People of Peace? Sexual Violence and Christian Institutions of Higher Education

With Carolyn Mackie and Dr. Kim Penner I presented a panel discussion for Conrad Grebel University College. Event pageYoutube link.

We also presented a version of this panel at the 2022 annual meeting of the Society for Christian Ethics.


Sexual violence is a pervasive problem in higher education, including at Protestant seminaries and undergraduate institutions. Although governments have required post-secondary administrators to develop policies for responding to sexual assault and harassment, allegations of current and historic sexual violence continue to surface. Recent research on sexual assault and harassment has identified institutional norms and practices that determine how seriously allegations are treated in churches, higher education, and the workplace. However, there is limited research on how these institutional norms intersect with particular theological stances to hinder survivors of sexual violence in Christian higher education.

Our panel argues that diverse theological and institutional norms converge to enable gaslighting, victim blaming, and other practices of evasion in Protestant post-secondary institutions. As case studies, we will consider three institutions in two Protestant faith traditions: Anglican/Episcopal and Anabaptist/Mennonite. We will first identify how Anglican traditions of civil religion hierarchical power and Mennonite ideals of egalitarianism, peace, and separatism might justify norms of submission, loyalty, and pacification. We will then compare the responses to sexual misconduct by three institutions in these Protestant traditions as illustrating these norms and practices in action. Finally, we will offer recommendations for how staff and students can challenge destructive norms in Protestant higher education and push for practices of accountability that better support survivors of sexual violence.