It’s March, which means that we at Hope College have begun the race to the end of the school year. How time has flown! I continue to be inspired by my colleagues — faculty and staff who go above and beyond for our students, every day. As we enter the final stretch of recruiting the Class of 2022, we are busy welcoming students and their families for Visit Days. If you know a student for whom Hope would be a good fit, it’s never too late to refer them to us at hope.edu/refer. We also are preparing for the Scholarship Day of Giving “Challenge Edition,” which will happen on Thursday, April 19. One hundred percent of your gift goes toward student scholarships, so please mark your calendar and stay tuned to find out what the “Challenge Edition” is all about. So many wonderful things happening at Hope — I sincerely hope you are able to visit the campus soon to celebrate with us!
Hello, iGen Students
Recently, I joined my Administrative Council colleagues in reading Dr. Jean M. Twenge’s book, iGen: Why Today’s Super-Connected Kids Are Growing Up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy — and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood — and What That Means for the Rest of Us. The iGeneration includes individuals born between 1995 and 2012 — that is, our current students and our incoming students through the Class of 2035. In the book, Twenge discusses the impact of technology on young people’s behaviors and attitudes regarding relationships, community, religion, politics and sexuality. It is a sobering read.
Regardless of the generation we call our own, we all seem to be hyper-connected these days, communicating with astounding immediacy in an ever-evolving, technology-driven world. At its best, technology serves as a tool for building bridges and strengthening community in innovative ways. But technology also can, and does, isolate human beings from each other. Social media fosters an echo-chamber effect, allowing us to surround ourselves with people who think exactly like we do and discard those who don’t. Indeed, we have the ability to choose which messages we want to hear, and, with a simple click, shut out the voices we’d rather ignore — or, worse, attack those with whom we disagree with little to no accountability. Through all kinds of media, our students are bombarded with an if-you’re-not-with-us-you’re-against-us mentality. Given this polarized environment, is it any surprise that iGen students are experiencing anxiety, depression and loneliness at increasing rates?
According to recent reports from the Center for Collegiate Mental Health, mental health concerns on campuses across the country have been rising steadily. Medication use, hospitalizations and suicide ideation and attempts among college students are up. Anxiety and depression are the two top reported reasons that college students seek mental health services. It is a troubling situation from which Hope College is not immune, as our Office for Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) is experiencing extraordinary demand for student support. We are blessed to have a top-notch CAPS team dedicated to the well-being of our students. Along with the CAPS team, our faculty and our staff from Residential Life, Student Life, the Center for Diversity and Inclusion, Campus Safety and many other offices are working hard to identify and support every at-risk student. All our students deserve our best.
As colleges across the nation deal with this growing demand for counseling and psychological support, higher education leaders are struggling with many questions. For me, one of the most important questions is: How — at a vibrantly Christian college, where we find strength and comfort in our faith — do we inspire and encourage our students to stand united with one another, to see Christ in themselves and in others? To understand the significance of being a Christian college in this era, let us consider some of the research Twenge cites. In the 1980s, 90 percent of American high school seniors identified with a religious group; among young adults (ages 18–24) surveyed in 2016, that number was at 65 percent. In 1976, 40 percent of 12th-graders attended weekly worship services; in 2015, it was down to 28 percent. In 2016, one-third of young adults (ages 18–24) surveyed said that they didn’t believe in God, more than one-quarter said that they never pray, and one-quarter said that they believe that the Scriptures are a collection of “ancient fables, legends, history and moral precepts recorded by men.” According to Twenge, this disconnection from religion among American youth is unprecedented. “The waning of private religious belief means that young generations’ disassociation from religion is not just about their distrust of institutions; more are disconnecting from religion entirely, even at home and even in their hearts,” she writes.
Joy in the Selfless, Not the Selfie
When I consider those statistics, it strikes me that our mission — 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 — is more critical than ever. At Hope, we welcome students at any point in their faith journey, whether they arrive with a robustly developed faith or no faith at all. And during their four years here, no matter where their journey takes them, we challenge our students to develop their interior selves while also thinking beyond themselves. It is our responsibility not only to cultivate our students’ intellectual formation, but also to model faithfulness to God and to one another, exemplify moral courage, and prepare students to give of themselves in service to others. It is our job to inspire students to find joy not in the selfie, but the selfless.
Are we succeeding? While the campus community certainly faces challenges, we at Hope are energized every day by the selflessness we see in our students. This selflessness takes many forms of engagement, driven by our students’ willingness to open themselves up to new leadership experiences through volunteering, serving, dialoguing and sharing their talents. In the new SEED program, for example, our student-athletes are bringing sport ministry and clean water to communities in countries such as India, Costa Rica and Zambia. Hope students and employees recently participated in spring break service trips to 12 cities, from Chicago to East Palo Alto, from Nashville to New Orleans. Campus groups are working hard to raise funds for the Purple Games (benefitting cancer research at the Van Andel Institute), Dance Marathon (benefitting Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital) and Relay for Life (benefitting the American Cancer Society). Students are modeling civil dialogue through Vox Populi, a student-run forum that promotes a respectful spirit of discourse on the most difficult, and often most polarizing, political and cultural topics. Sometimes, opportunities for student leadership are unexpected. I think of senior Mallory Beswick, who tore her ACL last fall, bringing her long-awaited senior soccer season as team leader to a premature end. When asked how the injury affected her, Mallory said, “At first, I was devastated. But then I realized the injury was a gift because it allowed me to understand how I could serve and lead in ways off the field.” We are encouraged by all our students who, like Mallory, recognize and embrace the opportunities to connect with others in meaningful and high-impact ways.
Agents of Hope, Hard at Work
Equally as heartening are the stories of Hope College alumni out in the world. In December, I opened up TIME magazine to find a story about the eradication of polio, prominently featuring Hope alumnus Jalaa’ Abdelwahab ’97. Jalaa’, who serves as the deputy director of UNICEF’s polio-eradication initiative, is truly an “Agent of Hope.” With his leadership, the world is looking at the possibility of reducing the number of polio cases to zero in 2018.
In February, we learned that Hope College had landed in the top 25 nationally among small colleges and universities producing Peace Corps Volunteers. What an honor! Hope is the only school from Michigan on the top-25 list for small institutions, and is one of only three Michigan institutions of any size recognized. For more inspiration, one need only consider some of our most recent graduates to serve in the Peace Corps:
- Rachel Hibbard ’17 (psychology) is working in Lesotho, South Africa, where she recently helped lead a “GLOW” (Girls Leading Our World) camp for young women. The camp focused on issues such as self-esteem, leadership and goal-setting. With Lesotho having one of the highest percentages of people living with HIV, Rachel led a session on HIV/AIDS awareness and prevention.
- Nicole Sparbanie ’15 (English/secondary education) served as an education volunteer in Rwanda. She was the primary organizer and host of “Buzz Off Malaria,” an event to empower about 100 secondary students to be educators in their homes and communities for how to prevent and treat malaria.
- Nathan Axdorff ’14 (psychology) volunteered as a high school English teacher in Machala, Ecuador. He prepared students for extracurricular English activities such as spelling bees and verb competitions, and worked in the classroom teaching English as a foreign language.
- Jamie Kreindler ’14 (dance/psychology) served in El Menzel, Morocco, where she spent two years working at a youth center and implementing activities such as a Model United Nations club, reading initiatives for kids and business programs for young adults. She went on to volunteer with a grassroots arts organization in Sefrou, working on cinema events and art projects at the local hospital.
- Sarah Colton ’13 (biology) served in Central Visayas, Philippines, where she worked in the Agriculture Department of a small municipal local government unit, assisting with the community’s coastal resource management. Sarah educated the public and improved management practices, and had side projects supporting solid-waste management and female-youth empowerment.
- Christina Bowles ’11 (biology) served in Sierra Leone, where she taught science to junior and senior secondary-school students and helped direct a Girls Leadership and Development Initiative. Having earned a master’s degree in public health from Drexel University in 2016, Christina will be returning to Sierra Leone this month to begin a new job with OneVillage Partners, an organization that supports community-led development initiatives.
There are countless more alumni who have served in the Peace Corps and other volunteer organizations throughout the world. For every one of the Hope alumni stories listed above, there are thousands more. What is your story? I invite you to share the work that you are doing in your community, whether it is in Hope’s backyard of West Michigan or miles away on another continent — we’d love to hear from you! On behalf of the entire campus community, thank you for all you do for Hope College. With the strong foundation of your prayers and support, we are able to provide our students with transformational experiences that indeed prepare them for lives of leadership and service in a global society.
Grace and peace,
Rev. Dr. Dennis N. Voskuil
DeWitt Student Cultural Center141 East 12th StreetFloor 2Holland, MI 49423