Browsing Category

Courageous Conversations

Courageous Conversations

Anti-Racism Campaign

Rachel

It’s April 2016, and you still probably don’t think racism exists at the University of St. Thomas.

Starting with a protest of USG in November, a strong contingent of students of color have continued to voice their frustration with the campus’ racial climate.

Since the protest, the formation of the Students of Color: Claim Our Seat (SOCCOS) movement has occurred. SOCCOS published a document of policy recommendations regarding the diversity and inclusiveness of St. Thomas’ campus climate two days after the protest.

Since then, the document has reached the desks of many administrators, faculty, and staff, including President Sullivan, Provost Richard Plumb, and members of the Anti-Racism Coalition. The coalition, formed by students, staff, and faculty aligned with the SOCCOS movement, published an open letter earlier this month drawing attention to persistent issues of inclusiveness and racial injustice on campus. The letter was met with a thorough response from President Sullivan herself.

In the letter, Sullivan highlights the work of the ‘Embracing our Differences as One Human Family’ task force of the Strategic Planning Committee. Sullivan addressed the urgent requests of the coalition to invest more into creating or developing inclusive space, equity training, and educational efforts.

Movement at the administrative level has not slowed down the need of students to continue voicing their concerns. Students both affiliated and unaffiliated with SOCCOS have been participating in the Anti-Racism Campaign for Tommies! (ACT!) in the past several weeks. The campaign captures the issues facing some students of color on campus through a photo series and video.

Many of the students featured in the ACT! campaign want to express that racism happens in ways that aren’t violent or individualized. The students share about their experiences with stereotyping, microaggressions, and being misrepresented among other issues.

Freesia Towle, graduate assistant at SDIS, is leading the charge in developing the campaign. She aims to make the ACT! campaign a platform for students to leverage their voices to facilitate racial justice dialogue and anti-racist mobilization in the St. Thomas community.

Towle describes the ACT! campaign as, “A multimedia platform for students to address their concerns in response to national and local racial justice issues.”

“It’s critical that students of all racial-ethnic identities have informal and formal opportunities to exchange personal narratives of either witnessing or experiencing racism. ACT! asserts the need to talk about how social constructions of race and the deeply harmful impact of racism permeates our St. Thomas community,” Towle says.

IMG_9696

The photo series has been launched today, with banners hanging over the ASC Atrium from the second floor. The video is set to premiere on the digital ad screen on the first floor of ASC Tuesday, May 3. The video will be displayed on repeat between 11:30 a.m and 1 p.m on Tuesday and Wednesday, May 4. Be on the lookout!

Students hope the ACT! campaign garners serious attention to the concerns of some of St. Thomas’ students of color. The ACT! campaign also aims to change the way the St. Thomas community thinks about racism and racial injustice.

Take time during the end of this semester to think outside of yourself. Hopefully, stories from the ACT! campaign help you see racial injustices affect more than just direct victims of it.

Thanks!

Courageous Conversations, Diversity

Point of view by Dr. Calvin Hill UST Diversity Officer- “Diversity tension is inevitable, but we can argue our points responsibly.”

hillOn Thursday February 26, 2015, a group of St. Thomas students courageously organized a die/sit in in the Anderson Student Center. The purpose was to pay respect to the many lives lost to senseless violence in our country within the last year. As a brief recap to name just a few of those we lost: Tamir Rice (age 12) was shot and killed by police in Cleveland, OH in November of 2014; Micheal Brown (age 18) was shot and killed by police in Ferguson, MO in August of 2014; Eric Garner (age 43) died of neck compression from a chokehold at the hands of police in New York, NY July 2014; and most recently, three Muslim students attending the University of North Carolina, Dean Barakat (age 23), Yusor Abu-Salha (age 21), and Razon Abu-Salha (age 19) were shot and killed this past February by a neighbor.

According to student James Mite, President of the Black Empowerment Student Alliance, the protest had multiple goals: (1) It was intended to provide a safe space for students to express themselves, (2) It would allow students to pay respect for lives lost in the Black and Muslim community, and (3) It would build a community across cultural lines. In an email to several members of the community, Mr. Mite noted that his hope was “that students would leave the protest with a better sense of belonging here at St. Thomas.”

I decided to write this brief thought piece after learning about a series of posts to an anonymous social media site. As a diversity educator, I value diversity in all forms, including diversity of thought. Therefore, rather than let what could be an explosive situation go unchecked, I felt that this was a great learning opportunity for our campus community, to “build a community across cultural lines” as Mr. Mite stated as one of his goals for the protest.

February’s UST die/sit in stirred conflicting feelings from across our campus community. Why? My guess is that we had many members of our community examine the protest from their own lenses. The lives lost in the Black and Muslim communities have caused pain and outcry across many sectors of our country. As a Black male, having an understanding of historical oppression, and concerns over issues of trust, especially from those in positions of authority in this country, as well as the knowledge that any of the deaths noted above could easily have been me, a son, brother, father, or partner is frightening. But how could those who have not experienced the world, as I have understand my pain?

Conversely, for those who have grown up experiencing the police (or others in positions of authority) as being there to serve and protect them, how could they understand, that their lived experience interacting with the police is not universal? Arguably, we need to explore how our varied social identities bias how we see each other and the world around us. I write this to note that conflict around issues of diversity is not uncommon, but how we deal with our conflict will dictate the type of learning experience we can take from it.

I see this conflict as an opportunity to explore how our varied lived experience has caused us to think and interact as we do. Over the next several weeks, I will be working with the Division of Student Affairs to organize a series of Courageous Conversations. These conversations will serve as opportunities for us to address issues and learn about each other so that we can grow together as one community. I believe that we have a common interest in valuing each other and our diversity. Let’s make a commitment to challenge ourselves when we turn to the safety of our social identity and do something; let’s not be satisfied with continuing the status quo.

I want to encourage our community not to insult each other, or use personal attacks when we simply don’t understand conflicting realities. As noted above, diversity tension is inevitable, but we can argue our points responsibly.

Calvin R. Hill, Ph.D.
Diversity and Inclusion Officer

University of St. Thomas