Save SAO movement sparked by SAO budget news

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Save SAO movement sparked by SAO budget news

Photos by Anna Jeffries

Photos by Anna Jeffries

Photos by Anna Jeffries

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Save SAO movement sparked by SAO budget news

Concern over the fate of the Student Activities Office (SAO) has sparked a movement across the campus community known as “Save SAO #KeepKen.” The movement has involved hundreds of social media posts, a student-led sit-in on Commons Lawn and more.

The SAO’s budget will be reduced greatly, its programming will be consolidated with other offices, and the position of its longtime director Ken Heffner will no longer exist, Chimes reported last week. College administrators have suggested “reorganization” of SAO will take place, but have yet to comment on any specific plan of what the SAO will look like in the future until next week’s town hall meeting with President Michael Le Roy and VP for student life Sarah Visser.

Social media response

Photos by Anna Jeffries

Senior Patrick Jonker started a Facebook group on the night of Friday, March 29, called “Save SAO #KeepKen,” which has now grown to over 2,700 members as of Wednesday, April 3.

Members include students, staff, faculty, alumni, and the broader Calvin community. Jonker shared that he created the group as a way of recognizing the work of Heffner and SAO as being an example of Calvin’s theology in how it stresses discernment.

“Without [SAO], we feel Calvin has lost some of its identity… the SAO and Ken deserve to be supported, and the decision contested,” Jonker said.

This page has over a hundred posts and hundreds of comments on those posts. Members have shared favorite SAO or Ken Heffner memories and what the SAO and Heffner meant to them, voice their concerns for a Calvin without the SAO and some of those emotions, and propose solutions and possible future steps.

Jeff Bouman, director of the Service-Learning Center, posted in the Facebook group summarizing many sentiments shared by others on social media.

“Ken [Heffner] is more than the director of the SAO. He is a theologian, a mentor, a prophetic role model, an admissions expert for the Calvin-curious, a prodigious explainer of the nuances of Calvin College’s unique philosophy and practice… and much more.”

Photos by Anna Jeffries

SAO, the way Bouman understands it, is an understanding “that the world isn’t a collection of easily discernible good and evil parts and people” and helps others “experience art as something beautiful, worthwhile, complex, and as a source of unexpected truth.”  

Junior Molly VanderWerp, a moderator for the “Save SAO” Facebook page, a member of the Student Activities Board, and a Cultural Discerner (CD) posted to the group that she would provide “free” tickets for the SAO’s Haley Heynderickx concert on Wednesday, April 3, using a portion of the CD budget.

Showing up to shows is telling Ken and admissions that we care about that work, and benefit from it,” said VanderWerp.

Junior Skyler Rich, who runs a small clothing business called “Forgive Everyone Co.” that works towards social reform and reconciliation, posted on Facebook an offer to screen-print T-shirts that say “#SaveSAO Keep changing the conversation.” Ninety people ordered these shirts for $6 each.

An Instagram page called “Celebrate_Ken” was created with the stated intention to share “stories of Ken Heffner and the SAO’s legendary impact on countless lives and a call for Calvin to evaluate priorities.” This account contains 45 posts of testimonies from the community and has 437 followers as of Wednesday, April 3.

Photos by Anna Jeffries

Admin response

Provost Cheryl Brandsen told Chimes, “Reorganizations of departments and programs are never easy]… With respect to the SAO, students should expect to continue to benefit from opportunities for films and concerts on campus… because artists and films have something important to say… The frequency of our programming, and the opportunities for partnerships in the community, may look different. We welcome ideas and initiatives… while also acknowledging the ways that our budget will need to change.”

President Le Roy also released a statement about budget constraints, which Chimes reported on separately.

Save SAO campaign gatherings

The “Save SAO” Facebook group set a meeting on Monday, April 1 at 5 p.m. in the Fish House to lament, discuss, organize and mobilize. Many attended, and four immediate goals were established: to request a town hall meeting with administration to receive answers, to request that Heffner be involved in choosing someone to continue the work of SAO, to begin a petition that expresses student desires and to continue conversation in the community.

Photos by Anna Jeffries

Members of the Facebook group organized a sit-in on Wednesday, April 2 on Commons Lawn from noon until 2 p.m. This was a time for the community to come together to lament the loss of Ken Heffner’s position and show support for the SAO by honoring and celebrating its work. Every fifteen minutes, students read from the Book of Common Prayer. Some students also used this time to write stories and reactions as they listened to students share memories and impacts of the SAO and Heffner.

Heffner came to listen for part of the event, but he has not been involved in the campaign to save the SAO or his position.

Jonker shared a story from a time he attended a “The National” concert hosted by the SAO with his father. During the song “The Abel,” everyone was shouting the chorus: “My mind’s not right, my mind’s not right!” At that moment his father, a pastor, turned to him and said that the moment was like communion. For Jonker, it was eye-opening: the lead singer is an atheist, yet God was able to use his music to bring people together to experience beauty.

Additionally, student senate president Edgar Aguilar met with Jonker, who started the Facebook group, and determined that student senate would support the campaign to preserve the SAO.

“The voice of students… should be in any conversation of reorganization, so that we can avoid reorganization that doesn’t recognize what students value at Calvin,” said Aguilar.

Photos by Anna Jeffries

Artists hosted by the SAO respond

Artists that Heffner has brought to Calvin have also voiced their concerns.

Indie rock singer Sufjan Stevens told Chimes in a statement, “The SAO has consistently brought great music (and with it, great conversations about popular culture and Christianity) to Calvin’s student body… Of course, I’m slightly biased. Ken Heffner has supported my music since I was a student at Hope College (which had no appropriate music venue for hosting shows)… I count all my performances at Calvin College as career highlights… [The SAO] opened doors, broadened minds, started conversations, and created a deeply immersive experience beyond the classroom.”

“Whether or not the college is capable of recognizing it, this decision will impoverish the Calvin community, and the Grand Rapids community at large,” said Linford Detweiler of the music duo Over The Rhine in a response to Local Spins, which also covered the SAO news. “There is a huge community, a diaspora that cares deeply about formative moments that occurred at Calvin, because of Ken’s life’s work and vision.”

David Dark, a writer who was a guest presenter at the Festival of Faith and Music, a biannual conference at Calvin run by Heffner that lost its funding after the last festival in 2017, posted to the “Save SAO” Facebook group, “‘I’m being given something here.’ These are words spoken by Kenneth Heffner as he sits on a classroom floor recalling a season of his life in which he listened to Joni Mitchell constantly. I treasure them because they name the vibe, the sensibility, the living ethic of the Festival of Faith and Music, Ken’s own labor of love, an event which is its own culture, community, and way of being in the world.”

Photos by Anna Jeffries

Faculty and staff responses

An email chain (listserv) called Calvin Matters, consisting of many Calvin faculty and others in the community, has also been discussing the fate of the SAO and statements from administration.

“I deeply lament that the invitation for ideas didn’t come before a decision was made,” said Naranjo-Huebl. “Surely here in the Calvin community we could find creative alternatives to address the problems that led to this decision.”

Psychology professor Claudia Beversluis said that while Calvin will still be engaging culture in other areas, the loss of the SAO is the loss of one of the most tangible and visible examples of this at Calvin.

English professor Chad Engbers said, “… I love driving down the road and hearing on WYCE that some up-and-coming group is coming to ‘the Covenant Fine Arts Center at Calvin College.’ I imagine those words entering other people’s cars, offices, homes, etc., and I think, ‘Yeah, that’s right. That kind of Christian college.’”

Photos by Anna Jeffries

Physics and astronomy professor Larry Molnar raised questions about whether or not the SAO could be supported, or even endowed, by the decades of alumni who benefited from the program.

“Who made this decision and by what process? This was a surprise to me as I did not see it mentioned in the faculty senate notes nor announced by the college administration,” wrote Molnar.

Upcoming town hall

President Le Roy released a statement on April 2 detailing some of the underlying issues regarding budget cuts as well as establishing that a town hall meeting will be held on April 9 in the chapel sanctuary at 7 p.m. to discuss the budget situation, particularly with the SAO.

For more reactions from members of the community, check out the “Save SAO” Facebook group.