Calvin University's official student newspaper since 1907

Calvin University Chimes

Since 1907
Calvin University's official student newspaper since 1907

Calvin University Chimes

Calvin University's official student newspaper since 1907

Calvin University Chimes

“There’s a hopefulness in building”

Enrollment and morale increases at Calvin despite lingering questions
Savannah Shustack
Many different projects are in phase 1 of completion.

There was nary a spot to stand at the first Friday chapel of the school year. Students –– many of whom are football players –– filled the bleachers at the new turf soccer field, surrounded by orange, net construction fences. Peet’s Coffee, now located in Spoelhof Cafe, is hard to navigate during the chapel rush; the narrow space is crammed full of people. Areas fenced off for construction contribute to these new campus realities, but the current lack of space is building towards future growth. Growth Calvin has already, in part, experienced through increased enrollment. 

A number of faculty told Chimes they are cautiously hopeful as they look ahead. Aspects playing into morale building include positive enrollment trends, distance from COVID, campus renovations and President Wiebe Boer, whom biology professor and vice chair of faculty senate David Koetje said loves being the “cheerleader in chief.”

But campus is not without growing pains. Students are not thrilled about the perceived lack of community gathering space, continued mistrust between the administration and faculty will not be solved quickly, and the university’s relationship with the Christian Reformed Church in the wake of Synod decisions is still somewhat unresolved. 

Nevertheless, Koetje said, “there’s a hopefulness in building” that invites looking towards the future. 


The 2023-2024 school year has already been historic for Calvin. Enrollment is on a two-year increase, according to David Koetje, vice chair of faculty senate, and this incoming class is the most diverse it has ever been. 

Exact numbers are not yet available, but the total incoming class – which includes graduate students and others enrolled in non-traditional learning paths – is over 1,150 students strong, an almost 15% increase over last year’s class. Additionally, international students compose nearly 20% of the incoming class, according to Koetje.

According to Koetje, diverse learners lead to a richer experience in the classroom, as well as in student life. It also “starts to set up some new possibilities,” Koetje said. “The key to turning around cuts is to grow the student population back.” It will take time, but this feels like maybe the “light at the end of the tunnel,” according to Koetje. 

Debra Rienstra, professor of English, also mentioned enrollment and increased diversity as a cause for excitement. 

“I think a lot of us are really excited about the number of international students,” Rienstra said. “It’s good for all of us to have more of the globe on campus.”


As more students are welcomed onto Calvin’s campus, multiple construction projects are happening simultaneously. The strategic plan for athletics is in the middle of phase 1, which includes the new turf field outside of the Spoelhof Fieldhouse Complex. The inaugural soccer game was played on the brand new turf field, but things are still under construction over in Gainey Field. Next fall, a shared soccer and football stadium will be nearing completion. 

Phase 1 of the Commons Union project – library renovations — has just begun, and is planned to reopen at the beginning of next school year.

Phase 1 of improvements to the School of Health is nearly completed. The Speech Pathology and Audiology (SPAUD) department moved to North Hall, and faculty offices are nearly finished. Phase 2, construction of a cadaver lab, is scheduled to begin later this year.

The football team — announced in fall 2022 — has its first scrimmage on September 30, and has 61 student-athletes already on the roster.

Many changes are happening all at once. According to Rienstra, “There’s definitely a sense of, we’re still churning with change.” 


However, the changes also seem to have brought along what “seems to be an uptick in morale and just general excitement,” according to Micah Watson, political science professor.

The memory and impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, while not gone, has faded. “Covid now seems like ‘remember that, that chapter? well yeah, but it’s not now,’” Watson said, “We’re plateauing towards a normalcy even though it’s a new normal in some ways.” According to Rienstra, the vitality of campus life is back, and she has “not stopped appreciating that we have that back after having lost it.” 

The new president’s personality has also played a part in the new energy on campus. “He loves to be sort of the cheerleader in chief,” Koetje told Chimes. Watson said Boer’s kind of leadership is good for Calvin right now. “[Former president Leroy] steered us through some pretty stormy waters, but I think President Boer has almost an effervescence about him, and it just comes naturally and it’s kind of contagious, and we need that,” he told Chimes.

Students are also feeling the energy. Jordan VanderKamp, a junior studying marketing and environmental studies, said the semester started with “a pretty big bang,” citing a campus kick-off event on Commons Lawn where the university brought in snow cone trucks and provided free snacks. Students formed a line that snaked across the lawn, past the science building, and conversations happened loudly over upbeat music. However, there are some areas of disappointment for students coming back. 

Challenges ahead

“The library was the place where you could pretend to study and then meet new people and hang out with friends,” Jordan VanderKamp said. “I just don’t know where that community is going to flourish with the library being closed.”  

The first through third floors of the library are closed, but the fourth and fifth floors are still operational. The closed floors of the library are an unfortunate byproduct of the plans for growth. Executive Vice President for Student Experience and Strategy Sarah Visser told Chimes that, “Given the size and scope of the renovation project, we contemplated spreading the work over multiple years, but the idea of disrupting the normal rhythms of campus life for a longer period of time seemed un-strategic.” However, when the project is completed next fall, there will be “far more gathering spaces on all three levels,” Visser said.

Despite this year’s disappointment, there is still excitement for what the projects will bring to campus. 

I imagine it will also cause a similar feeling for the incoming freshmen as I felt with all the changes that Covid caused coming in as a freshman. Not that it’s comparable!” Emma Hacker, a senior at Calvin told Chimes. “But I remember coming back my sophomore year, and being so surprised with the ability to sit and eat in the dining hall again after a year of not.”   

Bumps ahead for faculty, according to Koetje, include the still relatively rocky relationship between faculty and the administration. Trust is hard to repair, he said, and as vice chair, he hopes to facilitate some of those steps toward growth together. Rienstra said she has appreciated the noticeable efforts at better communication from the administration.

The lack of decision this year at Synod regarding the gravamen process used to express disagreement with an aspect of the Covenant for Faculty is in the back of many faculty members’ minds. There is also the more imminent concern of the transition to the four-two credit system and increasing pressure around students’ use — or abuse — of AI. 

In the midst of construction and chaos, though, Watson and Rienstra both are optimistic about returning to an equilibrium. Important decisions have been made, and while there are still changes to happen, Rienstra told Chimes: “I get a sense that people are very cautiously hopeful that we are through most of the churn and now we can move forward in some regular patterns.”

This story has been updated to clarify that the entire library is not closed; the fourth and fifth floors of the library are still open. Chimes regrets this error. 

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