At noon on Friday, April 15, dozens of students, faculty and alumni gathered in the Pine Grove to hold a silent protest in support of Hope College President John Knapp.
According to a short speech by Aaron Goodyke (’16), an organizer of the demonstration, the protest was called “to support the president and administration in this time of transition, nothing else.”
Following the abrupt resignation of Provost Richard Ray on April 11, rumors began to swirl that the college Board of Trustees was considering Knapp’s removal. A group of students supporting the president responded by creating the Twitter account @Students4Knapp. (See the accompanying article on this page with more).
Originally, Students4Knapp encouraged sympathetic students to write letters to board members showing their support for the president ahead of a board meeting on April 12. On Thursday afternoon Students4Knapp announced on their Twitter account that they would be holding a silent protest outside the president’s residence at noon on Friday.
The short message advertising the demonstration called for supporters to “stand in silence to affirm President Knapp’s vision for Hope College and express the student body’s desire for transparency.”
As information about Friday’s planned protest began circulating on social media, some participants on the local anonymous-message platform Yik Yak called for a counter protest requesting Knapp’s removal on Thursday night. The Anchor then also received word of a planned response protest in support of Knapp to take place at the same time. Despite the rumblings on social media, however, neither of these reactionary protests actually took place.
The Friday protest, on the other hand, was well-attended. An unofficial count by Anchor staff based on photos of the event showed between 100 and 200 people present. Included in the crowd were students, alumni, professors and even some parents.
Though many in attendance admitted they had little actual information regarding the details of the rumored dispute between the president and board, some nevertheless affirmed their support for the president.
“I’m here today to support the president and the need for transparency,” Cassidy Bernhardt (’18) said.
Anne Pott (’01) was also supportive.
“I don’t know a lot about what has been going on campus recently,” Pott said. “Nevertheless, my friends who work at Hope told me about how Knapp has done good things, so I wanted to support him and advocate for more information to be released.”
Knapp’s supporters expressed an appreciation for the president’s efforts to make Hope a welcoming place and a more “inclusive community.” Although none of those interviewed addressed the issue directly, it was clear that many in attendance supported what has been perceived as Knapp’s more moderate stance regarding issues of homosexuality, a historically contested topic on campus.
“We think [Knapp] is a wonderful example of what a Christian community can be in the future,” Anne Benda said, the mother of a current student.
Benda drove in from Pennsylvania to participate in the protest.
Not everyone in attendance seemed sure in their support of president.
“I’m not taking a side,” Ivy Keen (’16) said as she stood directly behind the protesters. “I thought I would just come check it out because I’ve never been to a protest at Hope.”
Others questioned the wisdom of having a protest with so little information available regarding Knapp’s actions and any subsequent efforts to remove him.
“I don’t support having a protest before we have any idea about what is going on here,” Gavin Donley (’16) who was walking through the crowd, said. “Protesting this soon is kind of weird.”
The protestors dispersed about an hour later, but not before president Knapp appeared on the rear porch of the President’s residence and silently waved at demonstrators, who quickly rose to their feet and began cheering his appearance.
President Knapp declined The Anchor’s requests for comment.