New Home for Center for Diversity and Inclusion is a Dream Come True

A prominent campus landmark with a storied history is providing a spacious new home that not only enhances Hope’s efforts to foster a diverse, welcoming community but is itself inviting.

The college’s Center for Diversity and Inclusion and multicultural student organizations (MSOs) moved to the Keppel House on 10th Street between College and Columbia avenues in November after being based most recently in two locations in the Jim and Martie Bultman Student Center.

A formal dedication ceremony will take place in the spring on a date still to be determined, but Hope held a celebration for the campus community on Thursday, Oct. 29. The October event was bittersweet in that it also involved saying farewell to longtime staff member Vanessa Greene, director of the Center for Diversity and Inclusion (CDI), who was leaving the college the following week for a role on a larger stage as chief executive officer of the Grand Rapids African American Health Institute (GRAAHI). At the same time, the occasion presented an opportunity to thank Greene for her impact across 17 years at Hope — with CDI’s move to the Keppel House providing a lasting example.

“Vanessa has been an ardent advocate for a stand-alone campus space for diversity and inclusion,” said President Matthew A. Scogin ’02 in a message sent to the campus community in advance of the event. “We celebrate with Vanessa the chance to see her vision become a reality.”

“I want to thank Vanessa for serving the Hope community, especially our students of color, with purpose and determination,” Scogin said. “She has been an unwavering source of support for students and student groups, always there to listen, encourage and inspire, even in the most challenging times. Vanessa helped us be better and do better, and we will continue her work.”

Greene’s move to GRAAHI, a non-profit organization dedicated to achieving healthcare parity for African Americans, will keep her connected to Hope. The college has partnered with GRAAHI since 2018 on a region-wide initiative to support students of color interested in healthcare professions, a relationship forged with her guidance.

“The loss of Vanessa’s tireless leadership undoubtedly leaves a hole at Hope,” Scogin said. “At the same time, I am thrilled for Vanessa, knowing that she has the opportunity to lead an organization she cares deeply about.”

Greene joined the Hope staff in 2003 as director of multicultural education, and led the program’s expansion into its current form as the Center for Diversity and Inclusion. During her time at the college, she created many high-impact programs to build and showcase diversity, equity and inclusion on campus, including the GROW Council, the Diversity Institute, the Diversity Lecture Series, and Step2Success. She was critical to the continued success of the Women of Color and Senior Recognition event, the Black Excellence Dinner and MSO activities. Recently, she instituted a new alumni advisory council, developed new programming for the Covenant Scholars and, in collaboration with the Boerigter Center for Calling and Career, helped launch the Leadership Empowerment Program.

In the closing weeks of her time at the college, Greene’s thoughts were focused on what the new space means for Hope and its students.

“We’re so excited — there are just no words to express it,” she said. “It speaks volumes for the institution in terms of its commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion.”

Built in 1914 and owned by Hope since 1986, the stately, two-story brick structure provides not only more room but a distinctive location along an active route that links multiple residence halls and academic buildings. The house previously served as office and meeting space for the college’s Campus Ministries program, which moved into a new building of its own in 2019.

CDI supports the college’s ongoing and increased emphasis on fostering racial and cultural understanding and equity through campus- and community-wide programming and outreach, and through working with student organizations and individual students. The center’s activities include coordinating multiple annual lecture series and other events throughout the year, from the Hispanic Heritage Month Lecture in September to the Women of Color and Senior Recognition banquet each spring; organizing workshops for students, faculty and staff; and serving as a liaison with other area organizations like GRAAHI and the Lakeshore Ethnic Diversity Alliance.

The center also works closely with the seven MSOs in developing programming and providing a support network for Hope’s students of color, who comprise approximately 18% percent of the student body. Greene is especially pleased that being under one roof — in an inviting location that has been a literal home — will help facilitate interaction with students and provide an added sense of community.

“Hope is for all of the college’s students, but it can be challenging to be a student of color at a white-majority institution — no matter what the institution is,” she said. “The Center for Diversity and Inclusion is for everyone at Hope, but this space shows that the college understands about the challenges and the importance of providing support to help the students of color flourish.”

The staff offices are on the second floor, with most of the building reserved for students, who were involved in selecting the décor and furnishings. The lower level features a lounge, and the first floor contains a library, study area and reception space.

In addition to a director, the CDI staff consists of an assistant director — Jevon Willis, who is interim director while Hope conducts a national search for Greene’s successor; and a program coordinator/office manager, Margo Walters. The MSOs for whom the house has become home base are the Black Student Union, Asian Student Union, Latino Student Organization, Lambda Delta Pi Leadership Community, Men’s Enrichment Network and Pan African Student Association.

“The MSOs’ goals are very rooted and aligned with CDI to support student success,” Greene said.

“They’re able to recognize and hear about and see the good and the bad of students’ experiences and bring that back to us,” she said. “It’s a community of care where everybody’s looking out for each other, and I think the house will create an even better opportunity for that.”

The Center for Diversity and Inclusion began in the mid-1980s as a multicultural education program with office space in the DeWitt Center. Hope established a two-room multicultural center in Phelps Hall in 2000 for students, providing informal gathering space for the MSOs and a conference room that also contained computer-equipped work stations. The offices and lounge space moved to the Martha Miller Center for Global Communication when it opened in 2005, remaining until moving to the Bultman Student Center in 2017.

The Keppel House was built by Albert and Kate Keppel. The college purchased it from their daughter Ruth Keppel, who lived in the house until 1989. It served as a guest house for Hope from 1989 until 1994, and housed the college’s Campus Ministries staff from 1994 until the program moved to the newly constructed van Andel Huys der Hope. The Keppel House was originally located at 85 E. 10th St., but Hope had it moved east to 129 E. 10th St. in the summer of 1995 to help clear space for the construction of the college’s Haworth Hotel and Cook Hall residence hall.