Archived Voice Articles

A college without borders

By Dr. Carl E. Zylstra

It was our international student club that first came up with the idea. They had been struggling for several years to identify exactly what it was that held them together. Their conclusion? They are “Students without Borders.”

Dr. Carl E. Zylstra

Dr. Carl E. Zylstra

They tried several names, including Spectrum Club. And that worked fairly well because it underscored the fact that everyone on campus is part of the “spectrum” of students and staff who make up Dordt College. The problem was, once that concept caught hold, everyone could be—and many wanted to be—part of the club whether they had come from other cultures or not. As a result, some of the international identity started to fade.

Suddenly they hit on the idea that what they were was a gathering of students without borders. Just as the well-known relief group “Doctors without Borders” flows around the world with physicians from every culture seeking to help in any culture with need, so the Dordt College international students could be known as “Students without Borders.” After all, from where they came to the Dordt College campus is not really so important. What is really important is how they relate, once they are here, to the various cultures represented on our campus and how they assist the entire student body to be effective servants of Christ in whatever culture they might be called to serve.

What I’d like to do is take that concept one step further and propose that Dordt College’s greatest opportunity in the future is to become increasingly known as a “College without Borders.” In the last issue of the Voice, I commented on our current strategic thinking that Dordt College needs to increasingly become a gateway to the world. But, under the prodding and creative thinking of our international students, it now strikes me that we should take that concept one step further—and recognize that to accomplish our mission in the 21st century Dordt College will need to take the lead in becoming a college without borders.

Does that mean we’ll lose the identity we have built up over the past fifty years? Quite the contrary. The identity of the Sioux Center campus will be enhanced as we increasingly become known as a place where the cultures of the world can converge around a common task of declaring the Lordship of Jesus Christ in every area of human thought and culture. Our programs, faculty, and staff need to be strengthened, not overlooked. Our campus camaraderie needs to be intensified, not weakened. Facilities need to be enhanced, not neglected.

We miss a central aspect of our calling as a college if we make the mistake of viewing the education taking place on our campus as a self-contained process. We cannot view our campus simply as a place where eighteen-year-olds enter through a secure airlock, are cultivated in a hermetically sealed environment for the next four years, and then are launched back into “the world,” presuming that what has happened while on campus will automatically sustain their influence for Christ’s kingdom once they leave.

Instead, we need to think of ourselves as a college without borders. Borders of culture, age, and geography are not insignificant. But we cannot allow them to stand in the way of spreading the impact of the Reformed biblical education—for which Dordt College is justly known—to those whose barriers of age, geography, or culture have kept them from experiencing that education in the past.

Such a focus will transform and vitalize education across the campus. When education on campus increasingly is enriched by connections far beyond Northwest Iowa, the experience will even more effectively develop truly global Christians who can leave the campus prepared for service to every corner of God’s world.

Becoming a college without borders will take a lot of effort. It will require new educational methodologies, new instructional technologies, and new outreach programs. We may have to reorganize some of the ways we do things so that we can have the flexibility and creativity to allow our educational impact to be felt around the world.

We already have a good start: the publications of Dordt Press and Pro Rege, service outreach to Christian educators around the world, the global network of the World Wide Web, the involvement of faculty in seminars across the continent and beyond, the service and education of students this year on every continent (except Antarctica). Yet we still have a long way to go before the dream of today’s international students truly will have become the hallmark of every part of our campus and Dordt College really will be a college without borders.