Augsburg Hosts Second Day of Action

Kelton Holsen, Co-Editor-In-Chief

Students and faculty gathered in the Foss Chapel for a second Day of Action focused around addressing issues of race and equity on campus on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. This Day of Action focused on updating the Augsburg community on the progress that has been made since last year’s Day of Action as well as continuing to educate the community about equity issues and develop strategies for implementing change on campus.

The Day of Action began with an address from Joanne Reeck, Augsburg’s Chief Inclusion Officer. She urged those present to think about how Augsburg can make real progress on issues of inclusion on campus. “If we’re not pushing ourselves individually and institutionally, we are not making real progress,” said Reeck. “…We need to be uncomfortable, we need to do the work, and we need to not restrain ourselves to the rate of progress thus far.”

Reeck’s address was followed up by an announcement from Leon Wang, a faculty member in the Art department. Wang announced a new, “all-Auggie” project based on the One Day in May initiative which took place in the wake of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assassination in 1968. Little information was given about the project, but it was described as a mix of street art and movement-building.

After Wang’s address, four speakers gave reports on the progress that has been made with regards to the topics of last year’s Day of Action. First to speak was sophomore Danny Reinan, who presented on the current state of the Honors Program following the work of the Honors Review Team. Following August’s announcement of the program’s planned two-year suspension, the Honors Prospection team (the follow-up to the Honors Review Team) has been working on collecting data in order to craft two or three models for “what sort of landscape our future engaged leaders should operate within,” said Reinan.

Next, Sabo Center director Elaine Eschenbacher and Chief Sustainability Officer Allyson Green presented on the work of a group known as the Cohort. Made up of entirely white staff and faculty, the Cohort has been meeting regularly to learn anti-racist strategies and to “change the ways white supremacy is encoded in our physical bodies,” as Eschenbacher put it. 

Next up was James Vela-McConnell, a professor of Sociology. Vela-McConnell’s presentation focused on the “disciplinary domain of power”, specifically with how institutional power can reinforce systems of discrimination. Vela-McConnell announced the release of a study on the experiences of marginalized students at Augsburg, which is now available on Augsburg’s website. One thing that the study found is that economic class is “the strongest and most consistent line of demarcation” for the outcomes of Augsburg students. It also suggests, according to Vela-McConnell, that organizations such as Augsburg perform “claims-making” through the way that they advertise diversity in the same way that a white person accused of racism might claim to have friends in a minority group. “Do they mean it,” asked Vela-McConnell, “or are they just trying to score points?”

The final presentation was made by provost Karen Kaivola and Communications professor Bob Groven, who spoke on the work that has been done on the part of the staff and faculty to advance inclusion at Augsburg. They discussed the progress that has been made between Day Student Government’s Institutional Climate resolution in December of 2018 up to the new Academic Plan 2025, an initiative that “sets in motion a framework of priorities that we are going to work on advancing over the next five years,” according to Kaivola.

Kaivola and Groven also announced some changes that are already being made on campus. The faculty handbook has reportedly been updated to include a section specifying that academic freedom is “not an excuse for disrespect”, and the faculty review and tenuring process is going to be updated to reflect a commitment to equity. They also announced that, of the 7 most recent faculty hired, 4 were professors of color.

After the main presentation, participants split off into breakout sessions. At one such session, entitled “Blueprint for Liberation–A Student’s Perspective”, presenters Citlaly Escobar and Taiwana Shambley, Jr. walked participants through common definitions of important terms such as diversity, privilege, power and race and also gave a history of the institution of race as a tool of discrimination. The breakout session was focused heavily around student voices and “reclaiming student spaces”, in the words of Escobar. This is particularly important, according to Escobar, because the students of the Honors program did not want last year’s Day of Action, seeing it as a “huge PR move” that co-opted their movement. 

Other breakout sessions included “Recognizing & Resisting White Supremacy at Augsburg”, as presented by Mike Grewe, “The Age of Athletic Activism”, as presented by Christopher Dixon and a follow-up to last year’s “Undoing White Body Supremacy” as hosted by Green and Eschenbacher among others. 

The Day of Action was followed by the annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Convocation.