BY NATHALIE HEWA DEWAGE
Last Friday, I gave a speech in the forum as part of the Black History Month opening ceremony. So did my friends. The response we got was polarized. Many people applauded us but there was some push-back. It was a little disheartening, though still expected. Something a lot of people said was that we were overly negative, that we should not have focused on our negative experiences to the extent that we did. I have to wonder if those people had actually listened to what we had to say.
Going and putting yourself out there is extremely difficult. It takes a lot to be vulnerable to an audience you know is going to write you off anyway. Yet, we did it. Hannan did it. Phillip did it. Rama did it. Tayo did it. And it was important that they did. All our critics saw were the negatives, but all I saw were my brave, wonderful friends who had the courage to speak up for themselves and who encouraged me to do the same. For this I only have love and gratitude. So I’ll say this now: thank you Han, Rama, Tayo and Phillip. Thank you Cat, Soroush, Aislinn, Joel and Jude. To Feisal and the dean and all our lovely professors who showed their support. To all our allies. To the Diversity Working Group.
We can only make changes when we are together. When I spoke on Friday, I never once felt alone.
BY NATHALIE HEWA DEWAGE / Editor
Augustana has a problem. A problem with minority groups. If you think about it, you could say Augustana has always had this problem – a small town and Lutheran roots don’t exactly foster diversity. But that isn’t all of it. The real issue is that it’s been a 100 years and we’re still acting like we’re in 1910 and Augustana is still a tiny, Christian, mostly white college.
This year, Augustana has seen its largest percentage of international students ever – a whopping 15%. But just last week, there was an incident involving ResLife and the cafeteria that very much echoed a black face incident that occurred on campus not too long ago.
The lack of tact and disrespect that led up to this incident (which involved a series of racist posters distributed across the cafeteria – posters that evoked centuries of colonizing sentiments about people of colour being compared to animals) was astounding. And bizarre. One has to wonder why a 15% international student population was not enough to make the parties responsible think twice about going through with it.
The posters weren’t necessarily done in bad faith, but impacts are always bigger than intentions. To many students, it felt like a stab at their very existence on campus; as if their school was mocking them; as if it were a crime for them to be dissatisfied with the food they paid to eat.
The fallout from this incident went well beyond the walls of the cafeteria. Students began to gather, they began to share stories of their mistreatment and discrimination, most of it from Augustana staff – the very people they’d expected respect and protection from. The one thing these students had in common? They were all minority groups.
The events that transpired eventually led to a healing circle and an official apology from the university. But while all of this went on, many students began to realise something. Something people like us have known for a long time. Something that I, too, have been forced to acknowledge: you can only find solidarity from people like yourself.
These students banded together to demand change. They organised and attended meeting after meeting of the Diversity Working Group, and came together to support and heal one another in a way that no one else would. They did their part. Now we have to ask ourselves: when is Augustana going to take care of its problem?