Kelton Holsen, Staff Writer
The following interview was performed on Thursday, Jan. 31 between “Echo” staff writer Kelton Holsen, Augsburg Day Student Body President Brandon Williams and Augsburg Day Student Body Head Justice Michael Rivers. It has been edited for clarity and length. To listen to the full interview click below.
Kelton Holsen (KH): How, in general, has Student Government responded to the recent events surrounding Phil Adamo and the Honors Program?
Michael Rivers (MR): I think that the Phil Adamo situation was one that, for the future, is going to be important as precedent for what to do if something like this occurs. Augsburg is changing rapidly. Both my parents went here, and when they went here, Augsburg wasn’t considered one of the schools known for its esteemed reputation. I think we’re taking school more seriously, and we are taking ourselves as an institution more seriously.
KH: What are your thoughts on the recent Day of Action? What was useful about it, and what could have used improvement?
Brandon Williams (BW): Well, to be quite honest, students are tired of talking about what we want to see. We’ve hit that moment of actually going deep into our feelings about things, and now it’s time to see action. The Day of Action was great for faculty, and that’s what it was for … And [it] was led by different faculty: faculty of color, faculty that are on the side of acknowledging what’s happening, and just diving deep into that and discovering what Augsburg is at the core of our values. Now for students, and also as a person of color, it felt like we were being talked about and not talked to. But I think now what needs to happen is action.
KH: What other specific actions do you think need to happen?
MR: I think what came out of this is the solidified agreement that we need more staff of color. One [thing that] is going to take a lot more time … is hiring new staff. It’s hard to selectively hire staff just based on their ethnicity alone, especially in the U.S. where we’re a “merit-based” system that has discriminated against certain people of color for years … Now we’re … able to recognize that we need to see a body of staff that reflects our student body, and I think that’s pretty well agreed upon. Another thing: the conversations that happen at the student level need to be continuing. And we have to take the responsibility on ourselves, to make sure that our neighbor is feeling comfortable.
KH: How would you rate the administration’s response to the problems within the Honors Program?
BW: As a student, I would say, if I remove myself from the different positions I’m in, where I have contact with administration, I would probably rate it at about a three or four on a scale of ten because I wouldn’t feel as though I’m communicated [with] about every single step. I compare this a lot to a relationship between the parent and the child … some of the time, you have to make decisions because you know of the system, you’ve been in the system. Understanding how difficult it was to remove someone as the chair of the department and to deal with the aftermath, I think that on a scale of ten, it’s about a nine, a nine and a half, because it’s very rare. So with understanding the power dynamics and what it means to do something like that, I would rate it about a nine and a half.
KH: As a campus, what does Augsburg do well in terms of issues of equity and inclusion? What could we stand to improve on?
MR: Augsburg is way more of a tight-knit community than pretty much any other private college that I know of as far as not being individualistic to the point that you’re out of the loop on certain things. When that video came up of Phil Adamo, I think it got to … most students at Augsburg fairly quickly. Augsburg feels way closer than the U of M. There, you could have a big news story, but there are 50,000 students. I guarantee you half of them don’t really care about the news that’s being brought forth because it doesn’t personally reflect them. Here, it’s in your face, and you have to confront it, and that’s a good thing because it forces us to take on issues that might not even apply to us.
This article was originally published in the Feb. 8, 2019 issue.