EXCLUSIVE: Confederate Flag Display Prompts Christian College to Launch 'Judicial' Investigation

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The president of a small Christian college in Michigan seeks to punish students for displaying the Confederate flag on campus, claiming the flag is “inconsistent with our Christian values” and that it “cannot be tolerated.”

In an email sent to students and staff Wednesday morning, Hope College president John C. Knapp condemned the appearance of a Confederate flag on campus and declared it a "judicial matter."

Knapp’s email to the Hope College community reads:

“Last evening, students, faculty and staff from all parts of our campus gathered in Maas Auditorium for the annual kickoff celebration of the GROW initiative.  Together we reaffirmed Hope College's commitment to being a community where diversity is valued and every person is fully included in the life of the college.  It was inspiring to see such enthusiasm for these values.

Yet even as the GROW celebration was under way, a few students outside Durfee Hall were confronted by a faculty member for displaying a Confederate flag.  The flag was removed and the Student Development staff is now addressing this as a judicial matter with the students involved.  Needless to say, such behavior is inconsistent with our Christian values and cannot be tolerated.

 As a son of the deep South, I am well aware of the pain caused by this flag as a symbol of racial injustice and oppression.  Though this incident involved only a few students and does not reflect the character of all Durfee residents, I will meet with the residents tonight to discuss our responsibilities as members of a community that recently embraced a commitment to ‘the flourishing of every individual as one created and loved by God.’ This includes the need to take responsibility for the hurt we cause others.

I am saddened and disappointed by this behavior.  As president, I want to assure all members of our community that I take our commitments seriously and will insist that incidents such as this are addressed in an honest and constructive manner.”

On Friday, a second email addressing the incident was sent from the Hope College dean of students, Richard Frost. In the email, Frost wrote, “The Student Development​ team and the Office of Multicultural Education​ will be continuing to discuss and learn about the incident that occurred Tuesday evening and affected our community.  President Knapp addressed this matter in his campus-wide email on Wednesday morning.

Frost continued, “We have already organized conversations in a number of venues about the range of concerns and understandings about this incident.  We are now working as a group and community to create more opportunities to use​ this as a time to learn and increase our collective cultural proficiency.”

In Knapp’s email, he mentioned the display of the flag on campus coincided with an event as part of Hope College’s “GROW Initiative.” The GROW Initiative is described as being a “dynamic, campus-wide initiative that fosters diverse relationships and deepens cross-cultural competence to achieve an inclusive campus community, which allows us to fulfill our multicultural/global and Christian mission at Hope College.”

One of the reasons for the GROW Initiative, according to its website, is to “create a learning environment that respects all aspects of diversity.”

In a statement to MRCTV, Hope College’s vice president for public affairs, Jennifer Fellinger, reiterated that the students who were involved with displaying the Confederate flag would be handled by judicial affairs:

 “On Tuesday evening, several students were seen carrying a single Confederate flag outside on the Hope College campus. A faculty member saw this and asked them to remove the flag. Campus Safety and the Office of Student Development followed up to ensure that the students complied with this request.

The Student Development office is now addressing the incident as a judicial matter with the students involved, following the normal judicial process. President Knapp and Dean of Students Richard Frost met with students Wednesday night to discuss this matter.”

Fellinger also called showing the Confederate flag a “statement of hostility toward some students and employees, causing personal hurt and distress,” which does not make it consistent with the Christian environment:

“As you know, Dr. Knapp sent a campuswide email to all students and employees Wednesday morning. In it, he said, ‘As a son of the deep South, I am well aware of the pain caused by this flag as a symbol of racial injustice and oppression.’ In this and other communications, he has stressed that, given the flag's historical association with hatred and racism, its public display can be seen as a statement of hostility toward some students and employees, causing personal hurt and distress. The Christian values of Hope College call us to ensure that every individual is able to flourish in an environment where they are treated with respect and love.”

The Hope College Student handbook section dealing with “student behavior and policies” states a student can be found in violation of student conduct for “any action demonstrating lack of respect for the dignity of another person.”

The housing director for Durfee Hall did not respond to MRCTV’s request for comment regarding an alleged event that took place the evening of the incident.

Fellinger told MRCTV, “In response to your question about Durfee Hall holding an event: As far as I know, there was no formal event for Durfee Hall scheduled on the Hope College calendar. Through the judicial process, we will discern what, if anything, preceded the incident Tuesday evening.”

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