As the semester begins to turn in for a long-awaited Christmas break, participants of The 95 Stories, a student run project dedicated to displaying experiences of homophobia and racism within the Hope College community, debuted their cause this past weekend with a music-silencing walked out of Christmas Vespers.
At Sunday’s 2:00 p.m. service, Josh Chun Wah Kam (’18), a Chapel Choir tenor and the primary spokesperson of the 95 stories, stood up with a nail and a poster detailing the stories and walked down the main aisle of Dimnent Chapel.
Throughout this and next semester, the group will be utilizing Twitter, blogs and posters throughout campus to share 95 stories of Hope College students’ experiences with homophobia and racism in short excerpts.
According to the preface of The 95 Stories, the group’s mission statement is: “ Out of love for our college and from a desire to love it better, we students of color and LGBT students of Hope College share stories of racism and homophobia on campus: because there can be no Christian community without candor.”
Kam’s poster was intercepted by the conductor, Dr. Brad Richmond of the Hope music department, as Heidi Schaetzl (’18) and Nathaniel Nelson (’18) began dumping hundred of posters over the balcony. In communication with Dr. Richmond, a group of Chapel Choir students released a private statement to The Anchor about the event.
Within the statement the group said: “We are very sad that our director was forced to take a negative stance toward something he would otherwise support and hope that his work toward inclusivity and equality on this campus is not discredited.”
In a statement he released to The Anchor, Kam claimed that a fourth participant in the protest, Michael Vasquez, a student at Western Theological Seminary, was “manhandled by a member of Hope College staff, who attempted to violently apprehend him.”
In an interview with Vasquez about the incident, he outlined it in disturbing detail. He claimed that Tom Renner, former associate vice president for public and community relations at Hope, ran after him and yelled at him. As Vasquez tried to exit the situation, Renner and an unnamed Hope employee “grabbed [Vasquez] by the arms and pulled [him] back toward them.”
Vasquez went on by saying: “I kept trying to get away from them but they continued to accost me, twist my arms, and drag me around.” He accused Renner of taking pictures of him and the other unnamed faculty following him home.
Vazquez has made reports to both Campus Safety and the Holland Police Department about the incident. However, Kam reiterated throughout his statements that Campus Safety was courteous to the protestor and politely escorted them out of chapel.
Following the protest, The 95 Stories, mostly operating through their Twitter (@95_ stories) and blog (95stories. wordpress.com), released a “Why We Did It” essay written by Kam, Schaetzl and Nelson.
Within the essay, they acknowledged the critics of the protest, saying; “We anticipate being criticized for being profoundly disrespectful and inconsiderate.” They continued by asking; “How dare we, students of Hope, take a sacred concert that brings families together, and selfishly make this about our agenda?”
After acknowledging the major critics, the authors claimed to stand by their actions. Although they see the place in which critics stand, they still believe Vespers created the ideal public place to debut their cause.
As stated previously, the group upholds the motto; “No Christian community without candor.” Throughout both the essay and private statements, they invited comments on their blog.
Following their previous statement, the Chapel Choir group also added that; “We as a group are sympathetic and supportive of 95 stories, but we are disappointed that the sanctity of the service was disrupted.”
In conclusion, the Chapel choir group said; “We pray that understanding and peace will flood this campus in the wake of this demonstration.”
In an interview prior to the protest, Kam shared that The 95 Stories is meant to share stories that lead to a more inclusive community for all, “not to burn campus to the ground.”
He went on to explain that Hope has always stood for family and that family starts at intersections. For those with any reaction to the event, the individuals behind The 95 Stories invite discussion, critiques and support on their blog or Twitter pages.