Global Connections: The Zhengzhou Jiefu Mutual Aid Center for Parents with Exceptional Children

World Autism Awareness Day was celebrated on Saturday, April 2. This was especially meaningful this year as one of the Sociology & Social Work Department’s partner organizations, the Zhengzhou Jiefu Mutual Aid Center for Parents with Exceptional Children (Jeifu), was featured in China Daily, the largest English language news outlet in China, with an average daily circulation of over 200,000. 

Jiefu is a Chinese domestic nongovernmental organization that works closely with families of children with intellectual and developmental disabilities to improve children’s developmental outcomes, strengthen family support systems, and to advocate for more access to community-based services and opportunities, such as inclusive K-12 education.

Jiefu is at the front edge of the development of non-institutional services for people with disabilities in China. Jiefu was started in late 2009 in Zhengzhou, the capital of Henan province, through the work of its Executive Director, Xu Bing. Ms. Xu began with an initial group of 12 parents of children with disabilities with whom she developed an effective peer support network.

Presently, Jiefu serves more than a thousand families across the province and has been engaged in raising awareness of disabilities and program development in a number of cities. Hope College faculty and students have been working with Jiefu since 2009 on a number of initiatives. In 2017, Dennis Feaster and four Hope College social work majors worked with Jiefu in Zhengzhou, Henan, PRC, on a variety of professional training and capacity building projects as part of the ASIANetwork’s Student-Faculty Fellows program. Dr. Feaster continues to work closely with Jiefu staff and families in developing professional social work capacity.

Sociology & Social Work Research Symposium 2022

On March 29th, the Sociology & Social Work Department hosted a research symposium, where five undergraduate researchers presented on collaborative work done with department faculty throughout the academic year and the preceding summer.

Collaborative faculty-student research is a hallmark of a liberal arts education at Hope College, equipping students with skills and experience that will serve them in a range of academic, professional, and personal pursuits. The Sociology & Social Work Department provides opportunities for student researchers every year, with supporting funds from within the department, from external grants, and from Hope College donors through the Jacob E. Nyenhuis faculty development grant program, among others programs.

This year’s research symposium featured the work of five students on three different faculty-led research projects.

Vincente Bickel gave a presentation entitled, “Latinx & Privileged: Assessing the Literature,” based on research with Dr. Rodrigo Serrao. The projects examines intersections of Latinx identity with other racial and ethnic constructions in the context of racism and xenophobia. Paying attention to the nuances of Latinx identity in relation to whiteness, social acceptability, and privilege, Vincente summarized key themes in the academic literature on Latinos in the United States through the lenses of race and racism. This included attention to processes of racialization and questions of who gets to define groups using racial categories, patterns of immigration and related moral panics, and issues of colorism with an emphasis on social stratification by skin color.

Julia Hopkins presented on the “Exploration of Language Around Ability,” stemming from a collaborative research project supervised by Dr. Denis Feaster and including Elizabeth Schultz. The project analyzes the tension between “person first” language and “identity first” language in reference to ability (e.g., “person with a disability” vs. “disabled person”). Julia discussed what factors affect a person’s preferences around language and ability and why this distinction matters. Through an analysis of qualitative interviews, Julia and her research partners help explain how people make meaning in their lives with respect to the salience of ability in personal and group identities. 

Samuel Brasser, Emily Feaster, and Jared Stephenson presented together on the topic of “American Evangelicals, Islam & the Competition for Religious Authority,” a collaborative team project led by Dr. Roger Baumann, focused on American evangelical Christian discourse on Islam and Muslims. The project is based on an ongoing qualitative content analysis of over 200 evangelical books on Islam spanning more than five decades. The presenters summarized the religious, political, and social significance of American evangelical struggles over the authority to define Islam and Muslims. Further, the presentation focused on how, through examining these texts, we can appreciate how evangelical Christian institutions, discourses, and practices relate to knowledge production about Islam and Muslim that takes shape in the religiously, ethnically, and racially diverse American public sphere.

The colloquium also included a question period, where each of the researchers had the opportunity to reflect and share about their own personal trajectories within the research projects they have been working on. Informal conversations continued in a reception, where the department celebrated the success of its student researchers this year.

Community Action House

When most of us think of food assistance, we picture food pantries: shelves stocked with non-perishable items waiting to be doled out to people experiencing food insecurity.

Perhaps some of us have received help from a food pantry ourselves. Typically, the process involves showing up during limited pantry hours, waiting in line, and either being handed a pre-packed box of items, or selecting from a uniform list of options (e.g. “Two cans of green beans or two cans of corn?”). If you’ve never had this experience, consider for a moment what it might be like. How would you feel?

How can food assistance programs operate in ways that are instead dignified, empowering, and culturally-responsive?

Last summer, Dr. Liz Sharda, Assistant Professor of Social Work, began a two-year project with other Hope faculty and students to address this question.

“Food Disparities and Food Justice in Greater Holland: A Collaborative Project of Hope College and Community Action House”, supported by a grant from the Mellon Foundation, links an interdisciplinary team of Hope faculty and students with Community Action House (CAH), a local non-profit dedicated to ending poverty in our community.

In fall of 2021, CAH began to transition from a food pantry model (much like the one outlined above) to a Food Club, a non-profit, member-based grocery store offering high-dignity access to nutritious and culturally-relevant food choices for the low-income population of the greater Holland area. 

To date, the project has had three components:

  • Reading circles: The team of faculty, students, and CAH staff read and discussed resources on such topics as the history of food, food and culture, and dignity and choice.
  • Volunteer Experience: Two Hope students spent several hours each week volunteering at two of CAH’s food assistance initiatives. 
  • Focus Groups: Dr. Sharda and the students conducted two focus groups with community members from ethnic minority groups, gathering their input on planned changes to CAH’s food assistance program and their perspectives on food through the lens of culture. There is an additional focus group planned for fall 2021. 

Over the next year , the team will analyze and summarize focus group data and use it to design and implement a culturally-responsive outreach and engagement strategy for the new CAH Food Club. 

Breakthrough in East Garfield Park

Sydney Peters (right), with Breakthrough staff members

The Chicago Semester program gave me the opportunity to grow professionally, academically and personally. The internship aspect was a critical step for me to gain confidence and experience before entering the workforce.

I was blessed to have interned at an organization called Breakthrough, whose mission is to help those “affected by poverty to build connections, develop skills and open doors of opportunity.” In relation to my criminal justice emphasis, I saw what Breakthrough was doing as the preventive side for crime and was inspired by their mission before starting there.

“While I was there to make a difference in their lives, they ultimately impacted my life more.”

– Sociology major Sydney Peters on interning with Breakthrough in the East Garfield Park neighborhood of Chicago

Before I interned at Breakthrough, all I heard about the East Garfield Park neighborhood was that it was dangerous and that crime and violence were everywhere. Although crime does happen there, that was not my experience in the community. Instead, I saw hope through those that worked, volunteered, or were a part of the Breakthrough family. I was welcomed with open arms and supported every step of the way, not just as an intern but as a person. At Breakthrough I worked with K – 8th graders and, while I was there to make a difference in their lives, they ultimately impacted my life more.

Academically, the Chicago Semester focused on getting outside of the classroom to learn. Classes went out to different neighborhoods around the city and put context behind issues and topics learned in the classroom, which gives students a better understanding of what they have learned. It is one thing to learn about poverty and housing inequality, but to witness it first hand gives new meaning behind those issues.

Working and taking classes in a big city challenged me to grow personally by becoming more independent. I was forced to navigate the city unlike I had ever before, by taking different forms of transportation and going to different neighborhoods I would have never visited otherwise. The semester was about stepping out of my comfort zone to meet new people, to learn new things and create new experiences that I would have never had if I stayed at Hope College for the semester.

Sydney Peters is a Hope College senior from Glen Ellyn, Illinois, majoring in Sociology with a Criminal Justice emphasis.

Borderlands May Term 2022

Have you been overwhelmed by recent news reports of refugees gathered on our southern border seeking asylum? Haitian citizens escaping the devastation from hurricanes and political upheaval camping under a bridge in Texas. Central American adolescents trying to escape the gang and drug recruitment. Do you want to “deepen your understanding of borders, migration, and social justice?” This is the mission of a non-profit in Tucson, Arizona, called BorderLinks.  

“BorderLinks offers experiential learning opportunities that explore the causes and difficulties of migration, as well as the impact of U.S. immigration policies, bringing to the forefront the voices of migrants and people who are committed to social change.”

Professors Debra Swanson (Sociology) and Berta Carrasco (Spanish) invite you to join them May 2022 for the May term class Borderlands: Migration, Immigration and Social Justice.  

We will be working with Borderlinks to provide students with experiences and speakers that deal with social justice on our Arizona/Mexico border.

Here are some of the things we have planned:

  • Hike in the desert and conduct a water drop
  • Travel along the Wall and examine the changes in the infrastructure that divide these communities 
  • Visit migrant empowerment centers and interview volunteers working in migrant relief
  • Drink coffee at Café Justo y Mas, a coffee cooperative to support Mexican coffee farmers negatively impacted by NAFTA – the profits support drug culture intervention and prevention
  • Tour an historic Spanish Catholic mission on the Tohono O’odham Nation San Xavier Indian Reservation and sample the fry bread sold to support the mission
  • Advocate for LGBTQ people in detention through detention center visitations, letter-writing, bond fundraising, case support, and post-detention hospitality

Before we travel in May, we will meet three different times for three hours in the Spring semester to prepare for our trip: learning some basic Spanish or practicing the Spanish we know, meeting with some researchers who have looked at how attitudes toward working as Border patrol agents are impacted by race and gender, reading the history of the region where we will be traveling and getting to know each other. When we are in Tucson, we will be living in the Borderlinks dormitory, cooking and living together in an intentional community.

After our trip, we will spend our final week together in Holland debriefing our experience, reflecting on all we have learned and putting together an action plan. This class will fulfill your International Global Flag requirement for Gen Ed. You can take the class for Sociology, Peace and Justice or Senior Seminar credit. Those taking the class for Senior Sem will be using the experience as part of a lifeview paper and presentation. And, finally, we will celebrate!

Applications for the May 2022 course are due by December 1.  

For more information, email Professor Swanson or Professor Carrasco.

Spring 2022 Courses

Senior Seminar: Learning from the Margins (IDS 492-04)

MW, 4:00-5:20 with Professor Rodrigo Serrao

Did you know that around the world, many colleges and universities read and reproduce eurocentric ways of knowing that are considered universal knowledge? Did you also know that such epistemologies only represent a small fraction of knowledge production? Hence, this course takes the question posed by Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak in 1999, “Can the subaltern speak?” earnestly. But who is the subaltern? In postcolonial studies, the term subaltern describes those at the margins of power or the “Other,” broadly speaking. In this seminar, I propose not only to let the subaltern speak but, more importantly, to let Hope students listen to and learn from voices from the margins. We will do this by reading Miguel De La Torre’s The Politics of Jesús: A Hispanic Political Theology; Frantz Fanon’s Black Skin, White Masks; Karla Cornejo Villavicencio’s The Undocumented Americans; and James Cone’s The Cross and the Lynching Tree, among others.  

Sociology of the Family (SOC 233)

MWF, 11:00 – 11:50 with Professor Pamela Koch

“In a time when nothing is more certain than change, the commitment of two people to one another has become difficult and rare. Yet, by its scarcity, the beauty and value of this exchange have only been enhanced.”

— Robert Sexton

How many kids are too many? What age is the best time to start a family? Is there such a thing as a “perfect” family? Is polyamory and/or polygamy an ethical option in modern society? These are the questions and more that we will tackle in this course. Family Sociology looks at dating, love and mate selection with emphasis on the role of gender and sexuality with a sociological lens.

Sociology of Gender I & II (SOC 271/272)

TR, 9:30 – 10:50 with Professor Shanna Corner

In Sociology of Gender I, we will examine examine the different roles prescribed to individuals on the basis of sex. In particular, we will focus on the role of socialization and social institutions. We will consider the consequences of women’s and men’s assigned roles for their home and family life, work roles and achievements, media portrayals, and religious practices. This course fulfills SS2 and 2 credits of the cultural diversity requirements.

In Sociology of Gender II, we will build on what we learned in the first half of the course, examining popular gender theories and further discussing the impacts of gender roles and related factors on people’s lives. 

To enroll in SOC 272, students should also register for SOC 271, or have taken this course in the past.

Medical Sociology (SOC 333)

TR, 9:30 – 10:50 with Professor Aaron Franzen

Ever wondered how relationships or communities influence individual health or health trends within populations? Ever wonder what happens during medical school and how medical professionals come to act and think alike? How different is this than the experience of being a patient, or whether or not different beliefs affect health choices and health outcomes? Do you wonder whether all countries argue about their healthcare system or just how other countries work in comparison to our own? Then take Medical Sociology where we will think through all of these topics!

Casual Conversations on Race

With the hopes to create an intimate, safe space for students, faculty, and staff to come together, have fellowship, learn, and discuss issues of race, Professor Rodrigo Serrao started a weekly event called Casual Conversations on Race at the Keppel House for the Center for Diversity and Inclusion. The hour and a half, every Thursday starting at 2:00 PM, has covered themes such as: Racism and Christianity in the United States, Health Disparities for Black Community during COVID, and Asian American Pacific Islanders (AAPI) and Racism during the Covid pandemic.

It has been gratifying to be in a space where good in-depth learning and discussion can take place with other eager individuals who care deeply about race, racism, and its history. The snacks are also a great plus!

The mix of informative documentaries, presentations, and discussions leads to the ideal mix of learning, reflection, and discussion. I have been amazed at how much knowledge I have received week after week about the history of race and racism and how we are all still impacted by them in many ways. Being in an intimate group has overall allowed everyone to feel comfortable disclosing their personal experiences, opinions, and understanding of specific topics. 

For example, in Week 5: AAPI and Racism during the Covid pandemic, I learned so much about the history of Asian Americans including the existence of Angel Island and the work of actress Anna May Wong. The documentary presented gave me insight into a racial group that I have not been able to learn much about partly because of the constant stigma that Asian Americans are the model minority. Additionally, I was able to learn from a Hope student about the high impact Covid had on AAPI in relation to Asian hate.

Having the opportunity to learn about other racial groups, hear their experience, and learn about the history of oppression and marginalization helps me grow as an individual who cares about diversity. I am conscious and aware of issues within my own Latinx identity, and because of this I am grateful that Professor Serrao takes the time to focus on different racial groups and bring his expertise into discussions. I have learned so much about other racial groups and even my own. One thing that I have constantly been able to reflect upon is the many similarities there are between various racial groups in terms of experiences of racism and oppression. This reflection only fuels the importance and need there is to be agents of change for a more just society. 

I am excited to continue attending the Casual Conversations on Race! I hope to see anyone interested in learning and growing on issues of race at Keppel!

Here is a list of the upcoming topics Professor Serrao has planned: 

  • Native American Heritage Month (Thursday, November 4, 2:00 PM, Keppel House)
  • Semester Reflection and Brainstorming (Thursday, November 11, 2:00 PM, Keppel House)

Nancy Sierra is the Graduate Intern for the Phelps Scholars Program at Hope College. Originally from Dallas, Texas, Nancy moved to Holland to attend Hope in 2016. She graduated as a Communications major in 2020 and started working for the Phelps Scholars Program this fall. Nancy also serves as the advisor for the Latino Student Organization, along with Professor Serrao and Officer Rios.

Purity and Danger in Japanese Religion and Everyday Life

Dr. Gill and his wife Manami

This semester, the Department of Sociology and Social Work is hosting Dr. Tom Gill as a visiting professor in the department, joining us from Meiji Gakuin University in Japan. Dr. Gill is a social anthropologist trained at the London School of Economics. His scholarship in Japan has focused on ethnographic studies of casual labor, homelessness, and masculinity. More recently he has also been studying victims of the Fukushima nuclear disaster.

On October 28th, Dr. Gill gave a public lecture co-sponsored by the Fried Center for Global Engagement titled, “Purity and Danger in Japanese Religion and Everyday Life.” In discussing some of the cultural binaries that structure Japanese society, Dr. Gill demonstrated how time, space, and — most problematically — people come to be classified in terms of purity and impurity, noting the contrast with American culture (and others shaped by the Abrahamic religious traditions), where the cultural moral binary of good and evil prevails.

Dr. Gill began his lecture noting that about 75% of Japan identifies as “non-religious,” but he emphasized that this is not synonymous with “atheist” in Japan. And using the example of the discrimination faced by residents of the Fukushima Prefecture following the 2011 tsunami and nuclear disaster, Dr. Gill described the persistent power of cultural binaries along the lines of clean vs. dirtypure vs. impure, and how they are manifest in Japanese culture. In spite of the lack of any scientific or rational basis for fears that exposure to radiation could be transmitted from one person to another, residents of Fukushima came to bear the stigma of impurity.

Dr. Gill explained this phenomenon through the lens of anthropologist Mary Douglas’ classic anthropological study, Purity and Danger (1966). The key takeaway from this framework, he explained, is the presence of cultural boundaries understood in binary terms, where the crossing of salient boundaries (e.g., from purity to impurity) produces visceral feelings of danger. While the United States — along with other countries shaped by the theistic Abrahamic religious traditions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam — is guided by cultural binaries related to moral righteousness and wrongness (good vs. evil), Japanese society is guided by other binaries that reinforce notions of ritual impurity rather than moral wrongness.

In a culture that values newness and cleanliness — Japanese people love new cars and the most important Shinto shrine in Ise is ritually torn down and rebuilt every twenty years, Dr. Gill told the audience — purification is not about cleansing a literal or spiritual dirt, but rather a kind of inauspiciousness. This, Dr. Gill noted, might be classified not as religion by American observers, but rather as a kind of superstition. Through a series of compelling illustrations from Japanese history and culture, however, he showed how this set of cultural binaries — unfamiliar and unintuitive as they may be to American observers — explain the origins and persistent force of social divisions and hierarchies in Japanese society. This division matters in terms of how both space and time are conceptualized along the lines of the pure/impure binary. And, most importantly, it is also the basis for the categorization of people.

Dr. Gill’s ethnographic writing has included analyses of the significance of these cultural binaries for Japan’s Burakumin — an underclass of “untouchables” at the bottom of Japan’s traditional social hierarchy, stigmatized as “filth” and even “non-persons” related to their descent, physical location, and occupations connected to death (like undertakers, slaughterhouse workers, butchers, or tanners). In describing the 100-year-old movement for Burakumin liberation in Japan, Dr. Gill noted the movement’s use of Christian imagery, symbols, language, and moral categories into a non-Christian society, complicating the axes of traditional cultural binaries and the dynamics of social change.

Crown of thorns flag of the Buraku
National Levelers Association (image:

Brothers! Our ancestors pursued and practiced freedom and equality. They were the victims of base, contemptible class policies and they were the manly martyrs of industry. As a reward for skinning animals, they were stripped of their own living flesh; in return for tearing out the hearts of animals, their own warm human hearts were ripped apart. They were even spat upon with ridicule. Yet, all through these cursed nightmares, their human pride ran deep in their blood. Now, the time has come when we human beings, pulsing with this blood, are soon to regain our divine dignity. The time has come for the victims to throw off their stigma. The time has come for the blessing of the martyrs’ crown of thorns.

Excerpt from the Buraku Declaration of Human Rights in Japan (“The Suiheisha Declaration”) (1922)

Thus, while deeply rooted and pervasive cultural meanings can create the conditions for marginalization, discrimination, and dehumanization, they can also be creatively redeployed to challenge entrenched power structures, systems of meaning, and social hierarchies through new and creative forms of reinterpretation and cultural innovation.

Summer Research 2021

The Department of Sociology & Social Work has a deep commitment to fostering collaborative research between faculty and students and this was on full display at the recent Hope College Summer Research Showcase.

Summer is always a busy time for research—when students work closely with professors whose research programs align with their interests and goals—and this summer was no exception. We had six collaborative projects across Sociology and Social Work, involving nine students.

Dr. Sharda and Social Work senior Carlie McNiff collaborated on a timely analysis of stress and institutional support for foster parents during the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. Together they conducted and coded 16 qualitative interviews with Michigan foster parents, identifying a range of factors contributing to increased stressors and strains on support mechanisms during the pandemic. Carlie shared:

“I think that our study is incredibly special because it gives foster parents the opportunity to tell their stories. With the information that we gain from them, we can advocate for foster parents, as well as foster children, and initiate support reform. I never looked at research in an advocacy light before this study, and I’m glad that I’ve had my eyes opened to it.”

Dr. Franzen worked with Merrik Campagna, a Computer Science and Sociology major on an ongoing longitudinal study of Hope College students who come to campus with the goal of pursuing a health profession. Their analysis focused on understanding the ebbs and flows of empathy as aspiring healthcare workers are socialized into medical fields.

Dr. Feaster and Social Work major Julia Hopkins collaborated on a study of the relationship between language, identity, and ability examining preferences for person-first language (e.g., “person who has a disability”) versus identity-first language (e.g., “disabled person”) among research participants.

Dr. Corner and Social Work major Caroline Daniels collaborated to systematically review literature focused on the characteristics and causes of child and enslaved labor in the chocolate industry and ways key organizations and agencies are working to address these issues.

Dr. Serrao worked with Political Science and Sociology major Hannah Santiago and Anthropology and Spanish major Vicente Bickel to develop a literature review of the extensive and nuanced scholarly publication about Latinx and whiteness in the United States.

Dr. Baumann worked with a team of interdisciplinary majors representing Sociology, Social Work, and Communications on the preliminary stages of a project examining how American Evangelical Christians have talked about Islam and inter-religious relationships with Muslims over the last several decades. Of the team research experience, Hailey Schumann was surprised at how well the summer research overlapped with her interests. She explained:

“Through my past coursework, I have had the freedom to explore concepts like social identities and how people engage with others different than themselves. Religion is often a major part of one’s identity, and so in doing this research, I have been able to learn about how religious groups approach and attempt to understand one another. It also so happens that I was first interested in this project because of my participation in a club on Hope’s campus known as HIYA, a group that promotes religious literacy and interfaith dialogue. My summer research experience has allowed me to pursue my passions in a professional setting and gain a better understanding of how people relate to one another across difference.”

Four of these research teams presented findings at the Arts & Humanities/Social Sciences Research Showcase, and more will present at the spring Celebration of Undergraduate Research & Creative Performance.

As a department, we are proud to offer these kinds of hands-on research experiences to students. And we are consistently impressed by the contributions that our student researchers bring to these partnerships with their creativity, incisiveness, and depth of knowledge!