TEDxHopeCollege and Hope’s Capacity for Change: A Conversation With Lizzy Bassett

Lizzy Bassett (’23) is lead organizer and license holder for TEDxHopeCollege. This independently organized TED-like event will be coming to campus Saturday, April 24. While tickets are not yet open for purchase, head to tedxhopecollege.com and follow @tedxhopecollege on Instagram to stay updated. 

What prompted you to bring TEDxHopeCollege to campus?

“It’s a lot of things, both personal and community based. Personally, I am in love with public speaking. Hope College doesn’t have a competitive public speaking team, and that’s something I grew up doing. So I definitely felt a void. On a personal level, after doing Nykerk, for the first time I felt heard as an individual. I also felt really confused, because I realized that everyone should feel this way. And yet, in our community, there are so many people who feel silenced.” 

“That transitions us into the community level. There is a need for people to feel heard, especially people from all corners of campus. That translates into a lot of different things. It’s about bringing diversity into the mainstage. It’s about expanding us outside of just our local West Michigan, white, Christian community and it connects us with a vastly diverse global one. I think that is something that Hope College students are very much in need of, that sort of exposure and self-responsibility. The biggest thing, too, is that I wanted undergraduate students at Hope to feel like they don’t need to get their doctorate in order to start making a change in the world and in the communities that they occupy. What better than to provide a globally recognized stage to Hope College so that students can have this really real way of advocating for change? That’s why I wanted to make TEDxHopeCollege happen.” 

In the two years you’ve been on campus, what do you perceive to be Hope College’s capacity for change?

“I think that’s a really interesting question. To me, there are two ways of looking at that. One is how capable is Hope College to change. I would say extremely capable. Then there comes this whole other attribute of how willing is Hope College to change, and I would say not very willing at all. Demographically, we’re situated in a place physically and personally where there is no demand for change Whether it’s donors, parents, administrators, faculty… there is a lot of contentment with the way that things are. Even more so I’m struck by the way things used to be before Hope College began making changes to be inclusive of the LGBTQ community and as we make more efforts to diversify, etc. I think that adds a whole level of pushback against any efforts for change, which I think can be really unfortunate.” 

You mentioned going back to the way that things were… What are some ways that Hope as an institution can still respect the legacy and origins of the college but also pursue what is best for students — even if that means change?

“For me, I can’t hear this question without thinking about tradition. There’s a difference between traditions that are rigid and traditions that are alive. Living traditions to me imply that they have to be willing to change in order to meet the needs of every year, community, etc. That doesn’t mean they have to lose the integrity of the tradition. The ‘why’ behind everything that we do can be the same. It can have this Christian foundation, it can have this drive to be a cutting edge education sort of ‘why.’ It can have all of these ‘why’s’ that Hope College has had for a long time, but the ‘how’ needs to change. I don’t feel like I need to hold on to the way things are or the way things used to be super tightly. I know other people are further on that spectrum than I am. I think as long as the ‘why’ is consistent and that those values at the end of the day are upheld, there is a lot of room for change without compromising those.” 

What do you say when you see change that needs to happen, but people are hesitant or unwilling to do so?

“My biggest question is why. Is it fear of change? Is it fear of letting go of something that’s comfortable? Whatever the reason is that makes them hesitant, I think there’s always more to explore there. Honestly, if I can speak to the Hope College community, I have noticed this culture of content. Everyone seems so content with the way that things are. They like the way that things are, they like the way things used to be, and I think as people lean into that contentment they lose drive. They have no reason for things to change. And I feel like that can be really frustrating. I suppose just educating, pulling back the curtain, making people realize that it’s okay to love your community but also see that it’s flawed, there’s room for growth, and knowing that they have the ability to facilitate that growth. I feel like Hope College is very far from that.”

What are some of the aspects of Hope you would love to remain unaltered, and what are aspects of Hope you wish would change? 

“At the end of the day there is this close-knit community, this introspective community where there’s this question of how can we better help those around us, and how we can care for and love the people around us. I think that’s really amazing, this introspective culture of the Enneagram, your faith, all of that is driving our community towards those really deep interpersonal questions. I would not change that about Hope College. 

What I would change… At the minimum, as a communications major, I look at a lot of the communications sent from Hope College to the students. It seems like most of those communications are made for a very specific type of student: probably white, always Christian, usually wealthy… so it’s a very specific demographic. All of our communications, so it feels, are written for those students. But these other students are here. They are just as much students as everyone else, but they don’t have the communications of the college catered to them. It’s always catered to that specific majority. Whether it’s the emails from Campus Health, any email from President Scogin… there is this inadvertent exclusivity. There is a very clear idea of who Hope College is for, but that is such a small group of people compared to who is actually a part of Hope College. That is a minimal way that the college could grow.” 

“For academics… whether Hope College wants to acknowledge at an administrative level or not, there are students here who are very different from the ones that they want to validate. They’re here, they’re real people, and they are students who are paying tuition just like any other student. To see academics and our curriculum acknowledge these students in a real way, not in a way where they’re exceptionalizing them or putting them on a pedestal to educate others, I think that should be a huge commitment that our academics could prioritize.” 

What are some ways that Hope as an institution can improve its inclusivity, in every aspect of the word? 

“The first thing that comes to mind is humility. Hope College needs to be more ready to embrace humility.  There is this understanding that the way that Hope College is now is the best way that it could exist, and that is just not true. There are other colleges that are just as valid, other identities that are just as valid. Hope College needs to acknowledge themselves as a school who is trying, and there are other schools who are doing things differently but they’re also good. There are individuals who are thinking differently but they are also good, and they are also equally right. That’s where we’re unable to reach that precipice how can we be deeply diverse if we still think, at the end of the day: ‘Yeah we will be inclusive. We will because we’re nice.’ Or do you have to do it because you realize that they are actually just as right and valid as you are even if they’re different? That is a level of humility I don’t know if Hope College is willing to take. That is the first step that will make every other physical action easier.” 

How will TEDxHopeCollege help achieve these goals of inclusivity?

“TEDxHopeCollege will burst the Hope College bubble. Students only have the opportunity of experiencing their education outside of the Hope community and Holland, Michigan if they study abroad. Not every student has that opportunity. This would connect every student to the world that they will be graduating into. The real world, after you graduate, does not look like Hope College unless you work at Hope College. It just doesn’t. How can we prepare our students for that? How can we promote our students so that they feel responsible for the world that they’re graduating into? These are all the questions that we ask in our exec team at TEDxHopeCollege. How can we connect students to this sense of duty and commitment to the world around them, not just Hope College?” 

“With that comes some of the finer rules of TEDx in general, is that they can’t be promoting any religious propaganda, commercial propaganda, or political propaganda. That’s really interesting, especially in our community where there is this huge religious tone in everything. Taking a step away from that and recognizing that while that’s good, it is not the way that everything works. We have to acknowledge that Hope College is a part of the world, it is not the world. That’s really what TEDxHopeCollege is aiming to achieve: bridging that gap, pulling back the curtain and exposing students to the world that is just as much theirs as their Hope College community.”

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