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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:



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


We turned up on a boat:


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


‘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:


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!

Courageous Conversations

Anti-Racism Campaign


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.


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.


Heritage Month

AAPI Month 2016 Is HERE



It’s that time of year again!

The last national heritage month we celebrate during the academic year is Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month. It is a time to learn about and acknowledge the issues, culture, and history of individuals and communities with Asian or Pacific Islander backgrounds.

Though it is meant to be celebrated in May, we start our observance of AAPI Month early so St. Thomas community members are able to make time for it before the hectic last week of the semester.

Before previewing some of our wonderful programs for the heritage month, here are a couple of questions we hope you find answers to as you learn from and enjoy the month:

  1. How diverse is the Asian American and Pacific Islander population?
  2. How does American culture affect the experiences of Asian Americans?
  3. What are the unique social and cultural problems affect Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders?
  4. How can I be more mindful in viewing and interacting with Asian American and Pacific Islander communities?

With those questions in mind, here are a few programs that you’re guaranteed to learn from and enjoy!

Diversity Dialogues


Our second annual Diversity Dialogues is tomorrow! As we prepare for Jose Antonio Vargas to visit campus on April 25, we will be screening his documentary Undocumented. A discussion on the experiences of undocumented immigrants will follow. You can still sign up in ASC 224 and receive a free T-Shirt!

And Still We Rise


Hosted at the Luann Dummer Center for Women, this month’s And Still We Rise is a student-led presentation on popular culture’s fetishization of Asian women and its negative impact. Come learn from and discuss this issue with presenters Divine Zheng and Gabbie Ryan, as well as other interested folks coming through for the event!

Festival of Nations


On May 7, SDIS and Residence Life will bring students to St. Paul’s annual Festival of Nations. The festival is an enormous showcase of the Twin Cities’ various ethnic communities featuring dance performances, cultural exhibitions, and a marketplace full of ethnicity/nationality-themed stands where food, clothes, and other goods can be purchased. Communities represented at this year’s festival include the Thai, Japanese, Taiwanese, Indian, and Sri Lankan among the wide variety of peoples there.


The last month of the academic calendar should not be an enormous, stressful cram session. Sometimes, the best way to relieve yourself of your problems is to interact with and learn about other people. Take the opportunities we’re providing to immerse yourself in something new, even if it’s just for an hour.

Hope to see you at our programs!

Heritage Month

League of Women Voters and Women’s History Month

It’s Women’s History Month, and one way female social activists are honoring the month is through the fight for restoration of the Voting Rights Act.

Get to know the League of Women Voters!

Founded in 1920 after women in the United States achieved suffrage, the League has since concerned itself with the preservation of the right to vote for all underprivileged social groups in this nation.

With the presidential election coming up, the League’s most urgent fight has been brought to greater attention: restoration of the Voting Rights Act.

In Shelby County, Alabama v. Holder (2013), the Supreme Court struck down Section 4(b) of the Voting Rights Act which granted many protections against discrimination in the voter registration and polling processes. Section 4(b) is a coverage formula which determines if a local government has practiced discrimination in their voting processes.

Basically, being identified as an area with discriminatory voting practices puts Section 5 of the VRA into effect. Any state or local government in violation of Section 4(b) has to wait on a pass from Congress, called preclearance, to continue running their own voting affairs.

According to this graphic on The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights website, 16 states are covered by the aforementioned Section 5 of the VRA. States with large impacts in election years such as Texas and Florida, as well as states with intense histories of voter discrimination such as Mississippi and Alabama, are affected by such changes to the VRA.


The setback of Section 4(b) being removed from the VRA prompted congressmen to work toward strengthening it again. In January 2014, the Voting Rights Act Bill was introduced and then re-introduced to Congress a year later. Then in June of 2015, the Voting Rights Advancement Act was introduced with the aim to restore former VRA provisions that were taken out as a result of Shelby County v. Holder in 2013.

Protections that were granted by Section 5 of the VRA are important to regain. Just look at what happened in Florida right after the Shelby County case in 2013…

Starting with a list of 180,000 voters, Florida’s state government attempted to purge people from the list of registered voters under suspicion of being non-citizens. In the final list of 2,700 people, 58 percent of them were Latino.

Florida’s Latino population is 13 percent.

Of the 2,700 on the final list, fewer than 40 of them were actually non-citizens. Details on that voter purge and similar incidences post-Shelby County v. Holder can be found here at the Brennan Center for Justice site.

That being said, the fight for restoration of the Voting Rights Act is crucial. And despite issues of racial and class privilege within the feminist movement, those invested in Women’s History Month are standing firm behind this fight.

The League of Women Voters is exemplifying the notion that the freedom of other people is tied to their own. Women’s suffrage in 1920 was a great victory, but this organization has continued to use the privilege granted by that to bring fair treatment to other marginalized groups.

Having read this, celebrate this Women’s History Month knowing that fighting for gender equality is intimately tied to other fights for groups on the margins.

I leave you with a quote from Lilla Watson, an Indigenous Australian visual artist and advocate for various Aboriginal and women’s issues:

“If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.”


Green Card Voices and Jose Antonio Vargas


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.


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!

Heritage Month

Celebrate Black History Month!


With February comes a new semester at the University of St. Thomas. It also ushers in Black History Month, a time for Americans to intentionally reflect on the history of Blackness both domestically and globally.


The first two weeks of the month have already seen a slew of events!

The Black Empowerment Student Alliance (BESA) hosted a social to begin the month. The documentary Dark Girls was screened last week as part of our ongoing Diversity Film Series. BESA also had a screening of their own, airing the movie Selma this past Saturday. Also, the first two Purple Benches of the month have seen enriching discussions about White identity, racial categorization, and colorism across the global Black population.


With the second half of the month starting today, here are some programs to look forward to!

Tonight, BESA is hosting a panel discussion at 6:30 pm in the ASC Hearth Room (room 341) on “the n-word”. The panel consists of St. Thomas faculty, staff, and students with

This week is Slam Poetry Week, a week of workshops, performances, and competition revolving around spoken word and poetry.

For those interested in writing or performing poetry, former national slam poetry champion and St. Thomas alumnus Mike Mlekoday will be hosting two workshops: Wednesday, February 17 at 5:30 in ASC 202, and Thursday, February 18 at noon in MHC 204. Later that Thursday is a performance by touring poetic duo Sister Outsider at 7 pm in ASC Woulfe North.

The week concludes with the Slam Poetry Contest on Friday, February 19 at 5:30 pm in Scooter’s. Mike Mlekoday will also host this event, and students will perform original spoken word and poetry pieces with three Express money prizes on the line.

Next Monday, February 22, is a discussion on the differences between Africans and African-Americans jointly hosted by BESA and the African Nations Student Alliance (ANSA). The following Thursday, February 25, is our Culture Stew featuring senior James Mite’s research presentation on Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp A Butterfly.

To wrap up Black History Month, BESA will be hosting a soul food dinner on February 28 in ASC Woulfe South at 6 pm.

Thank you to everyone who has participated in any of the Black History Month programming organized by us, BESA, and other contributing organizations and departments thus far.

We hope the events have been, and will continue to be, fun, culturally enriching, and helpful in understanding the local and global significance of Black history and the Black community beyond the month of February.

Can’t wait to see more of you at the upcoming events!



Breaking Down Whiteness


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.


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.


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.

J-Term Book Club

The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace: Week 4


This past Thursday was the fourth and final meeting of SDIS’ 10th annual book club. With the reading wrapped up, participants discussed their opinions of the book and the implications of the story to today’s world and their individual lives.

The discussion questions for the day were the following:

1. What are the implications of this story being told by Jeff?

2. The title of this book claims that Rob’s life is “tragic”. Is it?

3. —“The single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story.”
―― Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

How does this idea presented by Adichie apply to this particular story?

4. How does St. Thomas reflect characteristics of Yale, as it was presented in the book?

With the book club complete, members and the larger community can look forward to author Jeff Hobbs’ lecture on March 7 at 7 pm in Woulfe Alumni Hall. The event is open to the general public and includes a Q-and-A session toward the end, as well as the chance to meet Hobbs and get your copy of The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace signed by him.

We thank everyone who participated in this year’s book club. Many who came found it enriching and helpful in building community on campus beyond J-Term. We hope you attend the Jeff Hobbs lecture and bring people along with you!

J-Term Book Club

The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace: Week 3


Rob Peace in Pula, Croatia

Today marked the third meeting of SDIS’ annual J-Term book club. Returning the meeting location to Woulfe Alumni Hall, chapters 12-17, the last chapters of The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace, were read and discussed. Rob’s life after Yale and leading up to his death were the focus of the section.

The discussion questions for this week’s meeting were the following:

  1. Revisit Rob’s “statement of purpose” draft for his graduate school application (p. 337). How did this statement affect you? ​
  2. What does this “statement of purpose” say about Rob’s authenticity?
  3. At Rob’s funeral, Raquel addresses a crowd of hundreds using the metaphor of a redwood tree to recognize the glory Rob achieved during his lifetime. She stated, “I take solace in the fact that so many others thrived and found refuge in his shade while he was with us” (p. 390). Why do you think Rob had a high capacity to influence people in his life?
  4. How might Rob influence readers of this book who become exposed to (pieces of) his story?

This week’s meeting was streamed via Periscope. If you missed the meeting and wanted to catch up on the discussion, the stream is available on SDIS’ Twitter account (@USTDiversity) and Facebook page.

Next week is the last meeting of this year’s J-Term book club. Review the book, and expect an hour of reflection and final thoughts about it as well as related topics such as the author’s perspective and the implications of Robert Peace’s story.

Until next time!

J-Term Book Club

The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace: Week 2


Another exciting section of The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace was read and discussed this week!

The second of four weekly meetings was hosted at Scooter’s today, with discussion regarding the events of chapters 6-11. Questions for this week’s discussion were the following:

  1. Mapping a 5-Year Career Plan vs. Surviving Day to Day

Discuss the reality that the majority of Yale’s student body had the privilege to map out their future career and academic goals while the small number of institutionally marginalized students were—in addition to balancing academic work—concerned about holistically making it to the next day alive (financially, emotionally, mentally, and physically). What are distinct examples of this?

  1. The Privilege of Having Both Assets and Needs

What were assets that low-income/financially underserved, first-generation college students and/or students of color at Yale (Rob, Raquel, Zina, Sherman, Oswaldo, Ty, Daniella) were deprived of, in comparison to the majority of their Yale peers? How did this lack of institutional support reflect their life experiences before and after graduation?

  1. Code-Switching vs. Fronting

Discuss Rob’s methods of “Newark-proofing”: code-switching as a method of both survival and reserved integration of his authentic self into varied environments in East Orange. According to Rob, how does Newark-proofing reflect his authenticity? Is Newark-proofing the same as “fronting,” a type of behavior Rob strongly disliked?

  1. A Contradiction in the “American Dream”

In the book, Hobbs articulates the majority of white wealthy students broadacasting their newly earned Ivy League degrees. It appears Rob felt a need to remain remarkably humble—and even silent about his degree especially within his hometown East Orange network. Even his father, Skeet, knew to remain quiet about his pride for Rob’s Yale degree in Trenton State Prison. How might the dominant narrative of the “American Dream” ideal feel comical, idealistic and ungraspable to Rob? What are these white wealthy Yale graduate characters entering the “real-world” not understanding?

The meeting was streamed on Periscope and has been posted on SDIS’ Twitter page (@USTDiversity). It is available for viewing until tomorrow afternoon.

Our next meeting on January 21 will be hosted at Woulfe Alumni North from 12-1 p.m. Members are expected to read chapters 12 through 17 which focus on Robert Peace’s experiences immediately after graduating from Yale.

See you next week!