By: Grace Rajballie | October 22, 2021
On Tuesday April 20, 2021, Redeemer released an official statement, via email, that they would be closing programs in both French and theatre. Included at the beginning of the same email was the announcement of the introduction of a Bachelor of Business Administration degree program. In the wake of the news of program closures, many students and alumni responded in shock, sadness, frustration, confusion, and anger. Since the official statement from Redeemer, there has been media coverage from other sources such as Academia Group, the Banner, Christian Courier, CBC Hamilton, and the Star, including statements from students, alumni, and official representatives of Redeemer.
Now, more than four months later, it may feel like this is old news. As a school community, we are celebrating our highest enrollment, reduced tuition, new academic buildings and residences, and a name change. However, students from the theatre and French programs continue to feel the loss of their beloved programs and professors, and many feel as if their grief has been overlooked. Fourth-year urban and intercultural ministry major and theatre minor Kimberly Lobbezoo shares her feelings of dismissal:
“Right now I feel sad and let down. The shock factor has worn off since the announcement was first made because time has gone by. But the feelings come back with seeing things like the wall that had the production photos now empty. Those pictures being taken down make me feel really sad and wonder why it’s necessary. It kind of feels like the theatre program is totally being erased, like all the traces of it. As someone who was involved in some of the mainstage productions and theatre community, it’s hurtful because it makes me feel like I was never there.”
Like Lobbezoo, French major Emily Wright struggles with feeling support from the school community: “As a whole, it’s really difficult to gauge whether the students are supportive. People will post things on social media or have their moment of being angry, but because it doesn’t affect them directly, they move on.”
In addition to feeling a lack of emotional support, many students have voiced their frustrations in navigating the completion of their degrees. In an email sent to students (on the same day of the program closure announcement) in the French and theatre programs, the following statements were made regarding the completion of French and theatre degrees:
“If you are entering the final year of your major, we are committed to ensuring that you will be able to finish your program. If you are entering the third year of the major, we will look at your individual requirements, but it is likely that a change of major will be required. If you are entering the second year of the major, it is certain that a change of major will be required. If you are a minor we will make individual determinations based on how many courses you have completed toward the minor so far.”
While students were made aware that their programs would be closing, they had assumed that they would still graduate with their chosen majors and minors. For students entering into second year and third year the news was devastating, as it meant they were forced to change their main discipline of study. Deanne Korvemaker, a third-year student at Redeemer, began her academic journey with the hopes of obtaining a Bachelor of Arts, majoring in French to assist her in realizing her dreams of becoming a high school French teacher. However, because Redeemer chose to close the programs, effective immediately, she had no choice but to change her major or transfer to another institution that offered a French program. Korvemaker is currently still attending Redeemer and is now an English major with a minor in French and psychology. Even with the closure of her program, she continues to pursue a teaching career in French; however, this comes at a cost. In addition to finishing her degree at Redeemer, she is considering taking additional courses through Athabasca University to ensure her French skills and fluency are strong enough to teach at the senior level in high schools. Although she has found a way to participate in additional French courses Korvemaker wrestles with the fact that French will not be her major area of study,
“I was hoping to teach high school French and was looking forward to the semester in France. Immersion is really important for solidifying oral communication skills. I think the closure of this program has jeopardized my competence as a potential future high school teacher. Even though I am considering paying for additional French courses on my own time, I cannot graduate with a French major. Dr. Curnew is still teaching at Redeemer, but only the courses I need to complete a minor—why not just keep him on to help me finish with a major?”
Choosing between a change of major or transferring institutions is not a struggle unique to French students. Like Korvemaker, third-year student Julia Bakker had hopes of using her degree for a career in teaching. Now, without an option to major in theatre at Redeemer, she has chosen to pursue a degree in English, one that she feels she will struggle to flourish in.
“I am taking eleven English courses in two years just to graduate on time. I am drowning; this is a lot to ask of a student. I am not doing well, but I have no choice. I thought I could do this, but the reality is I may have to transfer after this semester.”
Students who were able to graduate with their original major are not exempt from academic obstacles. As part of the requirement for graduating with a theatre degree, students are required to complete at least two practicum credits. In previous years students achieved this goal by participating in the Mainstage Production, a performance put on by the theatre department once a semester. In lieu of the Mainstage Production, Redeemer offered theatre students an alternate practicum to ensure they met their graduation requirements.
Lobbezoo remarks, “Our practicum this semester is really frustrating. Pretty much what we are doing is cleaning out anything that belongs to the theatre department—costumes, props, and equipment. It was hard enough to have the theatre program taken away from us but then to ask us to clean it up was so hurtful. It’s like the school doesn’t want anything left that points to theatre ever being here.”
As many other news sources have stated, Redeemer is not the only Christian post-secondary institution that has made the difficult decision to close programs that have low or stagnant enrollment. In June of 2021, Calvin College announced that the astronomy minor, Chinese major and minor, classical studies major and minor, Greek minor, Latin minor, Dutch major and minor, German major, and global development studies major and minor would be phased out in the 2021-2022 academic year. About a month later, Trinity Western University announced that it would be phasing out its theatre program, including its Bachelor of Fine Arts in acting program, its BA in theatre program, and the Master’s degree program in teaching English to speakers of other languages.
While students of the French and theatre program at Redeemer recognize that other Christian schools are dissolving similar programs at their respective institutions, they argue that at least these schools are phasing the programs out rather than closing them immediately. Many of the students interviewed have stated that although they are sad their programs are closing, the blow would have been softened had they been phased out rather than suddenly closed.
Although the ideal would be to reopen these programs or at least phase them out, students from the French and theatre program admit they have come to the realization that these are not plausible outcomes. Nevertheless, their grief is still very real and requires acknowledgement and affirmation. Third-year student Rowena Hobbs says,
“We’re not gone. We’ve started up a theatre club to keep doing what we came here to do. We are called The Klassen & Louter Theatre Company to carry on what Sharon and Ray built here. It has not been easy. There have been a lot of logistics to work through that we didn’t anticipate, and we still have a long way to go, but we have people interested, a director lined up, and we have found a rehearsal space. We are going to be putting on Henry V in the spring with rehearsals starting this fall. So please support us! Talk about us, tell your friends, ask someone who was in theatre how they’re doing, join our group on the app (search “Theatre Club”) come to our monthly meetings, audition for the show, ask about how you can help out. There are so many ways you can support our efforts.”
Additionally, both the French and theatre students said they would appreciate additional support from professors. “In our new majors, professors should be aware of why we are now in their classes. I don’t expect extra-special treatment, but I think it would be helpful for professors to acknowledge that we are not there as a first choice and that we may require additional help and guidance as a lot of this is new to us” (Bakker).
Finally, what these students desire most is a formal conversation with some or all of the individuals who were involved in making the decision to close the program. While not mentioned in this article, many of the other media sources covering this story have highlighted concerns regarding the approach Redeemer took in informing students of the program closures. Redeemer has always been a school that has prided itself on fellowship and community. Evidently, students from the theatre and French programs feel some sort of disconnect from our school community—I challenge you, students and faculty, to change that.