On December 4, a group of five faculty members from various schools in the region will visit Spring Arbor University (SAU) to evaluate the school and decide whether or not it will maintain its regional accreditation.
On Monday, October 16, a student leadership meeting was held to inform students about SAU’s upcoming evaluation. Professor of Sociology John Hawthorne, alongside a team of other faculty members, has been working on the required paperwork for the visit. The document, at the time of the meeting, consisted of 28,456 words of the maximum 30,000 words and featured information on how the institution is doing academically and spiritually. Hawthorne said the project, which has taken up much of his time since March, is mostly ready to be reviewed by the visiting board, although it is still going through changes.
“I was really excited Saturday when I put what I thought were the last edit passes in to say, ‘Oh good, now we’ve got this thing put to bed,'” Hawthorne said. “I got about seven emails between 5:30 and 10:30 on Sunday morning, so then I went back in and I’ve been working on that since.”
The document will then be assessed by the five faculty members that are chosen to evaluate SAU. These members will come from schools in the North-Central region of the country, which is comprised of schools from 19 states. This region is also known as the Higher Learning Commission (HLC).
To remain accredited, five criteria must be met as listed on the HLC’s official website. The surveyors need to make sure:
1) The institution’s mission is clear and articulated publicly; it guides the institution’s operations.
2) The institution acts with integrity; its conduct is ethical and responsible.
3) The institution provides high quality education, wherever and however its offerings are delivered.
4) The institution demonstrates responsibility for the quality of its educational programs, learning environments, and support services, and it evaluates their effectiveness for student learning through processes designed to promote continuous improvement.
5) The institution’s resources, structures, and processes are sufficient to fulfill its mission, improve the quality of its educational offerings, and respond to future challenges and opportunities. The institution plans for the future.
Not only will the HLC be looking for those five criteria to be met during their visit, they will also be sitting down with various students to evaluate what campus life is like. Hawthorne said students should be honest about their thoughts on the school, although they should not take this as an opportunity to voice complaints about such things as the limited parking availability.
“We are not a perfect institution,” Hawthorne said. “The institutions that our visitors will come from are not perfect institutions. So, if you should say, ‘There’s an area that we think we’re working on as an institution and I wish we did more of that,’ I want you to be honest in that conversation.”
During the meeting, students can expect to hear questions such as, “What’s it like to go to school here?” and, “How your major classes are going?” Hawthorne, who is occasionally asked to be a part of the HLC when evaluating other schools, said he would not directly ask about advising, but there might be questions to ensure students know what classes they need to take and that there is a strong support system of faculty members for the student to come to with any problems.
Hawthorne said he assured the president that although SAU is being evaluated, there is almost nothing that anybody could say in the visit that would cause the school undue harm or prompt the accreditation to be taken away. The visit is a procedure that every accredited institution must go through every few years. In particular, the HLC typically evaluates schools once every seven to ten years, and this year marks ten years since SAU was last evaluated. Once accreditation takes place, it gives the school the opportunity to receive Title IV funding from the Department of Education, which means the school will receive federal financial aid funds.
The HLC will spend most of Monday, December 4 on campus, as well as some of Tuesday, December 5. The five members will then draft their assessment of the school to decide whether or not SAU will remain an accredited institution.
It started with a girl her son brought home. It should have ended with a Facebook post. But that was not what God had planned for Michelle Cochran.
When Cochran first saw the mLive surveillance photo of a girl at a gas station, she kept scrolling. It was not until her son came home and asked her if she had seen the Facebook post that she realized it was her son’s girlfriend, Danielle. Danielle was addicted to heroin. She had been caught on camera robbing a gas station attendant at gunpoint.
“Sadly, my first reaction was, ‘okay, at least she’ll be away from my son,'” Cochran said.
But the next day brought a different outlook. That morning, Cochran listened to Adele’s “All I Ask” on her mp3 player when the lyrics, “there is thought to my role,” made her pause. Then, “it matters how this ends.”
“All I could see was her face,” Cochran said. “And it just broke my heart. I cried over that girl for three days, and then I went to the jail.”
Cochran asked Danielle if she could walk with her through the trial. From then on, Cochran never missed a court date and visited her every week. Danielle could have been sentenced to at least seven years of prison, but instead made it out with three and a half.
“For that,” Danielle said in a blog post, “God is good.”
Danielle’s story is not over. But many girls are not given a second chance like Danielle. They do not have someone willing to build a relationship with them or guide them post-addiction or trafficking or incarceration, so they go back to their unhealthy environments or addictions. They start the process over again.
When fighting addiction, patients have a 40 to 60 percent chance of relapsing, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. A 2013 national study by the Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority on residential programs for victims of human trafficking found 37 operational residential programs in the U.S. specifically for human trafficking victims. That brings a total of 682 beds for an industry with an estimated 1.5 million victims in North America alone.
The freedom to choose their ending is a luxury that not many people have. While the issue may be broad and reach across the globe, Jackson county and Spring Arbor University (SAU) students and staff are working to stop the cycle.
A year before Cochran met Danielle, she heard about Thistle Farms in Nashville, Tenn. where girls with similar yet varying backgrounds to Danielle attended a two-year residential program of healing and support. Cochran fell in love with it, but it was put on the backburner until November 2016 when she brought it up to Danielle by mere happenstance.
While in prison, Danielle met women stuck there because they did not have a home in which to live out parole. Or once they were released, the women would go back to their unhealthy environment.
“It gets me down, knowing these women long to do better and get stuck in this cycle,” Danielle said in a blog post. “They get out and end up somewhere that’s unhealthy for them. They feel unwanted and unloved.”
That is where Cochran’s idea of a restorative home for survivors of addiction, trafficking, incarceration and exploitation would grow and come to fruition.
Cochran is the founder and president of SOAR Café and Farms, Jackson’s first home for women trying to escape “the bondages of slavery to addiction, emotional wounds, addiction and poverty,” as their vision statement states. The residency will provide mental and physical medical attention, education and personal/spiritual development to all the girls. Eventually the Café attached to the residency will be a place for the residents at SOAR to work, build their resume and gain new skills in a guided environment.
The land for the program has already been identified, but until its official opening in the next year or so, SOAR is spreading the word and raising money by hosting a “mobile” café. They host house parties where guests are paired together to create a meal, and at the end all the guests and a SOAR representative share food and SOAR’s mission. SOAR representatives are also spreading the word and raising money by selling healing products and a cookbook with “items by inmates.”
Girls must apply to the program and will be evaluated by social workers to determine if they are capable of completing the program. If so, they will be entered into the program, and if not SOAR will work with community partners to make sure they are cared for.
The community of Jackson is working on all sides to fight the underground slavery in their backyards. SOAR is just one of many groups to be working on this issue.
“I think [God] wants captives free,” Cochran said. “To be a part of that is humbling. I think that as we work together as a community, each person or group or organization doing their part, at the very least we can make it highly uncomfortable for trafficking to exist in Jackson.”
Cochran was not the only one looking at buildings for potential rescue homes. When the anti-human trafficking movement at Spring Arbor Free Methodist Church (SAFMC) called Set Free started to hone their sights on certain areas to tackle, the leader, Amber McKee, thought they were going to open a home for survivors. In fact, she was already searching for buildings.
But before she could go any further, a community assessment of Jackson’s needs closed that door of helping survivors and opened it to working with kids most vulnerable to recruitment into human trafficking.
A year ago, when someone asked what Set Free did, the answer would take 10 minutes. Now they have decided to focus on a specific issue within human trafficking. A study of “The Just Church” by Jim Martin said the place where a church can have the most impact on justice work is where God’s will, gifts and talents of the group and a community’s need come together. So they held a community survey. With the help of Spring Arbor University (SAU) alumni Deja Williams, the group contacted schools, law enforcement, churches, nonprofits, government organizations and more to try and identify the gap in the community they could fill.
That gap was with vulnerable youth and teens. A study by the Polaris Project found the most common vulnerabilities in potential victims of human trafficking. Some of those vulnerabilities include kids in the foster care system, juvenile justice system or victims of abuse and neglect. Williams found that 35 percent of youth in Jackson have confirmed cases of neglect or abuse. Twenty-five percent live in poverty.
Out of that research came the idea of the Brave event. Originally sponsored by the Salvation Army in California, Brave events reach and empower teen girls in the foster care system.
“Brave is an opportunity for us to intersect with youth that are hurt and have been neglected,” McKee said, “to come into their life and tell them they are worthy. They’re created in God’s image.”
But they are not only focused on girls. Post-event, the Set Free movement is starting a mentorship program between its members and teens in the Michigan Youth Opportunities Initiative (MYOI). It is a group of foster teens that meet every other week and are trained in “leadership, media and communication skills, including how to strategically share their story and present on panels” according to MYOI’s website.
By starting this new program, McKee hopes the Set Free Movement will help prevent youth from entering human trafficking in the first place. Through partnerships with the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, Salvation Army, public schools and more, the Set Free Movement has been able to raise awareness and educate students and other members of the community about the risk and vulnerability of those in human trafficking.
“There’s going to church and doing church things, and then there’s being the Church,” McKee said. “We’re outside of the boundaries of the church building, and we’re actually in community. It really feels like being the Church that God wants us to be.”
With a human trafficking conference at SAU, multiple programs and organizations addressing the issue and a dedicated task force connecting individuals from all of those groups, one would think Jackson County is riddled with brothels, girls on street corners and pimps ready to exploit anyone vulnerable.
Yet Jackson County has not prosecuted a single human trafficking case.
According to Jackson County’s Attorney Prosecutor Jerry Jarzynka, building a case against human trafficking requires resources local law enforcement does not have. It is a challenge to gather enough time and resources to build a case against human trafficking or enough officers to mount a surveillance operation.
That is why the county depends on community groups like SOAR, Set Free and others to start the movement. With the support of the Jackson County Human Trafficking Task Force, which connects the people fighting human trafficking in Spring Arbor and Jackson, the community is able to see, support, and fight together to help Jackson become “a community known for freedom,” as Cochran puts it.
The more diverse the backgrounds and talents of the task force, the better. A couple of FBI agents attended the last task force meeting, and Jarzynka sees the potential to start the offensive.
“With FBI agents who just attended our recent task force meeting, we are involved with discussions trying to organize a co-op effort with FBI and local law enforcement,” Jarzynka said. “So that’s encouraging. You need to do that if you want to be able to put a case together.”
Enforcing human trafficking laws by local government is also a challenge because of a lack of training and education, Jarzynka said. The laws are also so new that nobody knows about them.
Associate professor of sociology Jeremy Norwood agrees. He also sees a discrimination and corruption within the criminal justice system that prohibits the full enforcement of laws against human trafficking.
“Prostitutes are seen as perpetrators and not victims. Immigrant farm workers are seen as aliens rather than victims, and are revictimized by the system,” Norwood said.
The United States and other Westernized countries compared to the rest of the world have polarized views on this modern day slavery, Norwood said. Western countries think human trafficking is bad but are ignorant to its presence in their backyard. Other parts of the world see it as normal due to weak criminal justice systems and lack of resources.
That is why awareness and education are some of the first steps to fighting human trafficking. The Set Free Movement, Northwest High School’s Code Orange and counseling services like Flourish have those covered. Set Free is working on preventing vulnerable youth from entering the it. SOAR is the pathway to restoration. And the Jackson County Prosecuting Attorney’s office and task force work with the legal side.
“It’s really quite beautiful to watch the community come together to do something about this issue because it’s just so vial,” Cochran said.
It takes a village to work together to fight slavery in one small part of the United States. But that does not mean the fight starts and ends here. All of these groups would not be where they are today without partnering with each other and connecting with others in the community to share stories, experiences and resources.
Over the summer, several Spring Arbor University (SAU) professors traveled abroad to reconnect with old acquaintances, enhance their knowledge of foreign cultures and prepare for future cross-cultural trips for students. Here are a few of their stories.
Russia and Kyrgyzstan
Tears welled in her dark brown eyes as she recalled reuniting with the friends she had not seen in over 30 years.
“I was so pleased, so surprised by the fact that they were so happy to host me,” Inna Molitoris, lecturer for the Gainey School of Business, said.
Molitoris was born in Kyrgyzstan and grew up in Ukraine. But when the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, her family was forced to immigrate to Russia. This summer, after receiving a grant from the International Initiatives Committee of Spring Arbor University, she spent three weeks returning to the countries where she was raised.
The Kyrgyz, Russian and Ukrainian cultures changed significantly after the fall of the Soviet Union. From diversity to new technologies, Molitoris was curious to see how these countries have evolved in the nearly 30 years since the collapse. She came up with two goals to guide her research: to explore the local business culture and see if it could be productive for American people to develop relationships there and to explore how Christians in Kyrgyzstan are perceived by Muslims.
“I found that [in Kyrgyzstan] there is a very welcoming culture,” Molitoris said. “I spoke to Christians about how they feel in this country and they said ‘wonderful.’”
Looking back on the Soviet Union’s anti-religious campaigns in the 1920s-40s, this reflects a significant change.
Molitoris attended a three-day international conference in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan’s capital, that addressed some of these issues regarding globalization. One of her favorite memories from the trip was realizing that her college roommate was a key speaker at the conference.
Randy Lewis, Professor of Finance, traveled to Cuba this summer along with two other SAU faculty and 18 students. Lewis will be the lead faculty for the Cuba cross-cultural trip beginning in January of 2019. Professors Paul Nemecek and Terry Darling mentored Lewis during the trip in order to train him for the new position.
Cuba is a communist country that was closed to travel from the United States from January 1961 until July 2015. Despite this, Lewis said the group always felt safe there and the people were friendly and hospitable. During their three-week trip, they stayed in homes with families designated by the government.
During their stay, the cross-cultural group traveled to five different cities, including Havana, Cuba’s capital. They visited museums, beaches and the United States Embassy and got a first-hand experience of what the culture there is like.
“The nature was just gorgeous there,” Lewis said. “There were a lot of beautiful flowers and beaches.”
He recommends the trip to students of any major, since the country’s openness to U.S. travel provides what might be a short-lived window. A knowledge of the Spanish language is not necessary to participate.
“It’s a fantastic trip… and it could be a once in a lifetime opportunity,” Lewis said.
SAU’s Guatemala cross cultural and semester abroad programs take place at what is known as “Cambio,” an SAU location where students take the classes required for their trips. Professor Kim Bowen visited the Cambio site this summer for a few different reasons.
On his first trip to Guatemala, Bowen’s goal was to learn about the program and how students are taught there. His second trip focused on establishing relationships with the Spanish instructors working there. This year, on his third visit, Bowen went to train the instructors and interact with them through workshops.
Spanish majors and minors are required to take certain classes abroad, so the staff received updated syllabi for each of the courses offered. They also worked with Bowen on different workshops regarding teaching.
Because the Michigan Department of Education (MDE) recently updated their requirements for the preparation of world language teachers, Bowen also brought details of new policies. The staff at Cambio needed to be informed of these changes before the next group of students arrived to study there.
Bowen said that the Guatemala trip is a must for Spanish majors and minors at SAU, because studying abroad provides students with an “intensive immersion” that cannot be replicated anyplace where the native language is not Spanish.
While in Guatemala, students also have the chance to volunteer at local elementary schools and clinics in the area. Similarly to the Cuba trip and other cross-culturals, students stay in the homes of host families while in country.
“[This trip] will open students’ eyes and hearts to the Latin cultures and the Latin people,” Bowen said. “It’s a wonderful experience.”