General Education revisions: Student Congress votes no confidence

A proposed revision of Hope College’s General Education Curriculum has been introduced for the first time since 1994. A General Education Revision Committee was put in place about two years ago, and has worked to gather data and pursue ways to transform the curriculum. On Monday, February 22, this committee brought a semi-finalized plan to Hope College’s Student Congress for discussion. On Monday, March 8, after evaluating the proposal, Congress passed a resolution that functioned as a vote of no confidence in the proposed General Education revision plan. A document describing specific ways that the plan failed to accomplish the kind of reform Student Congress intended was sent on March 10 to President Scogin, provost Dr. Griffin, Dr. VanDuinen and the General Education Revision Committee.

Student Congress had been tasked during the Committee’s formation of the proposal to give voice to the student body’s desires in regards to General Education revisions. The Committee asked Congress what Hope students wanted to see changed. Congress decided to narrow down its desires to one tangible request, improving the likelihood of the student-proposed change being implemented. After discussing in depth and reaching out for student opinion, Congress concluded that their one request would be to “add a Diversity and Inclusion requirement to the college’s general education curriculum,” as taken directly from Student Congress’ proposal to the General Education Revision Committee. The request detailed that the class should “expose students to perspectives that are not in the majority at Hope College but are prevalent in a global and increasingly diverse society,” and “give students a knowledge of what it means to hold privilege and how to be Christian stewards of an all-encompassing society.” 

Student Congress’ proposal, given to the Committee back in October of 2020, explained that the main rationale for this class requirement was that “Hope students are being sent into the workforce unprepared for the global and diverse world that we live in.” This sentiment was echoed among alumni surveyed by the Revision Committee as well as current Hope students. “The world is changing, and we want to be prepared citizens in a global workforce,” says Mary Kamara-Hagemeyer (’22), Chief of Student Congress Culture and Inclusion Elect. “Hope students also want to love our neighbors as Christ commanded us, and one way of doing that is educating ourselves on the different challenges and realities that various groups of people face.”

When the proposed plan of General Education revisions was introduced to Student Congress two weeks ago, members did not feel that the revisions adequately addressed this concern. The plan introduced a Human Diversities element that would replace what is now known as Global Learning. A U.S. Diversities component exists within this section. For a course to qualify for this component it must “focus the perspectives of historically marginalized groups in the United States, with a focus on race as well as other categories such as ethnicity, gender, sexuality, socioeconomic class, and/or disability,” according to the proposal. At least 50% of course content must be authored by or from the perspective of historically marginalized groups. 

Congress members were unimpressed with these modifications. “The plan as we saw it, which is not final, did not take the time to increase a variety of diverse perspectives in the curriculum,” says Luke Rufenacht (’22), Student Congress President. “We are hoping to work with the General Education team to address these through increasing the requirement for readings by diverse authors, and opportunities in FYS.” Other members of Congress agreed. “A lot of the changes that they made really surround the titles of the Gen Ed categories rather than the content,” says Lizzy Bassett (’23), a Sophomore Class representative. “I will always be a fan of reorganizing, but at the end of the day if students just have to use a new framework to take the same curriculum, nothing will ultimately change.” 

Garett Shrode (’22), Junior Class representative, feels similarly: “The proposed anchor plan… has the potential to allow many students to fall through the cracks, which is unacceptable when it comes to an issue as important as this… Hope as a college has promised to be an antiracist institution and to provide a cutting-edge education for its students. This plan simply fails to meet that goal.”

The most specific student concern with the proposal was the percentage of course content required to be authored by historically marginalized groups. “We thought at the very least, could it be 90%? Could it be 70%?” asked Bassett. “If this is the area where we’re supposed to get a diverse exposure, maybe it could be a little bit more.” Shrode echoes this sentiment: “the plan should increase the percentage of diverse sources required in order to allow a class to qualify for that flag.”

In recent years, such a strong oppositional opinion from Student Congress has been a rare occurrence. Shrode recalls the discussion that took place in 2019 between Campus Safety and Student Congress regarding the arming of its officers. This dialogue favored the opinions of the student body and ultimately decided against the arming initiative. “We hope this strong relationship with the administration continues to allow us to provide feedback to ultimately make Hope the best place it can be,” he says. 

“Our vote of no confidence says that Hope’s Student Congress is not afraid to truly advocate for student needs,” says Kamara-Hagemeyer. “We know our place, and that is to make student needs clear to the college. That is always our main objective and this vote of no confidence was motivated by the desire to represent student concerns.” Congress members hope that their resolution will prompt change at a scale larger than what was proposed. “I hope the faculty see [the resolution] as a cry for help from the student body,” says Kamara-Hagemeyer. Bassett elaborates on this cry for help: “The education we want matters, and it needs to be treated like it matters,” she says. “Student congress has a voice. If a vote of no confidence is the strongest voice that we can use, I think we should absolutely use it as much as we can.” President Rufenacht describes his goal for the resolution that passed Monday night: “I hope that this resolution pushes faculty to think about the future of education, and how the college needs to be continually pursuing cutting edge curriculum opportunities. This is another great opportunity for collaboration with faculty on an important issue.”

The General Education Revision Committee’s proposal is scheduled to be sent out to faculty for review before a vote in the coming months if no new revisions are made. 

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