On Friday, Oct. 11, members of the Sexuality and Gender Awareness (SAGA) group scrawled “LGBTQ? You Are Loved on National Coming Out Day! Love, SAGA” in chalk on the Calvin Fine Arts Center (CFAC) steps and other locations around campus.
But after chapel break, they found parts of the message at the CFAC location washed off, leaving only “You Are Loved.” The words targeting the LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Questioning) community were removed.
The chalk was washed off by building services after an admissions staff member expressed concern that the messaging coincided with the Fridays at Calvin admissions program.
“I understand that some parents might be concerned about SAGA at Calvin,” said senior Karlene Kristich, a witness to the chalk removal. “Sometimes it is uncomfortable to have conversations about that, but that does not excuse their censorship. I believe admissions staff has the courage and skills necessary to work through potential confrontation with a parent.”
According to Shirley Hoogstra, vice president of student life, the source of the problem was a miscommunication between student life and admissions. Student life had not told the admissions staff that SAGA was planning to publicize Coming Out Day, leaving the Fridays staff surprised by the messages around campus.
“Usually when there are guests on campus we try to give a heads-up to the hosts of those guests so they can frame it,” Hoogstra said. “We didn’t really let admissions know it was Coming Out Day.”
Normally, admissions staff members give background to events like Coming Out Day to prospective Calvin student and parents.
“We work with Pastor Mary or Aaron Winkle, and they can put it into context,” said Russ Bloem, vice president for enrollment management. “As a general policy, enrollment never tries to tinker with what’s happening on campus. If there is something that is a small snippet of Calvin, we try to give it in the context of the broad picture. And that’s where it fell apart.”
Fridays staff were upset because they had not had the chance to frame the event and expressed concern to the OCCE (Office of Campus and Community Events) who interpreted it as a request to have the message removed.
A maintenance employee was called and the chalk was washed off the steps.
Kristich, however, felt uncomfortable about having the chalk scrubbed off.
“I am concerned about admissions and doubting their ability to effectively communicate to prospective students and their parents what the Calvin community is really like,” Kristich said. “I feel the group of Friday’s students who visited on Oct. 11 did not have the most accurate experience [at] Calvin they could have; part of their experience was censored.”
The chalk removal happened right before Calvin’s mini-series on homosexuality and the church, which hosted Justin Lee and Wesley Hill. Both Hoogstra and Bloem expressed their approval of the mini-series and said they were prepared to dialogue about those events with visitors.
“We were very supportive of the mini-series,” Bloem said. “We were well-prepared to have those conversations with families and visitors. But this really caught us off-guard.”
Both Hoogstra and Bloem said the incident struck up welcome conversations on campus, and they didn’t want to the incident to look like they were covering up something about Calvin’s campus.
“I feel badly that any student would feel that we were trying to cover this up,” Hoogstra said.