An open letter from Hope MSO leaders

This letter was written on March 27, 2021 to Dean Frost, President Scogin, Dr. Trent-Brown and Dr. Griffin on the behalf of leaders from various Hope Multicultural Student Organizations (MSO). Since the time it was sent, Hope administrators have decided to allow custom stoles at the 2021 graduation ceremony, citing a miscommunication for the delay in decision-making. They plan to meet next fall semester to solidify this decision for future academic terms. The intent of the MSOs is not to be malicious or sensational, but rather to share a story that may not have ever been told. By publishing this letter, the MSOs seek to make what they have advocated known to the Hope community so that everyone can be informed, as well as to show what honest advocacy can do on this campus.

March 27th, 2021 A.D. 

CC: President Scogin, Dr. Trent-Brown, Dr. Griffin, The Hope College Community 

Dear Dean Frost and Administration, 

We are severely displeased. Your decisions regarding stoles are not in line with the values that Hope College claims to hold, and we have a list of grievances. Please read this letter in its entirety. 

You first claimed that student groups could not wear their own custom stoles in the graduation ceremony because it did not reflect “unity” and “one Hope.” You have mistaken “unity” for “uniformity,” believing that we must all look identical in order to be a united group. Your use of unity is a mask, covering the diversity of our institution. Graduating seniors all wear the same cap and gown; that is unity. Diversity (and more specifically pride in diversity) is prominently showing the wide variety of interests and the things that Hope students have been involved in. For an institution that is trying to be so vocal about “celebrating diversity,” your decision to disallow stoles is an egregious error. Our stoles are the most literal and obvious form of “celebrating diversity” that we can think of. Major universities and colleges allow for custom stoles; thus, for Hope College not to do so is to be tone-deaf to the examples other institutions are setting in how to be proud of the diversity that is so desperately sought after. This is not an issue solely concerning Multicultural Student Organizations (MSO’s). 

You claimed that it was not fair for only MSO’s to have their own stoles, rather than all student organizations. As far as we know, no other organization has requested stoles, and if they did it surely was not up to MSO’s whether or not they were allowed to have stoles (we would have said yes to them if it was). We wish for all registered and recognized student organizations to express their pride in what they spent four years of their lives working towards in their one and only Hope College graduation ceremony. Stoles are an expression of identity and pride, and any student organization should be able to express that. However, when it comes to MSO’s, those identities are more apparent and for all of the hardships that we have endured throughout our four years at Hope College, we would like to express that. All other alternatives to custom stoles that you have provided are a grotesque sign that you have missed the mark in understanding Hope’s student organizations. 

First and foremost, your timing was not conducive to productive decision making. The stoles that the bookstore offers must be ordered by Tuesday, March 30. We did not receive your “mock-up” designs until Wednesday, March 24 (which were only for BSU, not any other group). Furthermore, we found your designs to be stereotypical and distasteful. Coming from a white man, no cloth could truly represent what the students of the Black Student Union stand for. The designs do not distinguish which group each stole belongs with. They boil down the Black experience to tribal patterns, of which tribe we do not even know (and surely you know that a single tribe cannot represent all of the Black community). We are still unsure what you would have even created for the Latino Student Organization, Asian Student Union, Prism and Pan African Student Association, and we don’t want to know in fear of feeling more disrespected. As for the Bookstore’s option, no student organization was included when the website was being created or even sent out to seniors on March 18.

If you had cared to include us, we could have marketed it to our respective members so that they could know that it was an option (a lot sooner than four days before the form was due). 

If you had cared to include us, we could have advocated for the use of our acronyms rather than full organization names in an effort to save our respective members’ money.

If you had cared to include us, we could have caught the error that Hope’s Asian Perspective Association was renamed to Asian Student Union ten months ago (and perhaps if you were informed of what goes on in the multicultural community through your many meetings with ASU, you would have caught that mistake yourselves). 

If you had cared to include us, we could have actually felt involved in the process to create these stoles and truly meet a happy medium between your wishes and ours. But we were not included, and that was a serious mistake. 

LSO’s planned stole for the upcoming graduation ceremony.

We have not been heard by you, and your actions have diminished our faith in you to represent our best interests and even give our departing seniors one last chance to proudly represent the groups that they care about. We no longer feel comfortable turning to you when we feel like our needs are not met. You’ve mentioned multiple times that students are your boss, so please take this letter to its fullest extent. We are not pleased, do not feel respected and need corrective action to be taken now. We would like to wear our own custom stoles at the graduation ceremony this year (and every year) to truly celebrate diversity in a year in which the world has been beating down on individuals from marginalized communities. Any student organization that would like to wear custom stoles should be allowed to. If we cannot celebrate the diversity that Hope tries so hard to recruit and maintain, then those from diverse backgrounds will continue to feel ostracized and go on to resent Hope College. We would hate to see Hope College’s budding reputation as a diverse institution be tarnished for actions that you have taken/failed to take. For an issue as simple as pieces of fabric, we hope (read: expect) that you can right your wrongs and rectify this situation. 

President Scogin, you are complicit in this decision as well. You chose to vote against the very students that you came in looking to support. You voted against the most obvious chance this institution had to show that it listens to its students and cares for how they choose to express their pride in Hope College organizations. You looked at students seeking to broadcast the diversity of Hope to the world and you turned your back. We have hope that you too can right your wrongs and rectify this situation, but this day will not soon be forgotten. And Dr. Griffin, we’re unsure if it was you or your predecessor that voted against the stoles, but this letter applies to whoever did as well. We are tired of believing that Hope’s administration has our best interests in mind only to be crushed when it becomes apparent that you do not. 

We do not write this letter with malicious or demeaning intent, but rather to tell the truth. The decisions that you, Dean Frost, and you, President Scogin, have made are disrespectful, hurtful, disappointing, and ultimately blind to the very mission that you claim to care about. We write this letter so that you cannot lean on the excuse of not knowing how we feel, because ignorance cannot save you from correcting the grave errors that you have made. 

With Utmost Sincerity, 

Kworweinski Lafontant, Vice-President of Black Student Union
Hannah Tegtmeyer, President of Hope Advocates for Invisible Conditions
Steve Rios, President of Latino Student Organization 
Eliseo Bustillos, Vice-President of Latino Student Organization
Madai Huerta, Treasurer of Latino Student Organization
Susan Par, President of Asian Student Union
Danait Yonas, President of Black Student Union
Esther Turahirwa, Vice President of Pan-African Student Association
Sylvia Rodriguez, Mentoring President of Prism
Katie Moran, President of Prism
Jacob VanderRoest, Treasurer of Pan-African Student Association
Mikayla Zobeck, Co-Chair for the Board of Trustees of Asian Student Union Tyrese Hunt, Historian of Black Student Union 
Sydney Clements, Secretary to Prism
Erynn Dickerson, President Elect of Prism 
Lillian Dorscha, Vice President of Hope Advocates for Invisible Conditions
Lindsey Heidema, Trustee of Prism
Arinze Nwike, President of Pan-African Student Association
Viviana Alcala, Public Relations of Latino Student Organization
Belinda Imanzi, Secretary of Pan-African Student Association
Joy Gregson,  Co-Chair for the Board of Trustees of Asian Student Union

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