Doing the work: How Hope handles social topics on its campus

“We thought about what to cover and the 95 stories came up. We had both kind of thought about it but didn’t really know a lot about it. We thought a lot of people were feeling the same way.” This is Ben Douma (’20). As he described his preparation for his documentary final his sentiments reminded me of those that had been repeated to The Anchor for much of the semester. The 95 Stories specifically has been a focus in VOL. 132 NO. 4 and 7, and thoughts around it can lead to a similar process the one Douma and Marubi went through. “We’ve been going around and interviewing as many people [as possible],” Douma explained. “We sent out emails to people and a lot more people showed up than we expected. It’s a topic people want to talk about, but don’t often get the opportunity to.” For this final issue of The Fall Anchor 2018, I interviewed some of the leading organizations on campus to discuss places of opportunity for students to have those conversations and how these conversations are addressed on Hope’s campus.

American Ethnic Studies

“[AES]’ goal is to develop a Citizen, a participant and activist who strives daily to build community, both locally and globally, in pursuit of justice and equality. We aim to engage students in methodological, theoretical, and comparative analyses of how race, gender, class and ethnicity interact to define cultural identities, societal structures and social inerations.” This is a portion of the AES mission statement as stated in the self study I was provided by Dr. David Cho. He is an English professor and Director of the AES (American Ethnic Studies) program at Hope. During our interview we talked about the value and purpose of the AES program on Hope’s campus. “It’s a wonderful program because you have something that’s interdisciplinary, within a discipline and yet its academic and has great social and personal relevance. We do a little bit of history, some social theory, social sciences, sciences, literature, political science, psychology. Just like the other programs Hope offers this is something you could take further education in.” Yet this field can be singular in reflection of how even its most basic terminology can seem to be controversial. To exemplify this point Dr. Cho asked me if I knew five racial groups prevelent in America. When I responded with African American, Caucasian, Asian American, Hispanic, and Native American; he explained how my limited research showed difficulty with even this basic question. “Most people answer black, white, then they go Latino/ Latina, and Native American. But what is race deferring to largely? Skin color. But you gave me ethnic groups. People will give me a mix of [racial and ethnic groups]. Even when we talk about race fundimental with just basic terms we don’t even have the basic termenology for it. We can’t even talk on the same page. That’s the problem and that’s why it’s such a lingering problem.” Dr. Cho then elaborated on why this termenology is so critical to AES. One such term he explained in detail was “postraciality” specifically in regards to the idea of a “post-racial America.”
Post Post-Racial

When I introduced the idea that we are not in a post-racial America from my interview with Dr. Johnson (Vol. 132 No. 2) to the conversation Dr. Cho turned to Eduardo Bonilla-Silva’s “Racism Without Racists” to provide further context. “[Bonilla-Silva’s] book is expressly devoted to that very question. He postulated the term of how do we live in the context of an America that says that racism doens’t exist when a lot of racists do. It’s a constructed reality like race itself but it is a reality. So do we live in a post-racial America? The reality is no, we live in a racialized America. But is that a cultural location of where we exist in the mainstream consciousness? I would say yes we are. Most people believe we are in a post-racial America. Dr. Cho then began to highlight an example of racism’s modern context. He asked me, “what do you usually think of when you think of racism?” When I replied exclusion and violence. He detailed how that is the typical response. “Those are dealing with the physical body, the corporeal reality. When you see that racism seems very clear. Where do you see racism now? The argument a lot of scholars would make is they’re imbued in the systems we live in. If you have a house that your parents owned that you owned, what do you do when you sell that house? You make a boatload of money, go deeper in the suburbs, get a quality education, supermarkets, food, health, gym, police, fire you name it. But when you’re given subsidized housing in the city how do you aquire net worth? You don’t even own your building, the government’s paying part of it for you as a form of historic benevolence. What net worth do you aquire? If one person bought a home back in the 40’s and 50’s in the suburbs for $100,000, he house would go up every 10 years to let’s say double [in value]. Yet in subsidized housing you get nothing. Things grow and what you can buy and what you can obtain in certain areas is different because there’s no net worth, no property tax. The services will follow and you see this great agrigation. The systems are created where you don’t even have to see it, you may not have even done harm to somebody else, but the system has already allowed great separation.

Difficulty of Discourse

“Now when you tell someone [about these topics] who maybe grew up in a very white suburb [to use an example we discussed previously] do they think they live in a racist society? Did they create that suburb? No they didn’t.” Dr. Cho explained how this leads to flaws in ‘post-racial’ ideology. “You have a group of people who, given their great privilege and authority to speak, define things [stating], ‘how can racism exist. I didn’t do anything to anybody.’ And yet if you look systemically, we live in a very racialized society. Systems have been set that have structured people into different lives. That’s how we live in a racialized America and yet it doesn’t seem like that.” But this doesn’t just apply to the suburbs as Dr. Cho explained. “There’s a bias to understand these things as ‘not in my backyard.’ I think part of the reason GLD and GLI were created was to confront that bias. Even in Michigan we have a lot going on.” Which is why it can be important to layer understanding with additional action. “Dr. Beverly Tatum has a wonderful illustration of a moving sidewalk that I may extrapolate on. It’s been under construction for years in the US. Obviously if you’re a KKK member you’re moving faster along it. The trickier one is let’s say you’re against racism, you abhor it, but you never do anything about it… then you’re still moving with the sidewalk. The only way to be truly anti-racist or to be a socially just person in the context of race is to understand this and move against it. As someone in America who believes in a just society, in a fair and democratic it really does matter where we live, who we vote into office, professions that we have, people we hang out with, it all matters.” Dr. Cho finished with a sentimnt of responsibility. “People have just got to own it. They’ve got to own the terms, they’ve got to own if they resist it why they resist it. That’s for the majority as well as the minority. This is not a subject like gravity to peoples’ thoughts on why this could exist. Even if it didn’t have the research would it not be the thing. This is 2018. How long do these conversations have to go before we can do fruitful things. But for many people who know it and own it, do the work.”

Phelps Scholars

So for students unnable to handle the credit load of an AES minor or don’t have that calling, what opportunities are there to “do the work?” While some scholars such Reni EddoLodge emphasize the importance of personal effort in finding what one can do individually through communities such as the Lakeshore Activist Society, Hope gives its students additional opportunities for success in such activities through programs such as CDI (The Center for Diversity and Inclusion) and The Phelps Scholars. As CDI and its affiliates has been previously covered by Anchor reports this semester (see VOL. 132 NO. 1, 3, 5-7, 9 and 11) I interviewed Director Yoli Vega of the Phelps Scholars progam to learn how each new generation of Hope’s students represent studies into culture. “The Phelps Scholars program is a living, learning community for first-year students of any race, background, culture and community. Every incoming freshman is informed about Phelps scholars and is given the choice to join. They live together, share common classes and common experiences. They do volunteering, 18 hours per semester. That engages them with the local community which is very diverse particularly in the core city of Holland. Then we also offer about three cultural immersion trips per semester. For example we went to the Islamic center in Dearborn to meet with their interfaith director and learn more about Islam as a faith and as a community. The myths I want to break down is that Phelps scholars will stick to themselves because they live in Scott Hall. If you look you’ll see Phelps scholars are some of the most involved if you look at student congress, student organizations and leadership. In any given year there are about 400 Phelps scholars that are on campus. That’s a lot of people who are making a difference.”

The Phelps Difference

“There’s something that we have the freshman read by Dr. Tatum, who came to Hope and did a speech in chapel on this, affirming identity is like if we were with a group of people and took a picture and you and I know that we were there, but as the photo developed we don’t see ourselves. I know I was there, but I’m not represented. That affirming identity piece is huge and Phelps Scholars helps to do that by giving students a place and a space to examine who they are. [Dr. Tatum] calls this the ABC’s of community: affirming identity, building community, and cultivating leadership. I come back to the mission of the college. If it’s to prepare students for life of leadership and service in a global society, this is one way to do that.”

One More Reason

While these topics continue to be addressed by students like Douma and Marubi through projects, academics and campus communities, it can be difficult for those outside of those communities to do the work or even see why work needs to be done on individual, campus and global scales. In my research for this piece I was reminded of one piece that showed just how ‘in our backyard’ these stories are. “After the 2016 presidential election a campus safety officer sat in Scott Hall with us all because several Phelps scholars were told that people were ‘coming for us tonight.’” This quote is one of many provided by the 95 Stories to suppliment the authenticity of their movement. After verifying its accuracy with the Phelps scholars program, it serves as a reminder that while Hope has grown much in the past years, there is still much room to grow on our campus in our ability to have conversations. This is an acknowledgement held within several presidential candidate speeches, indicating its longevity in Hope’s future as an institution. Do the work, for there is much work to be done.

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