New Residence-Based "Phelps Scholars"
Program Emphasizes Diversity
Posted December 14, 1998
HOLLAND -- A new residence hall-based program at
Hope College will provide new students with an opportunity
to experience and learn from diversity in-depth.
The "Phelps Scholars Program" will allow an
ethnically-diverse group of freshmen to live in the same
residence hall, where in addition to living together they
will have an opportunity to enroll in courses examining
The program, which will begin in the fall of 1999,
is intended to surround the participants with a broader mix
of students than normally found at the college while at the
same time using the living situation as a starting point for
discussing questions facing society generally, according to
Dr. John H. Jacobson, president of Hope College.
"The Phelps Scholars Program is intended to bring
together minority students and majority students in a
setting in which they can share ideas and information, and
also come to know each other," Jacobson said. "It
represents a significant commitment to producing an
educationally valuable interaction between majority and
minority students, and creating an environment in which the
presence of minority students is helpful to majority
students, and vice versa, and in which the ideal of
community can be realized."
The program is coordinated through the college's
Provost's Office in collaboration with the Office of Student
Development and the Admissions Office, linking the students'
academic and residential experiences. The program's
director is Dr. Charles Green, who is a professor of
psychology at Hope.
One of the goals is to immerse the participants in
a living setting that reflects the nation's ethnicity, so
that they can be better equipped to function and contribute
Projections anticipate that minorities in the
United States will collectively be in the majority by the
end of the next century. Hope's current enrollment is about
92 percent Caucasian.
"What we're trying to do is create a living and
learning setting that serves as a model for students,
regardless of ethnicity, that this is the way the world
looks and that this is the way the world is," said D. Wesley
Poythress, who is assistant dean for multicultural life and
liaison to the college's president for minority
participation. "One of the themes for this program is that
everyone has something to give and everyone has something to
share, if they would just not be afraid to do so."
"Yes, they will have issues, they might have
disagreements, but then they will have collaborations, they
will have interactions and they will have new experiences,"
he said. "The biggest thing is that they will grow, and I
believe they will grow in ways they might never thought they
would or could."
"I believe the Phelps Scholars Program will serve
as a shining example of how we as individuals can learn from
our differences as well as our similarities and build from
there," Poythress said.
The goal of the program is to begin with 45
students in the first year. In addition to living in the
same residence hall, which is still being chosen, all of the
students will be enrolled in one of three new, fall-semester
"First-Year Seminars" that will explore diversity-related
topics. In the spring, they'll each enroll in an "Encounter
with Cultures" course on racial and ethnic sub-cultures in
the United States. The students will also participate in
workshops and group discussions on practical aspects of
living and working in a diverse community.
The seminars and workshops will take place in the
residence hall, "Just to send the message that what we're
studying in the classroom relates to decisions we make about
how we live our lives," according to Green.
The program will be open to all regularly-admitted
members of the incoming freshman class. The students will
be given an opportunity to apply to participate, with the
final mix selected to include majority and minority students
"We want a diverse student group," Green said.
"If the students are not from various places in the country
and around the world, and don't represent different groups,
then this program won't work as intended."
While a major emphasis will be placed on
benefiting all participants, the college is also hoping that
the program will help provide a comfortable environment for
minority students in particular, according to Jacobson. The
hope is that with a higher proportion of minority students
in the program, and its emphasis on diversity issues, Hope's
appeal will be enhanced--and that the effect will multiply
"Hope College has a program that is exactly right
for many minority as well as majority students," he said.
"And yet we have to recognize that sometimes participation
at colleges like Hope is difficult for minority students."
Jacobson noted that the Phelps Scholars Program is
part of a comprehensive plan that is taking many approaches
to improving minority participation at the college, by
focusing on minority student recruitment and retention,
increasing the presence of minority faculty and staff, and
emphasizing cultural understanding. "The Phelps Scholars
Program is an excellent program, but instead of doing some
one thing, we have to be working on many aspects of the
situation simultaneously," he said.
Palesa Mazamisa, a senior from South Africa, has
been involved in planning discussions as the Phelps Scholars
Program has taken shape. She noted that she faced
challenges as a freshman, particularly in her housing
situation, that the Phelps Scholars Program would have
"At least for me, a place like this would be
helpful because then you'd have a group of students who are
willing to address and look at issues of diversity," she
said. "That doesn't mean that they'll know how to live with
issues of diversity, but at least they'll have that intent,
that good intent of doing so."
According to Green, the Phelps Scholars Program
began developing from the experience of Dr. Steven Spencer,
a member of the Hope psychology faculty from 1995 to 1997.
As a graduate student working with Dr. Claude Steele at the
University of Michigan, Spencer had studied the university's
successful "Twenty-first Century" program, which also brings
together minority and majority students in a supportive
The Hope program's name, Green noted, was
suggested by the college's provost, Dr. Jacob E. Nyenhuis,
in recognition of the emphasis that Hope's first president,
the Rev. Philip Phelps Jr., had placed on developing a
diverse student body. The six members of the Class of 1879,
for example, included two students from Japan, one of whom
was the valedictorian.
"Hope's very first president, back in a time when
Holland was literally a colony of Dutch immigrants, said
that our students deserved an opportunity to study at a
college where they were meeting people from all over the
country and all over the world, and took some very active
steps to diversify the student body from the very
beginning," Green said. "So in a way, although we're going
about it quite differently from the way Philip Phelps went
about it, we're harkening back to an idea that is as old as