded my expectations. However, I would love to see Keener and Heggen plan the fall Sister Care, Part 2 weekend (October 9-10), so there is more time for small group discussion. I think that would help college women connect more deeply with the material. New topics will be covered and students who were not able to attend this first seminar will be welcome to participate.
The community that blossomed from the weekend was fantastic. I was able to connect and have conversations with women that I knew, but may not have had the opportunity to spend as much time with without Sister Care. During meal times and breaks, we discussed issues on campus or international differences; conversations that I regard with high value and loved every second of.
Recently, I’ve been captivated by the phrase “life-giving”; the term insinuates acceptance, affirmation, and worth. As a Mennonite, I aim to be spiritually life-giving; as a woman, I hope to embody this term not only for other women, but for myself as well.
I think Sister Care truly embodies the idea of being “life-giving”. The aim of the seminar is to provide women with the chance to heal themselves, something that I believe it does well.