Christa Kelly, Staff Writer
Students and faculty honored the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. by attending the “Day of Action” on campus on Monday, Jan. 21. Augsburg hosted a number of seminars, workshops and listening groups that allowed students to, as provost Karen Kaivola stated, “Explore the things we need to explore, listen more deeply and learn new skills.”
This Day of Action comes after students perceived that a wide range of concerns and complaints about racial tensions were being mishandled by the administration. Augsburg President Paul Pribbenow acknowledged these concerns in his opening speech during the morning plenary. He stated that he too was “angry” but also “proud to be part of a community that can recognize its failure.” He framed the day as the start of a movement for change at Augsburg. “The world is watching us,” he announced, “to cheer us on and to learn from us.”
After a brief presentation by Joanne Reeck, Chief Diversity Officer, the assembly broke up into smaller sessions to discuss specific topics such as the racial controversies in the Honors Program and tools to support students of color.
In some sessions, students expressed their disappointment with the day. Among the complaints was the setup of the plenary. The speakers’ words had been “words for white people,” one student said. He said that for the students of color, it felt like they were “being talked about but not to.”
Another prevalent problem was how disingenuous the event felt to some students. “Whenever a situation or a problem happens, we see the same faces, the same staff,” one student explained. “There’s almost like a script. You’re saying the same things, but there’s no action to make me think that it won’t happen again.”
“We’re not surprised,” another student continued. “It’s a problem that existed before us and one that will continue to exist after us.” The feeling of impatience was intense for many. “We need to change this!” said one student. “Figure out how the hell we got where we are … we’re running out of time.”
Still, students didn’t feel hopeless. They used the time to discuss possible solutions. Ideas such as cultural training, community building and diversifying the staff were thrown around. “People ask, ‘How are we going to change ourselves?’” said one student. “We need to flip the scenario. How are we going to change the spaces so they are meant for us?”
One major obstacle came down to student engagement. Comments were made that, although the event had been advertised and students given the day off of classes, few had shown up. This was true amongst the students who attended the event about fixing the issues in the Honors Program as well. Barely a dozen students attended. “We have people who don’t care in these situations … it’s demoralizing. It feels like the student body isn’t on our side.”
The students who were there agreed that participation was important. “We want to hear what you have to say,” said one student. “It is the people who determine what will happen, who bring the power and change.”
The intensity of the desire for change makes it clear that Pribbenow was correct. “The darkness around us is deep indeed. But we are awake.”
This article was originally published in the Jan. 25, 2019 issue.
Terrence Kwame-Ross, Ph.D. speaks at Augsburg University’s 31st annual Martin Luther King, JR. convocation.