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Diversity, Heritage Month, Uncategorized

St. Thomas Celebrates Hispanic Heritage Month

hispanic-2016Hispanic Heritage Month is upon us; the celebration begins on September 15 and is set to continue for a full month until October 15. The purpose of the celebratory month is to recognize the contributions and vital presence of both Hispanic and Latino Americans to the United States and to observe their native heritage and contributing culture. The history of Hispanic Heritage Month has deep roots in the United States, the month long observation began in 1968, and always begins in the fall of each year. Originally the celebration was not a month long; in fact it was only a week. President Lyndon Johnson first approved Hispanic Heritage Week in 1968, and was expanded to a full month by President Ronald Reagan in 1988. Finally, Hispanic Heritage Month was officially enacted into law on August 17 of that year.

September 15 was not a date chosen at random; in fact the date contains a large amount of significance for multiple Hispanic nations. According to USA.gov, the date is the anniversary of independence of five Latin American countries: Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua. They all declared independence in 1821. In addition, Mexico, Chile and Belize celebrate their independence days on September 16, September 18, and September 21, respectively. Hispanic Heritage Month was enacted to celebrate the fundamental contributions Hispanics have made to the growth, vitality and culture of North America.

This year at St. Thomas we once again celebrate and provide opportunities for the community to engage in the month-long celebration, details are available on our website.

As a Latina I fully embrace the necessity of this month. Hispanic Heritage Month is the month I remind you and myself that “mi gente” are powerful and resilient. Hispanic Heritage Month is the month I get to celebrate all of our accomplishments. This is the one-month out of the year where I get to remind you, boldly, that we matter and that we extend a “bienvenida” to you as you help us celebrate. Hispanic Heritage Month is not about one community but rather is it about realizing and accepting how vast and complex our varied cultures are within the Latinx narrative. Latino/Hispanic Heritage Month gives us a chance to celebrate what each of our cultures bring to the St. Thomas community. I encourage all students, faculty, staff and the greater campus community to join us in celebrating  ‘la cultura Latina’ through all the events and programs on campus. We are very excited for this year’s events!

Diversity

2015-2016 Wrap Up: Thank You!

Today marks the last day on St. Thomas’ 2015-2016 academic calendar. And looking back, it is hard not to be grateful for the people in and around SDIS that have made this year as eventful, progressive, and fun as it was.

We saw bright, courageous multicultural leaders stand up for social equity on campus like we never have seen:

USGProtestStand

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We were blessed by other powerful voices coming to campus, like Sister Outsider and Jose Antonio Vargas:

SisterOutsider

We turned up on a boat:

SDISBoatRetreat

Took advantage of opportunities to make change, large and small:

DorseyWay

‘Campus Way’ has been renamed to ‘Dorsey Way’ in acknowledgment of Father Dorsey. A small gesture working toward acknowledging St. Thomas’ diversity, and making it more inclusive.

And still found time to chill every now and then:

SylvesterChillin

A lot has happened this year, and we hope the momentum created by the actions in and around our office is carried into the fall.

Special thanks are in order for our full-time staff—Peggy Jerabek, Patricia Conde-Brooks, Brad Pulles, and Jessica Gjerde. This office serves many different functions for many different people, and the community and opportunity created between the four of you should not go unnoticed.

Thank you, fellow SDIS Interns—Cory Kemp, Abeye Cherinet, and Yaia Yang—for contributing to this blossoming community of students, staff, and faculty pushing to make St. Thomas a more inclusive, worldly community.

Most importantly, thank you to all students, staff, faculty, and local community members not directly affiliated with SDIS for participating or contributing to our efforts this year.

Whether it was attending a program, telling people about upcoming events, or simply stopping by the office to greet and thank those who were working there, the engagement with SDIS is what makes the office special.

You validate everything SDIS tries to do for the St. Thomas community and we recognize you, long list of contributors, for making the feeling around our programs and activity what it is.

Have a great summer, everyone! We will remain open throughout the summer, so stop by ASC 224 anytime before the Fall 2016 semester if you just can’t wait to be around us again!

Diversity

Green Card Voices and Jose Antonio Vargas

GreenCardVoices

Happy Leap Day! Today we’re using our extra day in the year to discuss immigration-related programming we have in store for you as we head into the spring.

Immigration to the United States is more than the sensationalized issue of undocumented immigrants from Mexico. Immigrants and the children of immigrants make up a significant percentage of the U.S. population. This is reflected locally where Somali, Hmong, and Ethiopian immigrants, among other groups, heavily populate the Twin Cities metro area.

Green Card Voices is a Minneapolis-based non-profit which aims to represent and connect immigrants, non-immigrants, and advocates across the USA by sharing first-hand experiences of foreign-born Americans. This is done through various video and photographic projects, as well as events such as panel discussions and exhibitions.

Starting today, Green Card Voices will have an exhibit in the O’Shaughnessy-Frey (OSF) Library showcasing images and stories of various American immigrants. The exhibit will be on our campus through March 11.

GreenCardVoicesLibraryExhibit

Part of the 1st floor exhibit. More coverage of the exhibit can be found on our Facebook (U of St Thomas SDIS), Snapchat, and Twitter (@UofStThomasSDIS) pages

Jose Antonio Vargas on undocumented immigrants

In related programming, we will be hosting activist and filmmaker Jose Antonio Vargas on April 25 for a discussion about the experiences of undocumented immigrants as opposed to documented ones. Vargas’ documentary titled Documented came out to critical acclaim in 2013, and he continues to advocate for immigration reform in the United States. A speaker you don’t want to miss!

We hope you stop by the exhibit while it is here. This week’s Purple Bench (March 4, 3 p.m.) will be on the topic of immigration narratives in the United States. Continue to look for updates on our programs and encourage others to engage with us as well.

Thank you for reading! We’ll be sure to have updates and new pieces up throughout the spring so keep coming back!

Diversity

Breaking Down Whiteness

WhiteNoDiversity

No, White boy, that is not true.

What’s Whiteness? What’s wrong with it?

Whiteness is a rigid ideal. It’s meant to racially categorize different Americans of European descent. But when we really think of White people, does it help or hurt to apply the same rigid understanding?

The article “What Is Whiteness?” written last June by Nell Irvin Painter in the New York Times points out these flaws in our understanding of race. “If you investigate that [European immigrant] history, you’ll see that white identity has been no more stable than black identity. While we recognize the evolution of “negro” to “colored” to “Negro” to “Afro-American” to “African-American,” we draw a blank when it comes to whiteness. To the contrary, whiteness has a history of multiplicity.”

Take a closer look at any dominant social group and you realize that it, just like any other social group, has its fair share of inconsistencies. There are poor White people, gay White people, White people with strong relationships to other racial groups, White people that support Black Lives Matter, and so on.

Breaking down the idea of Whiteness would be to breakdown the foundation of race. Belief in Whiteness, intentionally or not, is belief in a large, clean canvas which reduces non-White people to splashes of paint on it. This is how the idea of race works, but it’s not the reality of it. The canvas, the backdrop, is just as fragmented and awkwardly put together as the colors thrown on it to make it look pure in comparison.

Communities of color still need individualized attention, as American society moves toward greater integration and equity. Issues of identity among people of color, like how it is suppressed, made, or changed in relation to dominant culture, are all necessary to highlight. But what is implied when we call those of underrepresented racial groups the “diverse” ones?

Singling out people of color as the different ones says non-White is not normal. This viewpoint, ingrained in the United States’ public subconscious, doesn’t work with the popular notion of this country as a melting pot. More simply, it’s wrong.

Why should we break it down?

Estimates from the Census Bureau in 2014 are consistent with 2008 estimates made by the Pew Research Center which say the mixed-race population is growing faster than all racial groups and that White people will be outnumbered by other racial groups by 2050.

Pew.2050USPopulationEstimate

So…who are the “diverse” people going to be?

Continuing to view the White population as one large, uniform blob will only become a larger issue given time. 

Whiteness is too often viewed as bland or meaningless. These views don’t help to deconstruct it. Allowing people to think of White as the boring default gives White people a pass to not think about race. Painter points this out in the article saying, “The useful part of white identity’s vagueness is that whites don’t have to shoulder the burden of race in America, which, at the least, is utterly exhausting.” The full picture of racial dynamics can’t be considered without giving an honest look at Whiteness.

The protection of White identity is also mentioned in the book Whiteness: The Communication of Social Identity. Thomas Nakayama and Judith Martin explain how the history of racial formation in the United States protects White identity, proclaiming, “Whites just “are”,” and, “Whites, who have historically held power, have no need to define themselves.”

Viewing White identity as critically as the identities of people of color requires a joint effort. White people who have yet to take a glimpse at their racial identity have to willingly reflect with others further along in their formation of racial identity and work to shatter the plain backdrop. Understandably, many White people are not prepared to engage in that level of reflection. It evokes feelings of guilt, anger, and defensiveness toward perceived unfair treatment. It also threatens a White individual’s self-understanding, but is necessary in order for Americans to see themselves outside of strict racial categories in the future.

Why won’t it be enough?

Destroying race and removing its influence in society sounds cool and all, but the process would not be over should Americans succeed in getting rid of it. Even if we got past interpersonal issues of identity and social formation, it would not solve issues of race in institutional settings. A great example of this problem is Brazilian society, where the country embraces its multicultural and mixed-race heritage but fails to address socioeconomic gaps caused by cor (‘color’ in Portuguese, equivalent of ‘race’).

For instance, when asked to racially self-identify in a federal household survey in 2003, more than 130 answers were given across the Brazilian population, ranging from acastanhada (somewhat chestnut-colored) to rosa-queimada (sunburnt-rosy). Complexion weighed into racial self-identify more than heritage, demonstrating a common belief in the multicultural heritage of the nation. The wide variety of answers also indicates a much more fluid understanding of race relative to American public, a huge reason for the comparatively healthier race relations.

BrazilianRacialIdentities

The first quarter of responses to the survey

Despite Brazil’s acceptance of its multiculturalism, it clearly hasn’t solved the more deeply-rooted problems.

According to British news source Latin America Bureau, Black or mixed race Brazilians make up more than 70 percent of the national population below the poverty line. Non-white Brazilians earn an average wage less than half that of White Brazilians. Black Brazilians make up less than 10 percent of elected representatives, and only one of the 38 members of President Dilma Rousseff’s cabinet is Black. Likewise, in the private sector it is brancos (White Brazilians) who dominate senior positions. Around 97 percent of executives and 83 percent of managers are White.

That being said, removing race as a guiding principle of identity in this country is still a necessary step. Addressing systemic issues of race requires a collaborative effort, but active resistance from White people to delve into Whiteness and their identities significantly slows the deconstruction process down.

Why is it still worth it? 

Despite pain that comes with taking the first real hard look at how Whiteness works, White people stand to benefit greatly from shining light on the foundation of their White identity. Not only would it help White individuals see diversity within their group, those revelations would aid in having more accurate views of those outside of their racial groups. Breaking down something as homogeneous as Whiteness would make it easier to see how “Black,” “Asian,” and other racial groups are awkwardly lumped together.

Following from that, Americans being able to collectively dismiss current racial categorization would make the treatment of systemic racism easier. The guilt, shame, and defensiveness that usually accompanies reactions of some White people to the idea of White privilege would subside as White people collectively improved their understanding of racial identity.

Whiteness is the foundation of race. Though it seems unchangeable, it can be broken down and disposed of properly if Americans do it together. White Americans have a large role to play in taking a second look at Whiteness, and it won’t be long until it’s necessary for the social health of this nation.

Diversity

Why Do We Not Care?

For eighteen days, Black Lives Matter activists protested the Jamar Clark shooting by occupying the 4th Precinct police station in North Minneapolis (November 16-December 3). The protester’s demands include the following:

  • Release of the video footage taken during the shooting of Jamar Clark
  • Prosecution of the police officers involved in Jamar Clark’s death by a special prosecutor without grand jury
  • Bring federal terrorism charges against the men that shot five protesters outside the Fourth Precinct

The five men responsible for the attack were a band of White supremacists that had spent the last several days surveying the 4th Precinct occupation. They were looking for an opportunity to “stir shit up” according to transcripts of the group’s text conversations.

One of the shooters, Allen “Lance” Scarsella, is an alumnus of the University of St. Thomas. He graduated in May 2015. Scarsella is facing the most severe charges of the five men, including five counts of second-degree assault with a deadly weapon.

4thPrecinctShooterCharges

Meanwhile, the Mall of America is attempting to get a restraining order against Black Lives Matter to protect against another protest. Black Lives Matter-Minneapolis plans to protest at the MOA tomorrow if their demands are not met, regardless of a restraining order being imposed.

Between the national impact of BLM, proximity of these recent events to our campus, and alum involvement, it’s surprising to see these issues not being discussed or widely acknowledged on the University of St. Thomas’ St. Paul campus.

There isn’t an expectation for everyone at this university to publicly denounce this alumnus. There isn’t an expectation for anyone to join the protests or align themselves with the BLM movement. But why does it seem like our institution is so far removed from all of this? Between a faculty member being a prominent leader in the BLM movement (Nekima Levy-Pounds, Esq.) and the national discussion surrounding a recent alum’s harmful involvement, it’s hard to understand why these events, let alone racial injustices on a larger scale, are not being discussed on this campus.

Universities have not been proactive in addressing these recent issues. It should not take so much, especially considering the aforementioned recent local events, for the University of St. Thomas to begin listening to the concerns of its students of color. It’s strange. Understandably, not everyone is ready to directly confront their understanding of race or even their own racial identity. But our campus atmosphere and discourse remains unaffected when things of this magnitude happen.

An illustration of what UST looks like to the rest of the Twin Cities community

An illustration of what UST looks like to the rest of the Twin Cities community

College and high school students from the University of Minnesota and Southwest High walked out of classes and joined protesters the day after the shooting. These incidents are reverberating across the nation and hit close to home. St. Thomas cannot be the one pocket of the Twin Cities community that continues to neglect these issues.

 

Diversity

Mizzou, Yale, Ithaca…UST Next?

Sunday night saw over 40 multicultural club representatives sit-in at the Undergraduate Student Government (USG) meeting to voice concerns about recent budget allocation and overall displeasure with the treatment of multicultural clubs and, more broadly, students of color at the University of St. Thomas.

USGProtestStand

As Gabrielle Ryan, USG’s Diversity Relations Representative, began to call for USG’s accountability in representing multicultural clubs, representatives stood and held up signs expressing their frustration:

USGProtestPosters

USGProtestPosters2

When given the chance to vocalize their concerns, club leaders and members strongly reiterated several points: feelings of neglect and disrespect from both USG and White students on campus, calls for transparency on USG’s decision-making processes related to club financing, and calls for USG representatives to intentionally engage with multicultural club representatives during decision-making processes.

Club representatives at the protest explained that many of these issues of poor representation and neglect have persisted throughout their tenures at UST. To them, this protest is the result of years of discrimination and only the beginning of a push to bring larger institutional changes to the university that make UST more accommodating of students of color.

Frankly, there is nothing different between the treatment experienced by multicultural leaders here versus their peers at Missouri, Yale, or Ithaca. These students have reported being discouraged when beginning to express frustration with mistreatment from various departments at the University of St. Thomas.

Now, with momentum and a collective voice, these students will not be quiet.

Diversity

Halloween and Cultural Appropriation

Halloweekend approaches, and no, you don’t get a pass to “Put the WOW in pow wow”:

NativeAmericanHalloweenCostume

You’re free to dress how you want this Halloween, but you’re not free of the responsibility to respect the cultures of your peers. Not only is it blatant disrespect and negligence of the history of a group of people to misuse cultural symbols for a fun night out (i.e. “Pocahontas” in the image above), it poorly reflects upon you, your peers, and your community.

The #TommiesThinkTwice initiative pushes for UST community members to be mindful of behaviors and beliefs that might be practiced unconsciously which harm underrepresented populations.

This weekend, we ask that you be aware of Halloween costumes that misuse cultural symbols. Think twice about supporting such costumes, and think twice about your intent and the message you’re sending if you do wear a costume inspired by a certain culture. Read this article about Colorado University’s “We’re A Culture, Not a Costume” campaign for this Halloween season, and check out the series of posters being created for it.

CultureNotCostume

Our message is simple: don’t misuse culture for fun. It allows for stereotypes and misunderstandings of others to persist, and it doesn’t make you look good.

If you do feel inclined to correct someone’s misuse of culture, great! But please do not shame people for doing so. You can explain what is wrong about it without attacking a person’s character or embarrassing them.

For tips on how to address cultural appropriation and its distinction from cultural exchange/appreciation, consider looking at these resources:

Come into our office (ASC 224) for Purple Bench this Friday, October 30 at 3 p.m. to further discuss this topic.

Thank you for reading! Be safe this Halloween, think twice about cultural appropriation, and come back soon to get more from Voices of Diversity!

 

 

Diversity, Poster contest

2015 Diversity Poster Contest “Embrace Diversity”

2014DiversityPosterContestWinnersLooking for great poster contest entries for 2015! Here is the 2014 winning poster and description.

Raymond Nkwain Kindva – 1st Place

 My poster is titled, Celebrate You…Because You are Diversity because it describes the influence of diversity on me. The poster contains two faces; my mother and I represented respectively by the woman on the left and the boy on the right. Both are looking up at the birds in the sky while the sun, represented by the words “Celebrate You…” radiates the sky and the horizon. This poster describes my feeling about diversity and why I wish to celebrate it.

My aim in designing this poster is to recognize the person who taught me to love my unique talents. This person is my mother – the woman on the left of the poster– who accepted me for who I am and has inspired me to accept others for who they are. She may not be the most educated person in the world but she taught me the power of believing in myself no matter how different I am. The words reflected on her face and mine are words I learned from her; words that did not mean anything to me when growing up. As a boy, I didn’t care much about my own differences but cared way more about how they fit to the world around me. That continued when I was a teenager as I tried to fit into every environment I was in. It led me to self-doubt myself whenever I did something that did not fit the type of environment I was in. Fortunately, my mother always stepped in to challenge my definition of being different and instilled the belief of using my differences to do something positive. My best quote of hers when I was in self-doubt is, “If Neil Armstrong believed we would never one day fly like birds, then he would not have been the first person to walk on the moon!” This quote has always inspired me to look at my uniqueness as a positive and one that could one day benefit the world.

For full detail visit- http://www.stthomas.edu/studentdiversity/2015diversitypostercontest/

 

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

Diversity, Heritage Month

Black History is American History

2015BlackHistoryMonthEventsFebruary is a time to remind ourselves of the many and varied contributions African Americans have made to every aspect of the U.S. culture and to celebrate them in conjunction with others. Be it music, science, religion, health, examples and influence from the black experience are present.
Please join Student Diversity and Inclusion Services in celebrating Black History Month this February! The month kicks off with “The Gathering” on Friday, Feb. 6th at 8 p.m. in ASC LL Dance. We once again welcome DJ Enferno for a “Flashback Friday” themed event. Invite students to celebrate the new semester with us by reconnecting with friends and letting loose on the dance floor.
Come to ASC Hearth on Tuesday, Feb. 10th at 4 p.m. for some dialogue and stew! The topic for Culture Stew is natural hair, and discussion will be facilitated by Dr. Buffy Smith, Dr. Todd Lawrence, and Michelle Miller (student). Mixed Blood Theatre will present “AFRICAN AMERICA” in ASC Scooter’s on Wednesday, Feb. 11th at 7 p.m. The play helps immigrants from Somalia, Ethiopia, and Liberia to connect with and celebrate their heritage as an interracial couple is led by a magical African to a better understanding of the immigrant experience.2015AfricanAmericaScreen
There will be a special menu at T’s in ASC for the week of Feb.16-20 to celebrate Black History Month! Special lunch items will be served from 11a.m.-2 p.m. Our main event this week is a series of slam poetry workshops and performances Feb. 17-20 with help from STAR, BESA, American Culture and Difference, Office of Mission, and the English department. Dr. Todd Lawrence writes:
Nate Marshall is a poet,2015SlamPoetryWeekScreem writer, rapper, educator, and activist from the south side of Chicago. He is author of Blood Percussion and the forthcoming Wild Hundreds. Featured in the award-winning documentary Louder Than a Bomb and the HBO series “Brave New Voices,” Marshall is a Zell Postgraduate Fellow at University of Michigan where he earned an MFA in poetry. He has won many awards, including the 2014 Hurston/Wright Foundation Amistad Award and the Agnes Lynch Starrett Poetry Prize from University of Pittsburgh Press.
Michael Mlekoday is the author of The Dead Eat Everything. He won the 2009 National Poetry Slam with the St. Paul team, and returned in 2010 to coach the team to another championship. He has served as Poetry Editor of Indiana Review, and his poems have appeared in Ninth Letter, RHINO, Hayden’s Ferry Review, Anti-, Muzzle Magazine, and other journals.
During their visit, Nate Marshall and Mike Mlekoday will offer poetry workshops so that participating poets can improve their writing and performance skills. Poets will receive personal instruction from two published artists who have extensive experience with performance poetry.

 
In our final week of celebrating, Dr. Bryana French will lead our Still We Rise series with the Luann Dummer Center for Women. Come discuss the “Intersectionality of Black Women” and enjoy a soul food dinner on Wednesday, Feb. 25th at 5:30 p.m. in the Luann Dummer Center for Women (OEC 103).

 
Celebration leads to providing experiences that create lasting impressions and knowledge. This month is especially significant to enhance our sense of the differences, sameness, and uniqueness of every individual allowing us to embrace the contributions of all of us in this shrinking society.