Diversity and Discourse: Scogin’s Ambitions for Hope College

Hope is in transition. We as a student body, faculty and staff are in the midst of change in more ways than one. I had the opportunity to discuss the beginnings of these transformations with one of Hope’s changes himself: President Matthew Scogin. A week from today, Scogin will be inaugurated as Hope’s 14th President at 2:30 p.m. in Dimnent Memorial Chapel. During our conversation following Scogin’s first classroom visit on Tuesday, he spoke of both the excitement and nervousness he feels in anticipation of such a publicized ceremony.

During his talk (the first of many, as he hopes to speak with every FYS class before the semester is out), Scogin was asked by a student what some of his top goals are as Hope’s new leader, to which he responded, “I have three or four big goals in mind; one is diversity.” In our discussion after his talk with the class, I asked him about what his strategy will be to better Hope’s lack of diversity. “For me, the first thing is what is it about ourselves that’s holding us back,” he said. “You have to look at it broadly and holistically. The first conversation to be had is one around the question, ‘What is it that has made our progress so slow?’ Maybe there are aspects about our campus culture or our environment that we need to take a hard look at before we think about other things. We don’t want to bring people here only to come here and then feel as though, ‘You recruited me here and I just don’t belong here.’ The first thing is making sure that everyone feels in a profound way that they belong here.”

Scogin explained that one of the reasons he has chosen Hope’s racial statistics as one of the first issues on his agenda is due to his children: “It started as a personal thing regarding where I would want to send my kids.” Due to his job as a chief administrative officer at a financial firm in New York, his three children have grown up in the much more racially diverse environment of New York City public schools. “I’ve seen the benefits of what they had due to diversity that I didn’t have as a kid,” Scogin said. “The first thing Sara and I were talking about is if we were to send our kids to Hope, the biggest hang-up we would have is whether or not we really want to send our kids to a school that’s 82.5% white.”

While he admits the plan to promote diversity is not yet concrete, Scogin points out, “I’ve been here seven weeks. I have a lot more questions than answers, so it’s not like I have an eight-point plan about how we’re going to tackle diversity. I just want the campus to be talking about it. The most powerful tool I have right now is making it clear everywhere I go that diversity is at or near the top of my agenda. That forces everyone around me to talk about it as well.” If Hope’s student body does their part to share experiences and opinions with Scogin surrounding this issue, change will be on its way.

To be one person deciding the agenda of the entirety of Hope College is an intimidating position, one that few of us can likely imagine ourselves in at this moment in time. Scogin says back when he was a Hope student, he didn’t imagine himself in that position either. When Scogin attended Hope, he said that “I was a planner, and basically none of my plans came together how I had planned them. I knew I wanted to work in government and public policy, but I never would have predicted the jobs I had.” Nevertheless, Scogin ended up leading the very school he attended. Since he once was in our shoes on this very same campus, I thought it valuable to ask for some advice from a fellow Dutch. “Go as wide as possible, rather than deep,” he said. “Really expand into a wide breadth of knowledge. Take professors, not classes.” While this next piece of advice may feel contradictory since we all feel swamped with work every moment of the day, Scogin shared that “In college, there’s so much white space. At this season in life, I’m either at work or I’m with my kids. You have so much time; use it in wise ways.”

Advice such as this means a lot more coming from someone who experienced Hope as a student. While it may seem as though Hope has changed quite a bit even within the last four years (let alone since 2002, when Scogin graduated), he says that “the physical footprint of the campus looks a lot different than when I was here, but I would say that the climate feels pretty similar. The things I loved about Hope 20 years ago are still the things that I love about Hope today, and these are ultimately the things that make Hope special in the landscape of higher education. The campus looks different but feels the same.” This connection Scogin has with the college and community only increases his desire to see it succeed in every aspect possible, including the way in which the campus handles discourse.

The way in which controversy is discussed in the midst of today’s political climate can be very hard to watch, especially if it divides a community close to one’s heart. This explains why one of Scogin’s hopes is to bring a more peaceful and respectful dialogue onto Hope’s campus. He asks the question, “How can we be a place where we disagree without being divided? Let’s have conversations face-to-face. Let’s talk to each other rather than about each other. As we talk to each other, I think we’ll discover we have a lot more we agree upon than we disagree upon.” Scogin continues to share the way in which he has played this mindset out in his own life: “I learn way more speaking with people I disagree with rather than those who agree with me on everything. I find that fun, stimulating and intellectually interesting. Find someone who just sees the world differently or interprets scripture differently.” If implemented properly, in Scogin’s opinion, this outlook is what could possibly bring Hope to a new level; “Hope is full of smart people who love God and think about the world. If we can’t figure this out, then I’m not sure there’s a lot of hope for anybody to figure this out. Conversely, if we can figure this out, it can be one of the things that really puts us on the map. I’m excited about it.”

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