A group of Hope College students identifying as LGBT and People of Color started a campaign to amplify 95 stories of discrimination and disrespect on campus.
Joshua Kam is generally well regarded by faculty and peers, when I meet him on Hope’s campus, he exudes politeness as he tells me why he stepped out of the choir formation on Sunday to disrupt his third and final Vespers concert as means to promote of his 95 Stories campaign.
“We as minority students, both LGBT students and POC, or intersectional folk like me, you know, both gay and Asian, noticed that Hope College is willing to explore these topics in dialog and share our stories. What we often noticed is that these stories weren’t reaching members of our communities that did not want to talk about them.”
95 stories is atwitter campaign where People of Color and LGBT students can tell their stories of disrespect or violence.
“To borrow the words of Flannery O’Connor: ‘For the hard of hearing we shout, for the almost blind we draw large and startling figures.’ I desire to draw large and startling figures first that forces us, as a college, to recon with true ally-ship and false ally-ship, with the real divisions in our campus and to meet them head on.”
And large they were, Vespers is arguably one of Hope’s most high-profile events of the year.
“And maybe a little fraction of someone says ‘dang I have a story to tell and I wish I was up there with the crew that did what they did at Vespers, and never had words for it before,’ never felt legitimized or justified in feeling what they feel, but to say the story’s valid.
Jennifer Fellinger is Hope College’s Director of Public Relations and Marketing, this is what she had to say in response to 95 stories and their action during Vespers.
"95 Stories is not an official Hope student organization, it’s not an officially sanctioned Hope organization. We do have an organization that focuses on issues of sexuality, including LGBT issues—those are included in the types of dialog this group is having. And from what I understand, that group is not involved in and not supportive of 95 stories project—which I think is an interesting reflection of the complexity of this issue."
Part of that complexity for Fellinger is that she says these are exactly the conversations they want students engaged in.
“These are important conversations for the Hope College community and we have many different kinds of people in our Hope community and we want to engage, but this really is part of a national conversation. And so if we have students who are engaging each other in these difficult issues, that’s a hopeful thing.
...‘how do I use my voice; how do I affect change; how do I listen; how do I respond. And students are asking those questions and actually saying, about 95 stories, ‘It’s not respectful, there are other ways to go about this, there are other ways to affect change.”