Throughout this semester, The Anchor has been covering the recent events of the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement and what they mean for students on campus. However, Hope College’s campus has more than just students; it also has faculty. Faculty are the bones of Hope. They teach the classes, run the departments and make Hope function. Some of Hope’s faculty have unique perspectives on recent events because they wear the identities of both faculty members and people of color. The Anchor sat down with Kasey Stevens, director of the Phelps Scholars program, and Jevon Willis, assistant director of the Center for Diversity and Inclusion (CDI) to discuss their perspectives on the matters at hand.
A whole slew of discussions about race opened up around the world this summer. These discussions (some new, most old) were ignited by the deaths of Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, as well as the countless others killed throughout the years since the BLM movement was born in 2013. “I really felt myself in pain for the first time,” Willis said of the initial deaths this summer. “I felt this very strong, visceral reaction that I’ve never felt before. Being in quarantine kind of created this audience where you couldn’t look away, and it was one of those things where, when I did watch the George Floyd video, I wished that I hadn’t and as a result it was painful, paralyzing, and there were moments when I was questioning my safety, my physical safety.” Willis went on to talk about how his position at the college does not protect him off campus, and that was something he really started to feel after the deaths of George Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery.
Stevens echoed similar sentiments saying, “It is traumatic to belong to a group that has been systematically… I can’t even put it into words honestly. It’s traumatic. My historical response to moments of race, intense moments and spotlights of racism has been intellectualization. I have approached these moments as a learner and as an educator, and that has helped me put them in a box. This summer was one of the first times in my life when I have felt the trauma of being a biracial black man in America.”
Both men, though, expressed how this pain was then translated into further passion for their positions at Hope. “I had to move from pain and use that as a catalyst for my purpose,” Willis commented. “For me, [that was] leaning into my role here at Hope, at the CDI, and really trying to be more motivated to make sure that those in my care are cared for.”
Another facet of this situation that The Anchor has covered is the student-organized protest that happened on campus several weeks ago. Many members of faculty and administration participated, including a Campus Safety officer and President Scogin. While Willis and Stevens both were not in attendance, they each expressed admiration for the event. Willis, specifically, said, “I love to see young people in advocacy, because I think it’s important. It’s one of the things I was hoping we would see on campus. Seeing that on Hope’s campus was really meaningful and continues to be important.”
Faculty play a unique role in promoting diversity. When asked what the situation looks like at Hope, Stevens said, “I would describe the current climate as one that is recognized by many as necessary. Among faculty, it is a climate of receptivity to at least engaging the topic and recognizing it as a need overall.” President Scogin, throughout several addresses and communications with the student body, has committed to making Hope a more diverse place, but what does this look like in the minutiae? What is faculty’s responsibility in promoting diversity on campus? Stevens had this to say on the subject: “It is our responsibility to partner with the students that we admit, in order to make sure that they have every chance possible to graduate. So if we are an institution that is committed, in deed as we say we are in word, to developing global citizens, and enrolling a globally diverse campus, it is our responsibility to partner with our students, to make sure that each should have the opportunity to achieve their goals. Every student should have the opportunity to thrive, not just survive. For far too long students of color in higher education, not just Hope College, have had to survive their educational experiences and not thrive and flourish in them.”
Stevens is the director of the Phelps Scholars program, a program for freshmen that provides a diverse living and learning community. He spoke of how he would love to look at Hope’s campus and see a place as diverse as the Phelps Scholars program itself. Willis, whose job at the CDI is to support students of color on campus, said, “Faculty’s role in promoting inclusion on campus is to be truth-telling. That is the faculty’s role, in every discipline to provide opportunities to talk about these issues of inequity and to help students begin to clarify ways that they can speak or act to create a different reality.” Willis went on to say that if faculty chose to ignore these vital conversations around race with their students, that it would only prove to take something from the faculty member’s experience. Willis stated, “Any faculty member who doesn’t [listen to people of color] has missed an opportunity to connect and to speak into issues that will continue to impact far beyond 2020. I think it’s also a missed opportunity if faculty aren’t addressing these issues for them to be relatable to students of color, which kind of goes back to that adage, ‘Nobody cares about what you know, until they know that you care.’”
The two men were in agreement that Hope still has further to go toward being a 100% inclusive environment. Students of color have voiced concerns about inclusion on Hope’s campus, some of which involve requests for more faculty of color and implicit bias training for current faculty members. Stevens said of any individual at Hope, student, faculty or other, “I do hope that individuals who are reluctant to believe the validity of experiences and policies that are racist, I do hope that they are willing to sit in the discomfort of that and to interrogate their discomfort, to scrutinize their discomfort.” Through scrutiny and the continued fight for equality, Hope can get closer to being a campus that is safe for all of its students to not only survive but live full and realized college experiences. Willis, in summation, said of his expectations for Hope’s future, “I hope that Hope continues to be on the right side of history, particularly in support of Black Lives Matter, a narrative that I believe is righteous and very important.”