As a liberal arts institution, Hope College has various programs available to students to help them excel at their future endeavors, such as the Phelps Scholars program. The Phelps Scholars program is a community-based learning environment that fosters interaction with different cultures and encourages students to learn about different backgrounds.
Nancy Sierra, a Hope graduate who works as an intern for the Phelps Scholars Program, described the program as a one-year community that encourages integrative relationships and discussions. Students who participate in this program live in the same hall to strengthen the community aspect associated with the program.
The Phelps Scholars program aims to equip students to thrive in a diverse world and become grounded in their own identities. To that end, Phelps Scholars take a First-Year Seminar focused on race and identity and are also required to take either Encounter with Cultures or Introduction to American Ethnic Studies in the spring of their first year.
Additionally, the program offers various cultural immersion trips. For example, Phelps Scholars visited a Bosnian cultural center and mosque in Grand Rapids.
The Phelps Scholars Program also emphasizes the importance of community involvement. Each Phelps Scholar participates in community service in various locations throughout the Holland area.
Sierra described her experience within the program as “transformational.” As an out-of-state student, Sierra said that the program provided her with a community of people who were open and eager to learn, allowing her to foster meaningful connections and relationships.
As a Latina woman, Sierra says that Phelps Scholars Program opened her eyes to issues and discussions of race. In high school, she was a part of the majority and in an environment with people from similar backgrounds, which did not allow her to step out of her comfort zone. Being in the program allowed her to grow in her identity and understanding of racial issues. The living-learning community provided her with a support system where she could interact with students.
Similarly, Simone Greene, a freshman majoring in dance, says that she chose the Phelps Scholars program because it offered opportunities to learn about diverse backgrounds and teach others about her culture, something that she is passionate about. Greene says that her favorite part about being a Phelps Scholar is the insightful discussions in her First-Year Seminar course. “It is a safe community where one can share their thoughts, and everyone understands by respecting each other’s perspectives, which is comforting,” Greene said.
Sierra encourages students to involve themselves in this program, suggesting even students not in the program take either Encounter with Cultures or Introduction to American Ethnic Studies. She urges incoming students to join the program, especially if a student is nervous about finding a community at a predominantly white institution or is curious about learning about different cultures and combating racism. The Phelps Scholars Program also allows students to network with alumni, which opens up opportunities around campus.
On the other hand, Greene suggests that the course “Racial Identity” offered by the program, should become a general requirement that all students take. She says, “We signed up to partake in this program and take the class, but other students should be open-minded and take this course as well. It is beneficial to all people, especially students that lack interactions with different cultures or know very little about racial issues.” In addition, Greene states that within the program, she has gained knowledge about religious identities, racial identities and building interfaith communities. Greene mentions that students that are not a part of the program are missing out on learning from diverse cultures and stepping out of their comfort zones. They miss out on learning about different issues and their cause and how to find resolutions to conflicts in our global society.
For the Phelps Scholars members, Sierra encourages them to be vulnerable and take advantage of what the program offers. “Don’t be afraid to ask tough questions and participate in the in-class dialogue,” she said.
Greene agrees that having a community filled with diverse backgrounds lessens the cultural shock that one might experience being at predominantly white institutions. Greene also says that students should involve themselves in the opportunities given to them because it helps them learn about various cultures and how they came about. “Don’t participate out of force, instead see it as an opportunity to better yourself,” she said.
The Phelps Scholars Program is a community filled with diverse students willing to learn about each other’s cultures. These students are eager to educate themselves on race and have necessary difficult discussions about issues facing the world. This program is beneficial to all students and allows them to learn how to interact with diverse backgrounds, molding these students into the future leaders of our global society.