Student’s Research Adds Fuel to Fast-Food Debate

If the fast-food industry ever does away with those crinkly but potentially harmful papers that your favorite burger comes wrapped in, one of the people you can thank is a physics-turned-history-major from Hope College.

Senior Margaret Dickinson concluded research on PFAS content in fast food wrappers, such as the ones she is holding, using the Pelletron particle accelerator on Hope’s campus.

Margaret Dickinson, a senior from Grand Rapids, MI, spent two years at Hope testing hundreds of fast-food wrappers from several states in order to detect per- and polyfluoro alkyl substances (PFAS) in the packaging. Human-made with long environmental lifetimes, PFASs are toxic to humans and animals, and its bioaccumulation is troubling to scientists.

Linked to some cancers and health disorders, PFAS is used in products to repel water and retard flames, and has been found in carpet, furniture fabrics, textiles and outdoor clothing, cosmetics, fire-fighting foam, microwave popcorn bags, and, yes, fast-food wrappers.

“The best part about doing research as an undergrad is learning how to ask difficult questions and learning how to find their answers. Often we were on our own in the lab, working with expensive machinery, and we had to calmly work out problems quickly.”

“Around fifty years ago, PFAS was not found in anyone’s blood at all. It did not even exist,” explains Dickinson. “Now it is in measurable quantities in every human being, and that includes newborn babies because it passes through the bloodstream from the mother to the fetus.” PFAS has even reached the blood streams of polar bears in the North Pole.

Stockpiles of tested fast-food wrappers

Using the Pelletron particle accelerator on Hope’s campus, under the guidance of Professor Dr. Paul DeYoung and former Hope Professor Dr. Graham Peaslee, Dickinson and fellow senior David Lunderberg, along with alumnus Nick Hubley ’14, used a testing technique called PIGE, particle-induced gamma-ray emission, to detect fluorine in the wrapper samples. But because the paper is fragile and the proton beam from the accelerator is powerful, Dickinson and team had to refine their normal testing methods so as not to destroy their paper samples.

“The best part about doing research as an undergrad is learning how to ask difficult questions and learning how to find their answers,” Dickinson declares. “Often we were on our own in the lab, working with expensive machinery, and we had to calmly work out problems quickly. You learn how not to panic, when to get help, when to work independently. These are all good skills to have in life, too.”

It’s good to remember that not all fast-food wrappers have PFAS, she notes, but since you don’t know which do or don’t, the best thing to do is take your food out of their wrappers and containers as soon as possible.

The Hope crew’s efforts over two years, in collaboration with other well-known research powerhouses, found that 38% of the sandwich and burger wrappers tested, along with 20% of the paperboard and 56% of the dessert and bread wrappers had PFAS in them. However, 0% of the tested paper cups had PFAS. While skeptics note that consumers aren’t actually ingesting the wrappers themselves (so what’s the harm?), scientists argue that it is the high temperatures of the food that allows wrapper-holding PFAS to seep into your burger and fries.

Other teams contributing to the research were from Silent Spring Institute, Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, California Department of Toxic Substances Control, Green Science Policy Institute, the Environmental Working Group, and Oregon State University. News of their joint research broke in February 2017, and Dickinson reports that over 200 news outlets have since carried the story.

So what’s a consumer to do? Give up fast-food?

Not all fast-food wrappers have PFAS, Dickinson says, but since you don’t know which ones do or don’t, the best thing to do is take your food out of its wrappers and containers as soon as possible because the greater the exposure to PFAS, the higher the levels in one’s system. Still, “Everything in moderation,” Dickinson reminds.

“All along it was really important for me that my research made a difference. I needed to see that it had an effect on people.”

No longer focused on physics, Dickinson changed her major area of study to history after a personal epiphany while studying abroad in London in 2015 (she also has minors in math, classical studies, and, of course, physics.)

She hopes to eventually teach modern British history at the college level, or even go into scientific governance — the realm of looking at how scientists are affected by policies made by non-scientists. It is here where this fully formed liberal arts student knows she could best apply her experiences in sciences, skills in research, and passion for history and politics to affect others for the better.

“All along it was really important for me that my research made a difference. I needed to see that it had an effect on people,” concludes Dickinson. “I hope eventually that the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) bans these chemicals. I hope that fast-food companies realize that wax paper is just as cheap. Half the time they use it anyways, so why not all the time? Why not put pressure on the companies that are supplying the paper to switch over. It’s not difficult to switch and it’s not expensive. That would be the goal.”

Seven Things to Keep in Mind About Trump’s Supreme Court Nominee

Dr. David Ryden holds his book, The Supreme Court and the Electoral Process

Dr. David Ryden, professor of political science and chair of the department, is an oft-sought-after national expert on the Supreme Court and the presidency. His scholarship on the topic has been cited on CNN, in The Christian Science Monitor, U.S. News and World Report, and The New York Times. He is also the author of The Supreme Court and the Electoral College.

On the heels of President Trump’s announcement of his Supreme Court nominee, Judge Neil Gorsuch, Ryden, a centrist political scientist, offers seven points to consider:

  1. Supreme Court Justices are Neither Republican or Democrat.

“I bridle when people say a judge is a Democrat or a Republican. It’s not that simple. Their differences are rooted in deep, intellectual ways of reading and interpreting the Constitution….Yet, I know we can’t help but think of them as extensions of the two parties. The national perception is that these men and women are partisans in robes. I would ask people to put that thinking aside. Yes, the court is polarized but not in a partisan sense. The court is polarized in an ideological sense — liberally or conservatively. These are serious legal thinkers on both sides. I’m convinced they do not think in partisan (party) terms.”

  1. Politicizing a Supreme Court pick is inevitable.

 “There has always been a politicizing of what the justices do and how they act, ie, they are not partisans but they end up making decision that have political ends. All contemporary justices, liberals and conservatives alike, tend to be activists in pursing their own objectives. Right and left, they are selective in the extent to which they look to the Constitution or ground their decisions in the Constitution. Judges on both sides of the ideological spectrum tend to be extra constitutional in what they do. And since that is the case, politicizing the selection process is understandable. If what the justices do is political then the selection process should be political, too.”

  1. This is not a transformative appointment to the Supreme Court.

“But the next one could be. This appointment will maintain the status quo that was in place before Justice Antonin Scalia’s death. If Trump gets another opening during his first term, he will likely be able to establish a solid conservative majority, one that isn’t reliant upon the sentiments and vagaries of Justice Anthony Kennedy’s thinking. Of course I am speculating. It’s dependent upon another opening occurring during Trump’s term, one involving the death or departure of one of the liberal bloc or Kennedy. And here’s where good old-fashioned luck comes in. How many additional choices will Trump get, if any? Will it be the good luck of FDR, Ike or Reagan, or the characteristic bad luck of poor Jimmy Carter, a one termer who got no picks? We don’t know, of course. But if you look at the ages of the current justices, it is clear the odds are in Trump’s favor.”

  1. Remember that the Supreme Court is anti-majoritarian in nature.

“This means they are elitist and anti-democratic, as divorced from public sentiment as anything imaginable. This is good up to a point, allowing them to protect and uphold civil liberties and rights in the face of an unfriendly political climate. But the only point where ‘we the people’ have any input into the make-up of the court is when we elect a president and Senate and even then, the public involvement is indirect at best. The justices are unelected, life-tenured (the average length of a tenure is 26.5 years), and once on the court, there really is no accountability in terms of their decision-making. So Supreme Court justices truly are insulated.”

  1. What might be a Democratic response to the nominee?

“Democrats could try to simply vigorously oppose Trump’s pick on the nominee’s merits. They could try to pick off a few moderate Republicans to vote their way. The problem is that there really aren’t many moderate Republicans left in the Senate. Moreover, it’s hard to see Republicans breaking rank on something this important.

“Or, Democrats could filibuster, but what will be Republican response to that? To eliminate it altogether, which would be a troubling development. Filibusters, when not abused, force the majority to make some concessions to the minority party. Once it is eliminated, then we’re reduced to raw majoritarian politics with no regard for the minority. I would hate to see it eliminated. So I hope the Democrats resist the urge to filibuster. It would politicize the Court even more. A filibuster by the Democrats would trigger the nuclear option by the Republicans; they might simply change Senate rules by majority vote to do away with the filibuster altogether. Then there’s nothing to stop, or even moderate, a Trump nominee the next time.”

  1. The Potential Impact of a Conservative Court in the Time of Trump

“The irony of this pick is that Trump might choose a judge who might add to a conservative majority that is in fact more inclined to rein in Trump in his use of executive power. A Trump court is potentially the greatest protection against a Trump presidency, because historically, judges who are most skeptical of executive authority tend to be more conservative, and are more likely to enforce restraints and limits on the executive power.”

  1. Populist or pedigree? This Supreme Court pick answers the question.

“Will Trump continue to burnish himself as anti-elitist/populist by picking someone for the court who could be viewed the same way? Will he go with a non-Harvard, non-Yale candidate? Then Thomas Hardiman, who drove a cab to put himself through school, would be Trump’s choice to maintain his populist approach. If he goes with Gorsuch, then he’s opting for impeccable credentials . . . Columbia, Harvard law school, Oxford. In short, pedigree over populism. We’ll see. ”

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.

Wish You Were Here

A semester of learning concluded with a gift of caring when two First Year Seminar (FYS) classes collaborated recently to host a dinner party for a family of 40 on behalf of their incarcerated relative. And the sentiment, “Wish you were here,” took on difficult and obvious poignancy this Christmas.

Students in Professor Tori Pelz’s FYS, Jails, Justice and the Artist’s Response, joined forces with Professor Deb Coyle’s FYS, Comfort Food, to serve as proxy hosts for Gregory, a local inmate and poet. Together, the two classes threw “Gregory’s Dinner Party,” a solemn but festive gathering which provided lessons in empathy and social-change engagement for Hope students as well as comfort and newfound pride for Gregory’s family. The event was the culminating project for Pelz’s class that explored how socially engaged art could be a vehicle for pursuing social justice, specifically in response to mass incarceration.

“Extending hospitality is an empowering act itself. It signifies privilege and freedom through personal space, mobility, and invitation, all of which Gregory does not have access to. So we became his hands and feet.”

Members of Gregory’s family reminisce via photographs and shared memories. (Photos courtesy of Maddy McCall, Hope student)

“Too many times we see mass incarceration as an abstract issue but it’s a human one, of course,” says Pelz, assistant professor of art. “So, I wanted my students to experience how art could take the form of radical hospitality, as they created a hospitable environment by listening to and enacting the wishes of their incarcerated collaborator.

“Extending hospitality is an empowering act itself,” she continues. “It signifies privilege and freedom through personal space, mobility, and invitation, all of which Gregory does not have access to. So we became his hands and feet.”

One of Gregory’s poems artistically displayed.

“Introduced” to Gregory through Curt Tofteland, the founder of Shakespeare Behind Bars and a friend of Gregory’s, Pelz’s students spent several weeks learning more about Gregory’s story and his talents. Imprisoned for 22 years, Gregory is a “deep soul” who has taken to writing, especially poetry. “He is an incredible writer and poet,” Pelz says. “Many of his poems incorporate Shakespearian references of fate and redemption and speak to shared humanity of both tragic and comedic characters… So, we knew his writing would be an anchoring, artistic element of our project.”

Greg.CandleThough the event was Pelz’s idea, Gregory choreographed every aspect of the evening, from the menu to the décor. Her students corresponded with him during the semester to ask his wishes, learning about what he would want if he were indeed the one to be the on-site host. His poetry was the centerpiece of the evening, providing content for the students’ performances and visual displays. Students also contributed their creative gifts through harp music, singing performances, and artistic displays via placemat design and other decor. The family joined in as well, spontaneously singing gospel songs and offering toasts to Gregory.

“This is when I knew this project was successful socially-engaged art,” Pelz explained, “when the public we were collaborating with took ownership of the outcome.”

Professor Tori Pelz and one of Gregory’s young relatives.

Separated by decades and significant miles, many of Gregory’s relatives struggled to regularly visit him over the years, and some of the younger relatives had yet to meet him. Time and distance can move memories into fading, and up until a week before the event, Gregory had communicated that only three family members would be attending his dinner party.

Yet, when word got out to more of his extended family, the guest list grew to 40. And on the first snowy night in Michigan this winter, several carloads of his relatives drove across the state, from Detroit to Holland, to reconnect with Gregory in absentia. As his family sat down to write him postcards that evening, the one person not physically present in the room had the strongest aura. Gregory was not there but he was, too. And that was the entire point of the evening.

As his family sat down to write him postcards that evening, the one person not physically present in the room had the strongest aura. Gregory was not there but he was, too. And that was the entire point of the evening.

Gregory’s aunt writes him a postcard.

“The dinner party – it was beautiful,” Pelz emotes. “It was a sweet mix of healing and celebration. You could sense a renewed pride for Gregory by his family. Many of them didn’t fully realize the transformation that he had undergone. They were taken aback by his poetry and the depth of his wisdom. This was an opportunity to be proud of their brother, son, nephew. Gregory is incredibly blessed to have such an army of loved ones who have not forgotten about him. It was powerful for my students to see that network, too — that for every prisoner, there is a family who also suffers and aches for their reunion.”

“We should acknowledge the mistakes made by incarcerated individuals, but we should also acknowledge all of the factors that contributed to those mistakes and honor that person’s genuine desire to change.”

Hope student Kelly Harris and one of Gregory's young relatives.
Hope student Kelly Harris and one of Gregory’s young relatives.

Course goals were met and then some for Pelz’s students. While they came to know critical factors that contribute to the current state of mass incarceration in America and how certain works of art can lead to conversations about that issue, they also gained empathic wisdom, greater compassion for the incarcerated, and memories of an evening they’ll never forget.

“I spent a lot of time in this class thinking about my own flawed assessments of forgiveness, rehabilitation, and the hidden populations in America,” freshman Leah Krudy explained. “Meeting a group of kind people made for a nice evening, but seeing a family capable of such resilience was truly powerful.

“If it had not been for the final project, I probably would read Gregory’s sentence and given up on him… I want Gregory to be a free man. I want him to experience life and put his talents to use.”

“This final project allowed me to see an example of someone who I truly want out of prison,” Krudy continued. “I want Gregory to be a free man. I want him to experience life and put his talents to use. If it had not been for the final project, I probably would read Gregory’s sentence and given up on him. Unfortunately, many people, including families, do just that when it comes to the incarcerated.”

Freshman Julia Kirby added, “We should acknowledge the mistakes made by incarcerated individuals, but we should also acknowledge all of the factors that contributed to those mistakes and honor that person’s genuine desire to change. I am going to take away from this project the truth that my humanity makes me equal to all other humans regardless of our mistakes and that even though I may only be one, small person in a sea of millions, I possess a voice and talents that can be used to create change.”

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.

Politics and the Virtues of Public Discourse

This year’s presidential election between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump has been described as many things: contentious, awkward, controversial, bizarre. But perhaps the best descriptor of this election is this: It’s personal. Like never before, Americans are vehemently debating, disagreeing and disrespecting each other on social media, and in person, in ways that cut at our moral core. It’s personal and political, which means things can quickly get out of hand.

Now imagine being a college student who is voting for the first time.  It’s as if you are wading hip-deep in a murky mess of political polarization, looking for the right candidate to pluck out. And with so much to disseminate, emotions are running high. Reasoned, mature voices who are modeling civility may seem few and far between to rookie voters navigating such muddy waters.

Vox Populi Logo

Enter Vox Populi — five forums featuring interdisciplinary panels organized by the Office of Student Development. Using the Hope-authored document called the Virtues of Public Discourse as a guide, Vox Populi, meaning “the voice of the people,” tackles weighty topics that revolve around this dramatic election and seasons them heavily with five virtues needed to make discussion and dialogue both respectful and constructive: humility, hospitality, patience, courage, and honesty.

“We are using our Virtues of Public Discourse document to frame each event because we have a responsibility to our Hope community to see this election in both a more intelligent and holistic way.”

A Vox Populi panel discussion entitled “Could Honest Abe Make It in Politics Today? Why Politicians Lie and Why We’re Okay with It.”  From left to right, Dr. David Ryden of the political science department, Dr. Fred Johnson of the history department, Dr. James Herrick of the communication department, student director of Vox Populi Kathleen Muloma, and Chris Bohle of the student development office.

“We are not having CNN or Fox News screaming matches here,” said Chris Bohle, associate director of student life and main organizer of Vox Populi. “We are using our Virtues of Public Discourse document to start and frame each event because we have a responsibility to our Hope community to see this election in both a more intelligent and holistic way. That means we must help students see what being an informed voter, a critically thinking voter, and a civil voter should look.”

Vox Populi is student-driven, Bohle points out, as eight leaders from campus organizations* choose the topics very early in the academic year “that they needed and wanted to hear about.” Faculty and staff from various departments bring their experience to the panel discussions which have delved into party affiliation and Christianity, social media wars, post-truth politics, and politicized familial dissension.

Each of these tough topics seems somewhat more approachable within the intimate confines of the DeWitt Studio Theatre, when sagacious faculty and staff offer their expertise in both relational and concise ways. But it is the Virtues of Public Discourse that are the true stars and calming influence of Vox Populi. “If we set our gaze locally and exercise these virtues with our families and friends in our communities, then we can start to change the overall landscape because we’ve practiced in trying times,” said Dr. David Ryden, professor of political science and chair of the department.

So, talk politics and voice your views — remembering to be humble, hospitable, brave, patient, and honest — as if our nation depended on it.

“Do we need documents (like the Virtues of Public Discourse) to guide us?” asked Dr. James Herrick, the Guy VanderJagt Professor of Communication, at a panel on honesty in the election. “Yes, because these are not intuitive and we need reminders. Documents such as the Virtues of Public Discourse constitute us as a community and remind us of our standards when it feels inconvenient to live them out. Without such a statement of what we stand for, we run the risk of becoming a tactical community rather than a conversational one.”

The Virtues of Public Discourse fully engaged and on display in Vox Populi set an example for Hope students on how to civilly express their political views when all about them, bombastic and concerning conversations abound. Kathleen Muloma appreciated that most about the forums.

“Vox Populi has taught me that healthy, empassioned, educated conversations are possible,” observes Muloma, a sophomore chemistry major with a biochemistry emphasis and student director of Vox Populi. “We are not without hope for having honest discussions without pulling out hair or insulting the other person. Every time students attended, it reminded me that I am not alone in my desire for these healthy conversations, and that Hope students do want to talk about the controversial topics and are seeking opportunities to learn and get better in the context of the the Christian faith.”

Now with that hopeful sentiment, go ahead and talk politics, voice your views, and like Kathleen Muloma and others who have been enlightened by Vox Populi, remember to be humble, hospitable, brave, patient, and honest – as if our nation depended on it.

*Writer’s note:  Vox Populi’s topics and programming were the brainstorming and organizational results of the following students and these groups: Kathleen Muloma, Student Director; Derek Chen, Hope Republicans Representative; Irene Gerrish, Hope Democrats Representative; Joseph McClusky, Residential Life Representative; CJ Proos, Student Congress Representative; Julia Fulton, Political Science Department Representative; Terah Ryan, SAC Representative, and, Mark Brice, Assistant Director of Residential Life and Housing.

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.”