“My journey into film production was kind of accidental,” Eunice Maruhi (‘21) admitted. When she initially arrived at Hope College, she aspired to study computer science, but during her freshman year, the communication department advertised a screenplay competition which caught her attention. “I had never, ever written a script before or even thought of doing that,” she said, “but somehow that was attractive to me so I was like yeah, this is an opportunity for me to tell a story, so let me do that.” When she took on the project, it was not her expectation that she would place third in the competition or to receive funding from the school to turn her script into a film. Her story documented the experience of an international student at Hope dealing with racism, a topic that would continue to inspire her filmmaking, which became her primary area of study. Maruhi’s second film, 95 Stories: Racism and Homophobia at a Christian College, co-directed with Ben Douma (‘20), takes an in-depth look at 95 Stories, an organization that remains largely unacknowledged by Hope’s administration. “I try and focus my stories on social justice in general. I try to shine a light to those groups of people who are marginalized and oppressed. Their voice is not heard so I try to give them a platform.” Their film won first place in the Documentary category in the Michigan Association of Broadcasters Student Awards.
Aside from pursuing various projects for her composite film major, Maruhi is also the president of the newly renamed Pan-African Student Association (PASA). “Names are very powerful in representing what an organization is all about,” she says in reference to PASA’s previous title, The African Society. “[Students] are the ones who identify who they feel they are. Because of that, we want our organization to be open and inclusive of anyone and everyone who relates and connects to Africa.” Maruhi explained that other aspects of the organization have been updated too.“Another thing that we introduced with PASA that was not there before was advocacy. We tell our members, especially freshmen, if you ever experience any issue, you don’t know who to go to, maybe you’re scared, come to us we will represent you, we will protect you.” At a school where the student of color population is less than 17%, advocacy and representation is everything.
It is easy for majority students to fall into the trap of believing that the Hope community is completely welcoming to everyone, regardless of race or nationality. Real life testaments prove differently. With associations like the Center for Diversity and Inclusion and Multicultural Student Organizations (MSOs), one might believe that Hope is on the right track to ensuring that minority students feel represented and have a place on campus. However, despite this belief that positive change is abounding, there still exist many issues related to diversity and inclusion at Hope College. Maruhi said “If we were talking about how Hope is a racially segregated school more often then maybe that would provoke some change. But we don’t talk about that. We say Hope is an open school and I’m like what do you mean open? Because it’s not.” While not always intentional, there are concrete examples of how Hope neglects to be an open and inviting space for all of its students.
Chapel is a staple in the Hope College experience. It’s a place for connecting with others and growing in faith together. Despite these intentions, Maruhi cites this as a prime example of how Hope isolates its students of color. “You will find that most students of color don’t even go to Chapel. For me I think I went to Chapel twice or thrice as a freshman and I’ve never gone there since, and I don’t think I ever will ever again because I don’t feel like I matter.” A good illustration of this point is the presence of Gospel Choir on campus. This group, put simply, is composed mostly of black students. Once each semester they come to Chapel to lead worship. When they do, there is a great deal of confusion in the pews: do we stand or sit? Sing along or just listen? Why is that girl raising her hands like that? Why are they swaying so much? These are just some thoughts students have expressed when the time arrives for Gospel Choir to visit. Maruhi offered her commentary: “When you have a group come in only once a semester, what do you think? On the surface it looks good ‘Oh yeah we have these black students come in once,’ but what does that mean? You have them come in once as if they are guests, they’re not part of [your group].” People from different backgrounds all worship and glorify God differently. Maruhi spoke about how people from black churches worship differently from people in Latinx churches who worship differently from predominantly white churches. Her point is this: Chapel caters to one type of worshipper – one that typically fits the image of a white protestant. By only aiming towards this one group, other people who would like to partake in this communion with other Christians don’t because they feel isolated and unwelcome, having to adapt to how other people connect with God rather than how they do, and that makes a difference.
Like so many others, Maruhi has not been immune to ignorant comments that perpetuate a feeling of otherness.“I’ve had a professor tell me, ‘Eunice, I don’t get your accent this time.’ I was like, how can you tell me that? And I was wondering, do you realize you also have an accent? Everyone has an accent and there is nothing wrong with that. I don’t know why I’m expected to change how I speak to make someone comfortable when I’m not asking that of them. It’s just the bare minimum of human decency. You can’t expect someone to change who they are to accomodate you. That’s not right.”
This past fall, the Hope community welcomed Matt Scogin into his new role as President of this institution. During his inauguration, international students carrying the flags of their home countries partook in the opening procession. While seemingly a nice gesture to symbolize the diversity of Hope, there was outrage among many of the participants. Even though she was invited to partake in the inauguration, Maruhi says that she objected: “You want me to carry the flag of my country?” Maruhi asked, continuing, “Let me tell you, I’d be so proud. It feels so good to carry the flag of my country in a different country, but not for that. Not when it feels like I’m being used.” Hope seemingly wants to present itself as a community far more diverse than it actually is. In the brochures and web pages, Maruhi noted, “There are usually more students of color than white students. What are you trying to say? When it comes to real issues that actually matter, then I don’t matter, but then somehow you want to use me on your poster?”
So what are the real issues at hand? Representation and accountability, to name a few. How a group is represented, not just within the students, but also among faculty, is important to people of color at Hope. “If I was a professor and I looked at the racial statistics, would I want to come here? I wouldn’t,” said Maruhi. At this moment, there is not readily available information on how many faculty and professors of color there are at Hope, however, from just living and studying on campus, it’s clear that there are not many. To see someone who comes from the same background as you in a place of power is necessary for students to feel empowered and students here, unless they are white and Christian, don’t often see that. “As a Christian school, I wish [Hope] represented the Kingdom of God as it is. If you look at other forms of God’s creation, if you look at plants, you look at animals, there’s so much diversity, but then when it comes to people then somehow we have a problem; we think some people are more superior than others.” While not always intentional, that expression of superiority, as Maruhi explained, is everywhere at Hope.
It is clear that there is a problem, but now that it has been identified, steps must be taken to provide a remedy. I asked Maruhi what she thought students at Hope could do to. “I wish [white Hope students] would care, just a little bit, about the experience of students of color at Hope. I wish they would be true allies because that is currently lacking. True allies are barely there at Hope. If they were, we wouldn’t be where we are. I wish white students understood how much power they hold; then maybe they would help accelerate change. If they stood beside us and supported us, they would act as a catalyst for change.” That small amount of care goes a long way. From being aware of the intended and unintended consequences of one’s words, not using the ‘N-word’ when it appears in a song, including students of color when they are left out in class discussions, and most importantly, listening to them. All of these seem obvious, but if everyone were fully aware, then Hope College would not have such a glaring issue when it comes to diversity and inclusion. It takes an abundance of humility, but each individual must come to terms with the fact that simply doing the right thing and being nice is not the same as being an ally. As Maruhi said, “Being an ally is not being a friend to a person of color. Being an ally is speaking truth to power and that’s uncomfortable, often. It’s standing with those people whose voice is not being heard and being willing to share in their pain.”
While there is still so much more to say regarding race, identity, and inclusion, Maruhi summed up the nature and necessity of change, saying “No one likes people who are speaking the truth, who are challenging the status quo, but that is necessary and change can never happen without that.”
Edited by Ruth Holloway
October 27, 2019 @ 10:57 am Rebecca Duran
Wow–this was a brave piece to write and courageous ideas to give a voice. Thank you for this; diversity and inclusion are words to be taken with a lot more weight than we give them. It will take discomfort to get where we’re going, but it is so incredibly worth it. Keep writing and keep speaking. We need this accountability. It’s part of our call.