Hope Students with Differing Views Seek Civility in Politics

After the historic events surrounding the inauguration of President Trump in our nation’s capitol, students Alexandra Piper and James Rogers are back at work interning and learning as members of the Hope College Washington Honors Semester. After 48 hours of celebration and contention, after two days of being part of the peaceful transfer of power and the peaceful Women’s March on Washington the next day, Rogers — a Republican — and Piper — a Democrat — recognize they have one and the same job. While that work may not come with a paycheck, it does come with a reality check. Their sentiment is this:

It is time, long overdue, for Americans on both sides to give and show grace. It’s time — after a combative election, after a presidential inauguration, after a momentous march — to be about the work of listening and respecting.

Piper and Rogers know they are both small and opposing cogs in the vast political machine that propels two sides of this democracy, but they’ll do their part to respectfully listen and understand.

It won’t be easy; Piper and Rogers know this. After all, there is over a year and a half — maybe more — of turbulence to navigate. Rogers admits that Trump’s rhetoric played a part in national fear and unease but he’s hoping for a new start. Piper recognizes that the Women’s March, while giving her a strong sense of community and freedom, lacked a certain cohesiveness due to its numerous platforms. And though they are both small and opposing cogs in the vast political machine that propels two sides of our democracy, they’ll do their part to respectfully listen and understand in a city rife with angst and tension. Both students applied to Hope’s off-campus D.C. experience back in the fall of 2015, never foreseeing the national divide and political climate they’d be wading into. Today, the two want nothing more than for our nation to heal.

Senior Alex Piper, a history and political science major, participated in this past weekend’s Women’s March.

“I have great hopes for better communication and understanding,” says Piper, a senior who took part in the Women’s March and is interning at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History. “People are getting  shut down so quickly on both sides. Shutting down President Trump as president is not the way to move forward. We may heavily disagree but we must respect his job as president. At the same time, I also hope his administration would look at these marches and look at these concerns and sit down with different people and listen. I’d hope for that for any political appointee, no matter their party.”

Junior James Rogers, far right, with Hope friends, Murray and Dawson Sales at the inauguration of President Trump.

“People aren’t giving each other enough grace,” declares Rogers, a junior who attended the inauguration. “Increasingly, people are not separating politics from the actual person. The politics becomes the person. So, my goal is to listen better, to have more positive and productive conversations with people I don’t agree with. That means being willing to put yourself out there. It means being willing to be vulnerable.”

And it means for someone else to be willing to do the same. Rogers sees that happening with his fellow D.C. students on a regular basis, but he also found such an encounter in an Uber ride the day after the inauguration. Traveling back into the city to return the rented tuxedo that he wore for the black-tie, bipartisan Michigan Inaugural Gala, Rogers struck up a cordial conversation with his self-identified liberal/progressive driver. They each calmly spoke of their political differences as well as their shared sadness over the current derision in America.

“And we were able to bond over that mutual feeling of loss — the loss of respect and understanding — yet we came from polar opposite ends of the political spectrum,” remembers Rogers, a management major and political science minor who is interning at the Heritage Foundation. “I experienced a good impression of a young Democrat and I hope she experienced a good impression of a young Republican. And I left the car feeling good about that, and I thought, the more I can do that, the better we’ll all be.”

Part of the Hope contingent at the bi-partisan Michigan Inaugural Gala held at the National Museum of American History. Dr. Virginia Beard is second from the left.

Twenty other Hope students on the Washington Honors semester feel much the same way as Rogers and Piper, reports Dr. Virginia Beard, associate professor of political science and this year’s director of the program, even though the student group is virtually split 50-50 along Republican and Democratic lines. With Beard’s guidance, all are unpacking what they’ve seen and felt since the start of the semester. With tensions high and political banter non-stop, all are working as best they can to be objective and not overly ideological, she says. But it’s not been without some tough talks.

“I’m exhausted from the weekend,” Beard admits, “but I’m very glad I’m here with these students — and they are all wonderful — to help them step back and process and talk about what is going on here. We have conservatives and liberals living under one roof this spring term, yet we are having good, difficult conversations together.”

All are working as best they can to be objective and not overly ideological. But it’s not been without some tough talks.

The conversations won’t end when the semester is over so insisting that students listen as scholars and grace-givers is a priority for Beard. Healthy, thoughtful conclusions tend to result “when more than anything else,” she concludes, “we engage one another as co-image-bearers of Christ.”

Inaugurations become history and marches end, but as Beard and her students in D.C. see it, the love and grace of Jesus must abide.

Curious to learn more about the Washington Honors Semester? Follow our students’ D.C. adventures on Instagram.

Human Vocation Meets Canine Avocation

When Dr. Kirk Brumels looks at his Llewellin setter, Dixie, he not only sees a beloved family member, he also sees an athlete. The kinesiology professor, athletic trainer and avid upland bird hunter can’t help but recognize both bonds with his dog. And because he does, Brumels’ vocation met his avocation when he recently authored an article about knee ligament tears in hunting dogs for Retriever Journal, a periodical dedicated to the hunting relationship between sporting dogs and their human partners.

Dixie on the run, her CCL working just fine (Photos by Hunter Brumels ’16)

In his story, “Cruciate Injuries,” Brumels apprises readers about the reasons why hunting dogs tear their cranial cruciate ligaments (CCL) — the human equivalent is the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) — and how those injuries can be prevented. Not surprisingly, dogs tear their CCLs, and get the tear corrected, the same way humans do: Cruciate tears come from strenuous and abrupt changes in direction of motion and surgery is the only way to repair them.

Brumels’ interest in the subject was born from hearing other hunters’ concerns about their dogs’ potential or real injuries and from watching his lithe and sinewy Dixie take off through the woods with great speed and physicality, sometimes with unfettered abandon. Having once been an athletic trainer for the New England Patriots as well as the former head athletic trainer for Hope sports, Brumels knows that when he sees an athlete in action, the prevention of injury is really the best treatment of injury. This is true of an athletic dog as any athletic human.

Dr. Kirk Brumels and Dixie on the hunt

“Once I started getting into upland bird hunting (for grouse and woodcock) and in my understanding that these dogs and other sporting dogs are basically like high-profile athletes, I wanted to research and share more about helping other owners avoid CCL tears with their dogs,” says Brumels, professor of kinesiology and chairperson of the department. “You get a dog and you spend a ton of time and money training her and the nightmare is she gets an CCL tear. Then she can’t do what she’s loves to do, was bred to do — which is run in the woods and hunt. And of course, then you can’t do what you love to do, too — which is hunt with your dog.”

If a dog were to stand on its hind legs, its knees are the large, rounded joints slightly angled toward the ground. It is at this joint where the canine CCL is located.

To help understand where a dog’s CCL actually is, consider that the front legs of a dog are like human arms — with its shoulders, elbows, and wrists — and its hind legs are like human legs — with its hips, knees and ankles. “Dog bones are like our bones and their bone names are similar to ours, too, except all four of a dog’s limbs are oriented toward the ground,” informs Brumels, who primarily teaches human anatomy at Hope.

So, if a dog were to stand on its hind legs, its knees are the large, rounded joints slightly angled toward the ground. It is at this joint where the canine CCL is located.

With his expertise in human anatomy and sports medicine, Brumels transferred his knowledge of both astutely to the dog world, with help from other experts who spoke to canine kinetics and nutrition in his article. Veterinarians and dog trainers informed Brumels’ own knowledge and writing, and the end product was a story that hunting dog owners should be keen to heed.

But there are issues with a warm-up protocol: You can’t really tell a dog to go take a few easy laps through the woods before starting to seriously hunt and often the excited dog just want to get going.

Though one can never completely prevent CCL tears in dogs — and ACL tears in humans for that matter — Brumels advocates certain steps to intervene in the probability of them. Carefully monitoring protein intake is one way. Another is to actually warm up and cool down a dog before it goes out and comes back from a hunt, just as any human athlete would before and after vigorous physical exercise.

But there are issues with that protocol: You can’t really tell a dog to go take a few easy laps through the woods before starting to seriously hunt and often the excited dog just wants to get going. So Brumels starts off with Dixie doing short time and distance increments.

Who’s a happy, healthy hunting dog? Dixie is!

“We start with a number of breaks right at the beginning,” Brumels says. “We’ll go out for a couple minutes then I call her back and have her stay for a bit, give her some water. I’m getting her warmed up in short exercise bursts.

“But I have to be honest that we don’t always warm-up, and I know better,” he confesses.

Yet, Brumels vows he’ll get better at it after writing his article because avoiding a CCL injury with Dixie means avoiding the adage, “a hunting dog becomes a house dog,” after a catastrophic injury. After all, the joy of the hunt is in them both.

Hope 2017: A Watch List

New year. New semester. New classes. New start.

The bisected rhythm of an academic year is something special. It affords faculty, staff and students two yearly markers for two new beginnings that most other entities and professions do not. In academia, new starts come at the end of summer (and the official start of a new school year) and at the end of 365 previous days (and the official start of a new calendar year). And each gives new opportunities to look at what’s to come on our educational horizon.

It is once a year or in a lifetime events that brighten our mission statement with even more living color, those things that make a Hope education as fresh as a new year or semester.

At Hope, we’ve done our fair share of looking ahead. We’re not wishing our days away, mind you, but we cannot help but be excited about what 2017 has in store on campus. Of course, we’re always mindful of the everyday privilege “to educate students for lives of leadership and service in a global society through academic and co-curricular programs of recognized excellence in the liberal arts and in the context of the historic Christian faith.”  Yet, it is once-a-year, or in a lifetime, events that brighten our mission statement with even more living color, those things that make a Hope education as fresh as a new year or semester.

Here is a list of the top five Hope happenings to watch for in this New Year, from new buildings to new institutes to new classes.

  1. Student Space Expands

One has been a little over a year-and-a-half  in the making, the other about eight months. Each will give students new space for living and learning in 2017.

Construction on the $22.5 million Bultman Center nears completion.

The Bultman Student Center, a 42,000-square-foot facility devoted to student activities in the heart of campus, will reach its completion in the spring of 2017. It is hoped that students will get their first look inside their new communal home this April. Ground broke for its $22.5 million construction in the fall of 2015 and since then, this campus epicenter has been taking shape to the excitement of student life offices and groups longing to use it. Named for former presidential duo, Jim and Marti Bultman, the center will be dedicated in the fall of 2017.

The Cook Village will have two new apartment buildings which will house 16 students by fall 2017.

Cook Village, the student apartment complex that stands in the “U” along Lincoln Avenue and 11th and 12th Streets, is being expanded, adding two more townhouse-style buildings to the four that already exist. At about 3,800 square feet in each, the new brick apartments will house 16 more students. The $1.8 million addition to the village, named for its major donor, the Peter C. and Emajean Cook Foundation, will be completed by the fall of 2017 to welcome new inhabitants for the 2017-18 school year.

2. Toward a Better Understanding of Our Global Society

A series of lectures on wide-ranging international topics will be hosted at Hope in conjunction with the World Affair Council of West Michigan in the spring of 2017. Bringing renowned experts to campus, which include a retired brigadier general and former U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan on Mondays, starting February 7 and ending April 3, the “Great Decision Global Discussion Series” will address hot topics such Latin American health care, clashes in the South China Sea, and the future of the European Union, to name a few. It is a perfect example of Hope’s prioritization to provide the campus community with opportunities for global understanding.

“By bringing foreign policy experts to campus, we live into our liberal arts mission to prepare our students to faithfully engage an increasingly complex and interconnected global society,” says Dr. Dede Johnston, professor of communication and Hope’s liaison with the World Affairs Council of West Michigan. Hope is an educational partner of the World Affairs Council of Western Michigan, which informs and engages people of all ages on matters of national and international importance, and explores how national policy and global events affect the community in West Michigan.

3. New Institute to Prepare Students for Vocational Future

George ’61 and Sibilla Boerigter

The Boerigter Institute, a new, college-wide initiative, will help ensure that every Hope student is robustly prepared for career success and professional growth. The goal of the Boerigter Institute is to transform the college’s approach to career preparation with an innovative and comprehensive framework that guides students from their first semester onward by identifying their strengths and interests, and engaging them in career planning and experiential learning. It will more closely link multiple departments and programs at the college.

This significant effort is made possible by a major gift from SoundOff Signal in honor of Founder and Chairman George Boerigter, who is a 1961 Hope graduate, and his wife, Sibilla. A task force of Hope faculty and staff is currently working to develop this new, cross-functional integrated program, bearing the Boerigters’ name, which is scheduled to begin implementation by fall 2017.

4. Happy Anniversary, Reformation!

Reformer Martin Luther, 1483-1546

On October 31, 1517, Martin Luther changed the course of Christian history for 95 reasons. It was on that day that the once anonymous monk and scholar delivered his “Ninety-Five Theses” to a Roman Catholic Church in Wittenberg, Germany, sparking the Protestant Reformation and altering the progression and understanding of Christianity as the world once knew it.

As a school affiliated with the Reformed Church in America since its inception in 1866, Hope has long appreciated the significance of this event. And as a school that also appreciates ecumenism, Hope will commemorate this momentous 500th anniversary by looking at the Reformation with more than one event, and throughout the year, from various faith-based, historical and social viewpoints via lectures, discussions and even a musical performance. A Presidential Colloquium commences this spring with keynote speakers to complement the Danforth Lecture that will all address the Reformation’s impact. Hope faculty will engage in panel discussions this fall, offering other perspectives on the topic. As for the musical element, a participatory hymn sing is being planned as well.  Additional information will be released throughout the year about each event.

5. Up to the Grand Challenge

Relevant, complex topics will get new, curricular looks this fall, all thanks to $800,000 from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.  The Mellon Grand Challenges Initiative (MGCI) is providing Hope faculty and students with opportunities to come together in true liberal arts fashion to explore “grand challenges” by crossing and connecting disciplines for Hope’s general education program as well as for collaborative summer research. Over three years, MGCI will aspire to support the development of about six projects per semester, involving two or more faculty members and developing a potential total of about 50 new linked courses.

Currently, the MGCI committee has awarded about $130,000 in internal funding to six cross-divisional projects involving a total of 15 faculty members. Entitled Disability in Contemporary Societies, Healing in Post-Conflict Societies, Immigration Stories, National Identities, Peace Movements, Storytelling and Cross-Cultural Empathy, these new classes involve nine departments and all four divisions at Hope.

Three more rounds of funding are on the docket to fund additional courses as is the creation of a summer research program for 2018.

Keeping it Real: A Librarian’s Advice to Ending Fake News

Since the dawn of the Internet, college librarians have been concerned about the communication of accurate stories racing around the “information superhighway.” Never ones to subscribe to the “if it’s on the Internet, it must be true” idiom, these information professionals have long questioned and looked closely at internet source reliability, authority and bias.

But now that fake news has the spotlight in real news, (i.e., the recent Pizzagate fiasco), one Hope librarian wants students — and all of us, really — to remember that what we search for and read on the internet, especially on social media, is often precisely what we want to search for and read. It’s this “filter bubble” that is causing fake news to find its way in our news feeds in the first place.

Hope College - Students and staff working at the Van Wylen Library on Hope campus.
Jessica Hronchek instructs students in the Van Wylen Library on Hope campus.

“A ‘filter bubble’ means you are primarily seeing news (on social media) that you agree with and are blocked from viewing those things that you don’t agree with,” says Jessica Hronchek, a research librarian at Hope’s Van Wylen Library. “[Facebook] newsfeeds are the results of complex algorithms that attempt to show you what they think you want to see. This will be based on your networks of friends and the content you have clicked on and ‘liked’ in the past, as well as many other factors. The end result is a newsfeed that heavily reflects your own opinions on major issues…. And that gives us no sense of perspective or balance at all.”

Fake news thrives when readers refuse to investigate both sides of an issue, or look for other notable news sources, or succumb to emotion rather than reason.

Filter bubbles lead us to one-sided debates and harm real research, Hronchek believes. Fake news thrives when readers refuse to investigate both sides of an issue, or look for other notable news sources, or succumb to emotion rather than reason. So, asking critical questions about the bias and authorship of a story should be mandatory for any article online, “because who the source is tells the story as much as the words they use,” Hronchek says.

“Right now, it feels like information is cheap because it is so available and so abundant,” she explains. “But good, real, authentic information is anything but cheap. It has value socially, politically, and of course, persuasively.”

Spreading false news and information can have a measurable, negative impact and it harms real research.

Information must be used in the correct way for its value to compound. “Pizzagate” is just one example of how spreading false news and information can have a measurable and negative impact. It is enough to give pause for every Internet user to ask, “how can I be sure what I read is real and how can I stop the proliferation of what is not?”

Hronchek, a purveyor of truth, gives these suggestions to help answer those questions:

  1. The likelihood of an article to trend online is not necessarily connected to its accuracy. If something resonates with you and you share it without taking a moment to do some basic fact-checking, then you may be only spreading false information. Look at the source. Is it credible? Have other outlets written a similar story, or is what you are reading a stand-alone piece? If it’s the only story of its kind on the Internet, it’s probably not a factual story.
  2. Fake news capitalizes on emotion.
    Not real! But a lot of readers on the Internet thought it was.

    If an article online deeply angers you, ask why. Then double-check your source.

  3. Avoid “click-bait” headlines — those with vague, wild stories that offer up caricatures of issues instead of realistic portrayals (Fisher-Price Happy Hour playset.) And remember, satire stories from The Onion and the New Yorker’s The Borowitz Report are meant to make you click, laugh, and think, while not actually being real news.
  4. Slow down. Take time to ask critical questions of yourself and the story you just read. Don’t be tempted to see a story as the only facts you want to see. Instead, look and think more broadly. The world is wide with ideas; don’t narrow your exposure to just one.


Hronchek concludes: “If you are going to stand on a soapbox to proclaim your point of view, you need to do so from a fully informed position. And it’s a position that says, ‘I’ve read all about the issues from both sides. I’ve been responsible. Now I can stand here and make my point and here’s why.”

Now that’s keeping it real.

Finding Meaning in the Storm

Hurricane Matthew has come and gone but not its aftermath. Haiti is a Caribbean country in mourning once again as the death toll and massive material damage accumulated from the great storm. North Carolina too is experiencing much sorrow over lives and property lost due to the flooding left by Matthew. These are the known physical consequences of natural disaster devastation but what of psychological ones? What happens in the minds and psyche of victims who struggle to come to terms with the random nature of nature?

Dr. Daryl VanTongeren, assistant professor of psychology and Towsley Research Scholar

With $1.8 million in funding from the John Templeton FoundationDr. Daryl Van Tongeren and students from the Hope College Psychology Department, along with colleagues at Wheaton College, Georgia State University and the University of North Texas, seek to understand how survivors find meaning after natural disasters strike, and how those events affect people’s views and relationship with God. They are midway through the three-year study.

Currently, the team is collecting data from recent disastrous events in Louisiana and now North Carolina, but in their first year, Van Tongeren and his Hope students concentrated on questioning participants, in lab studies, about their imagined responses to disaster scenarios in written form.

“If we can somehow find meaning from a horrible event, we’re actually going to be a little bit better off. If we can somehow gain spiritual meaning from it, then the negative mental health effects are diminished.”

Those early studies have found is that when confronted with abstract situations where life is described as lacking meaning — and when confronted with situations where the threat of a natural disaster is emanate, participants recorded less positive attitudes toward God and life in the first scenario. In the second scenario, they did not. Why? Is there something unique and qualitatively different about a natural disaster as opposed to a philosophical argument about why life is meaningless? In other words, why are participants trying to hold onto meaning in a natural disaster scenario when high stress and emotional turmoil are just as prevalent as another negative situation?

An HH-60 Pave Hawk crew conducts search and rescue operations over Galveston, Texas, after Hurricane Ike in 2013. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. James L. Harper Jr.)

Continued research with those who have actually survived natural disasters will hopefully answer these questions more completely in the upcoming year. And although imagining is never a substitute for the real thing, this type of lab work has informed the investigators on ways to research. In fact, this early research via lab work earned Van Tongeren’s Hope students an award at the Midwestern Psychological Association for their presentation of it last May.

Yet, in the meantime, Van Tongeren knows this much thus far, “If we can somehow find meaning from a horrible event, we’re actually going to be a little bit better off. If we can somehow gain spiritual meaning from it, then the negative mental health effects are diminished,” he says.

On the practical level, Van Tongeren and colleagues are trying to help people in these catastrophic situations become as prepared psychologically as they are physically.  In the hours before the storm, or flood, or forest fire, or tornado, what kinds of positive responses should be cultivated preemptively? When this happens, where are support systems? How can people invest back in their communities? Where will they find meaning when meaning can seem lost?

“We’re hoping to contribute to the broader exploration of how we find meaning in suffering,” explains Van Tongeren. “Natural disasters are just one instance in which humans suffer. What can be learned when we are in these trials and tribulations? Our hope is to make a contribution such that when people understand how to make meaning out of the suffering, they can flourish despite it.”

The Rivalry: Sport versus Religion?

Whenever Hope College faces Calvin College on an athletic court or field, an intense, decades-long rivalry gets renewed and, with it, the thrill and agony of heated competition as zero-sum. One will win; one will lose. One must take; one must give. And when rivals meet, neither likes to imagine the latter notions.

Long touted as one of the nation’s best college rivalries, most notably in men’s basketball, Hope versus Calvin fills every criterion for what makes any rivalry great – close regional proximity (like Michigan vs Michigan State), ongoing league and national success (like Duke vs North Carolina), similar size and academic mission (like Army vs Navy). But the Hope versus Calvin rivalry adds one more element that other high-profile rivalries don’t, an element that should bind but has over the years divided. It’s ironic really, for it is religion — noted for this adherences to compassion and love — that adds to the zealous nature of this rivalry for all who play and watch.

Hope versus Calvin rivalry adds one more element that other high-profile rivalries don’t, an element that should bind but has over the years divided. It’s ironic really, for it is religion that adds to the zealous nature of the rivalry for all who play and watch.

A team of both Hope and Calvin professors and students presented their research on Christianity and the Nature of Sporting Rivalries (of course) in York, England this past summer.  From left to right, Dr. Chad Carlson, Eric Brower, Harrison Blackledge, Jason Zeigler, Ty VanWieren, Dr. Brian Bolt

And it is this last component – religion – that brought together two students and a professor from each school to attend and present at the Inaugural Global Congress on Sport and Christianity at York St. John’s University in York, England during the summer of 2016. With over 250 participants from 30 countries, the GCSC aims triennially to affect a ‘culture shift’ in modern sport by sharing ideas and practices from across academic disciplines and denominations of Christianity. Since Hope has ties to the Reformed Church in America and Calvin with the Christian Reformed Church, it naturally would follow that Dr. Chad Carlson and students Harrison Blackledge and Ty Van Wieren, from Hope, and Dr. Brian Bolt and students Eric Brower and Jason Ziegler from Calvin, would team up to lead a session on rivalry and Christianity at this collaborative conference.  In attendance were academics, journalists, politicians, clergy, coaches, administrators and athletes.

“Part of the value of working together on this presentation was just that – the value of working with Calvin folks on it,” says Carlson, associate professor of kinesiology, and a Hope men’s basketball coach, who emphasizes the “with” preposition strongly. “There was no point total to see who was going to be on top at the end of the day. We were just spending time together talking about Jesus and sports. The more we see each other’s humanity, the more helpful it will be to the heart of this rivalry.”

With that foremost in mind, both schools’ professors and students went to work to research the writings of multiple scholars who are both for and against the co-mingling of sport and religion. Their qualitative question to answer was this: How should we be competing in ways that can justify our participation as a Christian in sport?

It would seem that competition is unhealthy for Christians, especially in a passionately contentious atmosphere like Hope versus Calvin.

On the face of it, Carlson says, there are many normative elements that are incompatible between sport and Christianity. The killer instinct, the ways athletes treat their bodies in harmful ways, the development of negative moral values, and the elevation of individual pursuits all fly the face of Christ’s admonition that the first shall be last and the last shall be first. It would seem then that competition is unhealthy for Christians, especially in a passionately contentious atmosphere like Hope versus Calvin.

Well, not really, the six Hope-Calvin investigators would say — and did say at the conference. But there are some conditions. As long as Christians desire to mimic Jesus when they play (and watch) — offering respect and integrity and the best of their abilities as gifts to God —  then competitive aspirations are redeemed. This “mapping” of mimetic desire from Jesus onto others, a theory coined by French-American scholar Renee Gerard, “teaches us to be like him, to imitate him, and no one else, in everything we do, and in this case, even in rivalry,” says Carlson.

“Harrison and Ty are both senior captains on their teams and initially they were afraid to find that they should be holding hands and singing ‘Kumbaya’ with their opponents. But I believe each of them came away realizing that we can be intense competitors as along as we are aware of where our hearts are at.”

“The biggest thing I learned (from this research) is how important it is to have the right goal in mind,” reflects Harrison Blackledge, a basketball student-athlete. “Rivalries and competitive athletics can help sharpen people on both sides, bring them together as a unit, and achieve success when the main goal of the contest is to glorify God in how we play.  Win or lose we can always do that.  What happens so often, though, is that we make winning our ultimate goal and that is what influences us to bend our ethics and convictions in order to win the game.”

“Working with Calvin was a unique opportunity,” adds Van Wieren, a baseball student-athlete. “So often we get caught up with the intensity of the rivalry that we forget that they are college kids just like us. It was fun to learn more about how rivalry shapes us with our greatest rival. We may be rivals on the court, but off it we can easily be co-workers.”

“Let’s make sure that when we step in between the lines that we understand we are children of God first and foremost. That always needs to be front and center.”

So now, the ball is in their court. Blackledge and Van Wieren will take these lessons and share them on the court and diamond with their teams as well with other Hope student-athletes in other sports. Because while more healthy than some other big-time national rivalries, Hope versus Calvin is still played by humans who are imperfect. Yet, no matter the sport, The Rivalry has the potential to be an exemplar of what any good rivalry can and should be.

“As Christians, we should not be afraid of sport and competition,” concludes Carlson, “but let’s make sure that when we step in between the lines that we understand we are children of God first and foremost. That always needs to be front and center.”

The Joy of Forgiveness

A newly released book featuring the wisdom of two of the world’s greatest spiritual leaders — Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu of South Africa and the Dalai Lama of Tibet — cites research on forgiveness by Dr. Charlotte van Oyen Witvliet of the Hope College psychology department.

Published by Penguin Random House, The Book of Joy was released on September 20 and includes a mention of Dr. Charlotte VanOyen Witlviet’s research on forgiveness.

In The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World, Tutu and the Dalai Lama begin by discussing obstacles to joy: fear, anger, and adversity. Then, co-author Douglas Abrams, who was present during their unprecedented five-day meeting, weaves in current scientific research to support the eight pillars of joy espoused by the two Nobel Peace Laureates: perspective, humility, humor, acceptance, forgiveness, gratitude, compassion and generosity. One of the findings of Witvliet’s two-decades-worth of dedication to researching forgiveness and forgiveness practices reveals that while forgiving is a moral response to injustice in a relationship, it also has beneficial emotional and physiological side effects for the forgiver. It is this revelation — first discovered by Witvliet and co-investigators Dr. Thomas Ludwig, professor of psychology, and Kelly Chamberlain ’01 Port 15 years ago — that makes its appearance in The Book of Joy.

…Witvliet’s two-decades-worth of dedication to researching forgiveness and forgiveness practices reveals that while forgiving is a moral response to injustice in a relationship, it also has beneficial emotional and physiological side effects for the forgiver.

In that study, Witvliet and her team looked at forgiving and unforgiving responses to being wronged or hurt. First, she asked people in the study to think about someone in their autobiographical past who had mistreated or offended them in a way that still hurt them. Then, in the midst of their rumination about the hurt, Witvliet monitored their heart rate, facial muscles, and sweat glands.

What she found when people remembered and harbored their grudges was that they physiologically responded with fight-or-flight mechanisms — their heart rates increased, their blood pressures went up, they sweated more. Their facial musculature also showed signs of anger and sadness. This all makes sense, of course.

Myers Workshop
Dr. Charlotte VanOyen Witvliet, professor of psychology and chairperson of the department

But Witvliet did not stop there. She then asked people in the study to imagine bestowing empathy and an understanding of their offenders’ need for transformation. In short, she asked them to begin to forgive their offenders by developing even small ways to genuinely show mercy, compassion and goodwill. And in trial after trial, Witvliet found a very clear and clean story: When people engage in the moral response of actual, sincere forgiveness, their bodies respond with heart rates, blood pressures and sweat responses that return to normal.

“And while we recognize that forgiving is not relaxing,” says Witvliet, “compared to its unforgiving alternative, forgiveness evokes calmer responses during the imagery and also during the recovery period.”

“What we have been really trying to do in our work is not just restrain and push down the negative but also cultivate approaches people can take to remember the personhood of the offender, to see the wrongdoing as evidence of his or her need to be transformed, and to genuinely desire that good change in them. It is these responses that actually generate positivity and joy.” — Dr. Charlotte vanOyen Witvliet

But for lasting benefits, Witvliet is quick to say that the goal of these findings goes beyond the lab. “From this, I don’t construe forgiving as what can I get out of this situation,” she says, clamping her hand over her heart, “but it’s really a generous gift of mercy and level-headed, eyes-wide-open compassion.

“Too often when we start to think about forgiving someone, we think, ‘We can’t be mean, we can’t be nasty, we can’t be bitter, we can’t be hostile, we can’t be this, and we can’t say that. We can’t, we can’t,’” she continues to explain. “Well, we can turn off that negative spigot in the short term through suppression and restraint, but our studies show over and over again, that that alone does not generate anything positive or pro-social and it does not activate empathy or forgiveness. Instead we must root out resentment by cultivating a long-term sustainable alternative.”

And what is that exactly? Well, Witvliet likes to use a garden metaphor to explain. Think of pulling a weed in a garden, a thorny weed of resentment. We can dig it up but that does not mean it won’t sprout back again. So, Witvliet says we must refine the garden’s soil over and over again by planting others things like truth and justice, compassion and mercy that can crowd the weeds of un-forgiveness and bitterness, creating a more beautiful garden because forgiveness is variegated. It grows best with continual care and a readiness to get our trowels out.

Whether from the Dalai Lama’s basic Buddhist principles or Tutu’s belief in Jesus’s commands to love our enemies, a theological clarity and message abides from these octogenarians. Forgiveness, for all of its difficulty and hard work they say, is just the right thing to do.

“What we have been really trying to do in our work is not just restrain and push down the negative but also cultivate approaches people can take to remember the personhood of the offender, to see the wrongdoing as evidence of his or her need to be transformed, and to genuinely desire that good change in them. It is these responses that actually generate positivity and joy,” continues Witvliet.

And that brings us back around to Tutu and the Dalai Lama and The Book Of Joy. These two religious leaders have experienced numerous hardships, oppressions and reasons to forgive in their lifetimes, yet they are two of the most joyful souls who walk amongst us. Whether from basic Buddhist principles or the belief in Jesus’s commands to love our enemies, a theological clarity and message abides from these octogenarians. Forgiveness, for all of its difficulty and hard work, they say, is just the right thing to do to lead a joyful life.

Team Hope Meets Team USA

As patriotic Americans, we’ve grabbed a seat to watch the Rio Olympics for the past week and half, anticipating that greatness and inspiration will blanket us with the Games-glow emitting through our tv screens. What with 75 U.S. medals won as of Monday, August 15, it’s blissful times like these — compliments of hard-working, awe-inspiring, fair-playing athletes — when many are proud to be American.

teamUSABut that pride and inspiration for U.S. Olympians grows exponentially when you’ve actually had the opportunity to meet, talk and play alongside some of them. Such is the case for 14 Hope students and two professors who spent a portion of a 2016 May Term, entitled Elite Sport Development in America, at the U.S. Olympic Training Center (USOTC) in Colorado Spring, Colorado.

Led by Professors Chad Carlson and Becky Schmidt of Hope’s kinesiology department, students spent a week in Colorado — at the USOTC and at other professional sports venues like the Broncos Stadium of the NFL — to learn how elite athletes are developed and resourced. Carlson and Schmidt collaborated to create this first-time May Term to show students some ways that sporting pipelines fill and flow to produce wins and records for the United States.

Senior Caitlyn Campbell shows off her extra access at the USOTC.

“We wanted our student to get an up-close look at the multitude of ways U.S. athletes are trained to reach their peaks by national governing organizations,” said Carlson. “We saw how the athletes, on both the Olympic and Paralympic teams at the USOTC, are trained physically, psychologically, nutritionally, technologically and medically. We also heard from post-participation experts who help athletes’ transition out of their sports worlds and into the ‘real world’ smoothly. Overall, our access to athletes and coaches at the USOTC was high, and we could not have asked for a better schedule and opportunities to rub shoulders with high-level people.”

Besides one awestruck highlight of meeting U.S. Swim Team captains Michael Phelps and Allison Schmitt after lunch in the USOTC cafeteria, Hope students also got to watch a sparring match between American boxers and the Azerbaijan team, were befriended by the men’s gymnastics team, shot precision rifles on the shooting range, and learned a thing or two about judo and Paralympic volleyball. (They had related academic assignments to work on, too!) While all of the USOTC experiences were meaningful and educational, junior Bryanna Howard,  an athletic training major, was especially moved by her encounters with Paralympians.

USOC Phelps
U.S. Swim Team captain Michael Phelps (in hat) and Allison Schmitt, right of Phelps, meet Team Hope.

“The US Paralympic athletes that I met with are some of the most down-to-earth, passionate, kind, and strong-willed people I have ever met,” says Howard. “Most of them, I learned, were born able-bodied, and something happened to make them adaptive. But their courage and strength were evident as they talked about how they proved doctors wrong, and learned to adapt and still be successful with their new outlook on life. They were awesome to meet with, and now my new goal is to hopefully work with them one day. Especially because of the suggestions by the OTC staff to apply for their internships.”

Getting a session and lesson by Paralympic coaches and athletes in sitting volleyball.

And that is one of the desired outcomes of this May Term. That Hope students interested in working in athletics would develop connections with folks in sports industries and find internships that would move them toward their dream jobs.

“I didn’t hurt you, did I?” Hope student Tim Pletcher flips a former judo Olympian (and now assistant coach) while Sam Jansen, left, and Nick Buursma, right, watch the action.

“One of the main mantras at the OTC is ‘bold wins gold,'” Schmidt explains, “but that doesn’t only mean athletically.  It was evident there that it applies to those who are bold to step up and do something when working behind-the-scenes with athletes. So many people apply for jobs at the OTC, and it’s people who are most bold who get them. It was great to see our students not waiting to reach out to OTC staffers.  They started to make connections by making introductions or sending out emails then and there.”

Now watching the Rio Olympics every second they can, these Hope students have a newer and deeper appreciation for what it takes to be an Olympic and Paralympic athlete.  And they also have a newer and deeper appreciation for what it means to be an Olympic and Paralympic human.

“Before going to the OTC, I had this idea that most Olympians were these specimen athletes who were designed by scientists to be elite,” says junior history and economic double major, Joey Williams. “What I found was that, despite the fancy equipment and scientists, these athletes are at the top level because they love their sport and are willing to work towards their goals…And (I learned) these athletes are young people just like us, except they happen to be really, really, really good at their craft.”

Howard concurs and adds:

“Seeing the athletes that I talked to now on the world’s biggest stage, I cheer for them in a different light. I got to see them train, away from the cameras and the limelight; I got to see their personalities and their work ethic, and their drive to perfect their skills before the world sees them. I feel like I know them, just a little bit, because I saw them, and I talked to them, not what the media writes about them, or what they say when the cameras are on. We saw these incredible elite athletes as just normal people: sharing a meal in the dining hall, walking in the same halls as them, watching them train, and taking pictures with them after a training session.”

Members of the men’s gymnastics team quickly befriended many on the Hope May Term team.

Laugh Just for the Health of It

It sounds like something Benjamin Franklin would have said, though it already had biblical roots (see Proverbs 17:22). Patch Adams meted it out in large dosages. Comedian Cocoa Brown claims it saved her life.

Now, some research has indeed proven that “laughter is the best medicine.”

Dr. Jayson Dibble recently presented “Humor: Why Bother?” at Hope College as part of the fifth annual LaughFest

So said Dr. Jayson Dibble, an associate professor of communication at Hope, who gave LaughFest an academic shot in the arm on campus this week when he was given a mic to not so much be funny – though it turns out he’s a pretty punny guy – as to teach about why being funny matters.

It was Dibble’s third year teach-performing for the annually organized event, now in its fifth year, mostly staged in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and stocked with nationally recognizable stand-up and improv artists for 10 days. The event was created to honor the late Gilda Radner as well as to benefit Gilda’s Club Grand Rapids, a place where free emotional healthcare is provided to those fighting and smiling through any kind of cancer. LaughFest brings together diverse audiences every March “to honor laughter as an essential part of emotional health and well-being.”

That’s a motto and mission Dibble prescribes to, as well. Besides making us socially, intellectually, and emotionally well, “humor directly changes our physiology,” he says.

Laughter has been proven to relieve muscle tension, help release larger quantities of endorphins – the happy hormone – and it can even mitigate physical pain, according to one study. “But there’s a caveat. Its pain reducing effects occur after your exposure to humor,” said Dibble. “You’re not going to feel great as soon as you fire up Netflix (in order to laugh). You’re going to have to wait a little while.”

“We don’t have to train ourselves to laugh,” says Dibble. “We were all already born with funny bones. We just have to choose to use it.”

Another study Dibble cited showed that humor can lower one’s blood pressure… but only if you’re a woman. “If you’re a guy, not so much. From this correlational study where men and women self-identified themselves with having a good sense of humor, men who thought they were funny guys usually had a Type A personality and higher blood pressure. The women in the study had lower blood pressure levels.”

Really? Why? If laughter is universal, knowing no cultural bounds, shouldn’t it have universally positive effects regardless of gender? Perhaps, but what these researchers posit from this study is that there are gender differences in the ways women and men use their humor and thus there are differences in the ways it affects their blood pressure and stress. “Men, on average, tend to have more aggressive, sarcastic, or “bathroom” humor. Women, on average, use their humor to be more inclusive and accepting,” says Dibble who also teaches about and conducts comparative humor studies between Americans and Brits during a May Term called Humor, Communication,and Culture in Liverpool, England.

As for children, a study shows anxiety levels were lowered for those about to undergo extensive medical procedures when clowns showed up with their parents and doctors in the ER. Without a clown to clown around with, children’s anxiety levels went up.

“Though clowns can creep some people out, like me,” says Dibble, “for most of these kids, clowns made a difference in their health.”

Universal, free, contagious, and widely available, humor and its resulting laughter provide a myriad of positive effects in people and in all animals really. Even healthy chimps love to horse around, and, well, horses do, too.

“We don’t have to train ourselves to laugh,” says Dibble. “We were all already born with funny bones. We just have to choose to use them.”

So, go ahead. Laugh just for the health of it.

Hopeful Health for Kids in Holland

The statistical warning signs about obesity and overweight rates for American children have been scaring health providers and educators for three decades now, but little has improved in recent years. Since the mid-1980s when tracking of body mass index (BMI) numbers began, obesity rates have doubled for children and quadrupled for teens. If those stats aren’t sobering enough, here’s one more:

More than one-third of children or adolescents are either overweight or obese in this country and those children are more likely to remain overweight or obese as adults, putting them at higher risk for heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, hypertension, asthma, and some cancers.

Three Hope professors, though, are doing their part to help reverse the girth of our nation.

Dr. Kyle Morrison, assistant professor of kinesiology and director of Foundations of Fitness, inside a dedicated space in the Dow Center where even the wall color was selected to motivate children to exercise.

“Foundations of Fitness,” a multidisciplinary program that provides Holland area families with age-appropriate structured exercise and lifestyle education, is a Hope College-based childhood wellness endeavor led by Dr. Kyle Morrison, assistant professor of kinesiology, with the assistance of Dr. Steven Smith and Dr. Mark Northuis, both professors of kinesiology. The program started in the fall of 2014 to help reduce childhood obesity and overweight percentages locally and has been funded with about $250,000 in grants from Herman Miller Cares over its two-year lifetime.

Working with 20 different families on average over 10-week periods each semester and summer, Morrison and his colleagues use exercise and education toward instilling the benefits of a healthier lifestyle upon those involved. Children ages 5 to 12 (plus their siblings) are referred by physicians and school nurses. First assessed before enrollment, they then engage in 90 minutes of varied physical activity and motor skill development once each week. Meanwhile, their parents hear lessons from Morrison and other college experts about nutrition, sleep, screen-time, stress, and motivational and behavioral habits.  Right alongside the program’s three professors, whose research specialty is pediatric wellness, are at least six to eight Hope pre-health-science students who assist with activities and become positive, active role models, salubriously living into young children’s  lives.

Hope students Jorgie Watson (in orange) and Michelle Hance (in light blue) exercise alongside the children in Foundations of Fitness.

“In many ways, we are going back to basics for the kids and their families,” Morrison says of the program’s methodology. “We want to improve kids’ confidence in fundamental motor skills, and we want parents to know more about diet and healthy lifestyle habits. But more importantly, we want to expose them all to a love of lifelong activity.”

In the process, Morrison hopes of a wholesome paradigm shift, too. “When kids in the program are asked ‘why do you think you are here?’ we hope to move them away from the ‘to get skinny’ answer toward the ‘to get healthy’ answer. This is not about numbers – weight or BMI or obesity rates; this is about overall health.”

Recent Hope graduate Michael Hankinson, right, who returns to the program as a volunteer, works on “planking” with a young participant.

Curing the obesity epidemic is a complicated issue. It is not simply about getting kids and their parents to exercise more and eat less. It is also about a fixing a reliance on fast and processed food at home and in restaurants; about cutting back on television and other screen-based time; about a myriad of socio-economic factors that can hinder a healthy life; about an individual’s chemical make-up and genetics; about sitting down to eat a meal together instead of on-the-run; and, it’s even about childhood stress which also leads to weight gain. While kids who are obese or overweight have systemic health concerns, they are at risk for social discrimination and low self-esteem, too.

“We have a no bullying clause in Foundations of Fitness,” says Morrison. “This program is meant to be a safe place for kids to feel and to get healthy. And one other thing we teach them is that it’s okay to fail. They learn that they are supported when they succeed and even if they don’t. That is important for them to experience and to remember, especially after they leave this program.”

“We want to improve kids’ confidence in fundamental motor skills, and we want parents to know more about diet and healthy lifestyle habits. But more importantly, we want to expose them all to a love of lifelong activity.”

A dedicated room in the college’s Dow Center – painted teal-green-aqua that research has shown to be one of the three most motivational colors in the human-eye color palette – includes unique exer-gaming equipment such as a multi-player dance game and an Xbox system that requires the user to pedal a bike to keep the video game powered. More traditional equipment is there too, such as age-appropriate elliptical machines.

Group warmup for Foundations of Fitness participants at the Dow Center.

But kids being kids, full-court games are what they like most, such as Pac-Man tag, a game played along the lines on a Dow court, or, freeze tag with a twist: skipping, hopping, or galloping to tag and if caught, the kids must complete five sit-ups or push-ups before they are released back into the game.

“It has been an awesome opportunity to get to know different children and their families in our community,” says senior Jorgie Watson, an exercise science major who has been involved with the program since it started. “I love to see the improvement within the children, not only in their appearance but in their confidence and physical fitness. Many of them can’t run around the Dow track more than two laps (when they first start), but at the end, they run-walking 10 laps which is really awesome to see.”

Hope student Caitlyn Campbell, measuring cups in hand, discusses serving size with a Foundation of Fitness participant.

“Several of these families are receiving advice on healthy living that they would have never gotten the chance to learn otherwise,” explains junior Caitlyn Campbell, an exercise science major who plans to do graduate work in nutrition. “On top of that, the kids get an active social outlet where they feel comfortable and safe enough to exercise and learn new sports with their peers. Seeing the kids become progressively more confident with themselves is what kept me coming back to work with the program for each term. The quantitative health data we have collected further demonstrates the positive changes this program is making. But, our proudest health outcome is their increased quality of life.”

To encourage a child’s continued fitness once his or her participation in the program has ended, a four-month Dow Center membership is given to a family who attends at least eight of the 10 Foundations of Fitness sessions.  Coming back to the Dow provides more activity options for the family to enjoy, like swimming, basketball, running, racquetball, and various exercise equipment. And Hope student mentors continue working with their mentees one-on-one during their Dow membership phase.

“The quantitative health data we have collected further demonstrates the positive changes this program is making. But, our proudest health outcome is their increased quality of life.”

Morrison’s vision would be to establish an even more comprehensive center for childhood enrichment to impact even more fully the wellness of the Holland area (so far close to 100 have participated in Foundations) because “we have an obligation to our community and we want to be supportive of each other. But that is a dream that is much further down the road.”

For now then, Foundations of Fitness is making a holistic, healthy difference right where it is, one young life at a time.