“Reframing the Hope College Saga” seeks to invigorate discussion of Hope’s identity while demonstrating that topics like religion, race and human sexuality can be explored constructively.
The project is addressing how Hope can best live its institutional vocation in light of two key phrases in the college’s mission statement — “to educate students for lives of leadership and service in a global society” and “in the context of the historic Christian faith” — and the opportunities and challenges that the concepts present together. Supported by a $40,000 award from the Council of Independent Colleges/NetVUE, it seeks, as outlined in the grant proposal, “to build a renewed sense of institutional self-awareness and to prepare the college to live into its mission as it moves forward in the 21st century.”
“Reframing the Hope College Saga” is being guided by an eight-member editorial board co-led by Dr. Marla Lunderberg, associate professor of English, and Dr. Jack Mulder, professor of philosophy. It began with a three-day workshop this past June that enabled faculty and staff from across campus to consider Hope’s past, present and future within the framework of three general categories: “Ecumenism and the Christian Mission of the College,” “Diversity and Inclusion,” and “Accessibility and Justice.” As a next step, the editorial board is calling for proposals from faculty and staff interested in developing essays during the coming year that, based on their experience or expertise, consider the college in the context of the categories. The written pieces and additional discussion will be the focus of a conference in June 2023, in preparation for contributing the essays to an edited volume.
The initiative is building on the foundation provided by the 2005 book Can Hope Endure? A Historical Case Study in Christian Higher Education, co-authored by then-faculty members Dr. James C. Kennedy (history) and Dr. Caroline J. Simon (philosophy). Can Hope Endure? examined the complex interplay between the variety of faith traditions at Hope and the implications for the college’s identity, and the sometimes contentious result, particularly in the 1990s, as the campus community wrestled with social issues. Recalling Aristotle’s observation that “All excellent things are difficult,” the book considers that such differences can be viewed not as a weakness but a strength, since the conversations — if those who disagree can respect and value one another — are part of an important journey for an institution committed to ecumenism. The authors describe Hope’s unique blending of its Reformed heritage and conservative and progressive voices as a “Middle Way” and a “valuable variation on more standard models among denominational, evangelical and mainline Christian colleges”
Can Hope Endure? has essentially been required reading for those seeking to understand Hope’s character and the dynamics of disagreement at the college. At the same time, some two decades have transpired since the period it examined, which is where the new initiative comes in.
“[Can Hope Endure?] both suggests that a certain genius is at work in Hope’s mission and simultaneously lifts many veils in regard to persistent controversies with which Hope has struggled,” the grant proposal explains. “This book has been used with faculty orientation programs for many years, but if the vision is to endure, the stories of the struggles will benefit from being brought up to date.”
Like Can Hope Endure?, “Reframing the Hope College Saga” is using a historical framework and endeavoring to provide an unvarnished examination.
“I really respect the work, the story that was told about the college in Can Hope Endure?” Lunderberg said.
“I was impressed by the amount of institutional cooperation,” Mulder said. “At the same time, it was honest about where some of the difficulties were.”
Correspondingly, the editorial team has emphasized engaging a range of voices, beginning with this past June’s workshop.
“We knew in advance that both the topics and the people that we invited to talk about the topics were not going to see things in the same way,” Mulder said. “It’s fair to say that to some degree we sought out representatives from enough folks that it wasn’t going to be a puff piece — or a rally or cheerleading for a certain angle. These are difficult questions, and we wanted to discuss them robustly.”
In the same way, participation in the workshop isn’t a prerequisite for faculty and staff interested in contributing essays.
“The campus is wonderfully diverse, and we see that diversity as its strength. We’d love to welcome contributors for the 2023 conference even if their schedule didn’t allow them to be at the 2022 workshop,” Lunderberg said.
“We’re looking for a multiplicity of perspectives that will hopefully enrich the diversity that we know is Hope College,” she said. “We want not only faculty, but staff and administration all to have a voice — stakeholders who have a passion to help Hope College become the best version of itself.”
Ideally, the result and the process, for “Reframing the Hope College Saga” and for the college, will be something of a chorus: unique and distinctive individuals working together to create something transcendent.
“The business of Hope is one that requires a certain amount of collaboration, but when it’s going well it’s not necessarily a collaboration of going in the same direction,” Mulder said. “We have a shared vision, but don’t necessarily have a shared set of first-order convictions.”
“When [it works well], multiple voices are able to articulate their views in a way that’s respectful and untrammeled but also robust,” he said. “A word I’ve been using is ‘polyphony,’ as opposed to ‘cacophony’ or ‘monophony,’ that cares about the contours or context in which each voice has a contribution to make.”