New coordinator for student support and sexuality programming hired after long search


Grace Buller

VanWingerden is part of Neland Avenue’s Anti-Racism Team. She has previously worked in counseling and as a copy-editor for the publishing arm of the CRC.

Calvin has hired a new coordinator for student success and sexuality programming, alumna Jodi VanWingerden, after a nine-month search. Previous coordinator Kelsey Colburn resigned in December 2021, citing conflicts between the university’s stance on LGBTQ+ relationships and her code of ethics as a social worker. 

VanWingerden graduated from Calvin in 1997 with a bachelor’s degree in social work. After graduation she married her husband, Dave, and worked in counseling for a few years. Later she worked as a copy-editor for Zondervan and Faith Alive Christian Resources, the publishing arm of the Christian Reformed Church. She also found time to raise three children.

“I’m not one of those people [whose] life is this straight line.

VanWingerden, who attends Neland Avenue CRC, is part of Neland’s Anti-Racism Team, a group which trains church members to recognize and address racism in their community. She has also served on the church council. 

“I’m not one of those people [whose] life is this straight line. It’s kind of this meandering curve that’s taken me to all kinds of places,” VanWingerden said. She has long been passionate about helping teens and young adults grow, and VanWingerden has taught young adult Sunday School and served as a youth leader in her church. After her youngest started school, she considered becoming a school social worker or counselor but ultimately decided seminary was a better fit. 

“Part of that was realizing the conversations I love to have with young adults. One of the things I love is talking about the way our faith impacts the way we live in this world,” VanWingerden said.

VanWingerden did not plan to specialize in sexuality-related issues, but she saw the position as intersecting with her passion for helping young adults navigate the Christian faith. After graduating from Calvin Theological Seminary in May, she applied for the job. 

John Witte, dean of students and supervisor of the position, said that VanWingerden’s background in seminary and social work, as well as her work as an anti-racism educator, significantly influenced the decision to hire her. 

“We were ultimately looking for someone who would be an excellent listener, facilitator and educator,” Witte said. 

Having conversations with students is a significant part of the role of the coordinator for student success and sexuality programming. The coordinator also advises SAGA, the LGBTQ+ student affinity group and organizes campus-wide events educating people on topics related to human sexuality. They also provide support to the Title IX office through their role as educator and listener.   

“The more people we have in place that care about individuals … the better . . . they [the coordinator] will listen to students, they will advocate for students, and I just want more people to know that they can come and talk to us,” Lauren Horras, director of Safer Spaces, said. 

Colburn, who served as coordinator between Dec. 2019 and Dec. 2021, told Chimes that the position presents significant challenges. While the CRC’s position did not impact her counseling role or her advocacy for victim-survivors of sexual assault, Colburn said she was limited in her ability to support the LGBTQ+ community. When she organized events about LGBTQ+ issues, she had to include the official CRC position that marriage is only between a man and a woman. She also could not provide as much education on topics related to consent or contraceptives as she would have liked. 

“It felt like I was juggling a lot of different concerns and opinions, as it relates to human sexuality,” Colburn said, now working as a victim advocate at Hope College. 

VanWingerden is familiar with the CRC’s positions on human sexuality from her time as a church council member, and as a copy-editor proofing synod agendas. She has also had conversations with teens and young adults on topics related to gender and sexuality. 

“It’s not necessarily something I specialized in beforehand, but it’s definitely something I’ve had experience with,” VanWingerden said. 

During her first year as a coordinator, VanWingerden plans to focus on her role as a listener. She hopes to meet with students and faculty from a variety of perspectives as she learns how best to serve the Calvin community. 

 “I think until you listen really well, it’d be pretty arrogant to say, ‘This is what I plan to introduce,’” VanWingerden said.