Letter to the Editor: 2018-19 Student Movement
Winston Heckt, Class of 2019
When I started at Augsburg, I believed in the university’s mission to create an inclusive space for diverse students. I trusted Augsburg’s politics and its pursuit for justice and equality. If the right people were sitting at the table, then there would be justice.
I was in the Honors Program, one of eight honors house presidents, which meant I was a student representative on the Honors Council. It is a governing body that makes decisions on new honors courses, scholarship allotment, program events and many cultural and social changes. I also participated in the Diversity Committee, a group of students dedicated to increasing the racial and ethnic diversity of the mostly white programs that surrounded the campus. I was one of the few Black people at the table.
So when a fiasco went down during my last year of classes, I thought with my seat at the table that Augsburg would deliver justice no matter the situation. One Tuesday, a professor who was the head of the Honors Program at the time, advocated for the use of racial slurs in the classroom, saying the N-word several times himself. This situation raised the attention of the house presidents, and a group of representatives confronted the professor. Rather than empathizing with his students, he doubled down on his legal rights, so we took it to the Augsburg campus administration. More students came forward with accounts of racist harassment, and there were more outbursts from campus racists later that year.
A racist, belligerently drunk student told a Black cafeteria employee to “Make me a sandwich n—.” An anonymous racist passerby called out “Black b—” to a student while she got into her car after class. There were still more incidents out there. Most of the house presidents, along with a few more honors students, organized to make Augsburg walk its anti-racist talk.
At first, it seemed like campus administration was working with us. I do believe some administrators did everything in their power to help. The professor was stripped of his position in the program. The Honors Program was put on hold pending an internal review. Augsburg held listening sessions for students in and outside the program to air their grievances.
But it became clear that the institution was in damage control mode, not justice mode. The cafeteria racist was assigned some anti-bias training and allowed to keep his place on the football team. The professor was allowed to continue teaching his non-honors courses and decided to take an early retirement of his own free will.
Everyone at Augsburg knew how to talk the talk. It was hard to tell those working with
us from those who were posturing or countering our efforts. Hampered by cooptation
from paternalistic professors who listened to us until they didn’t like what we had to say, accompanied by a lack of transparency from administrators and by Augsburg playing the long game: act slowly until the students calling for justice burn out or graduate. In the end, that’s what got me.
I graduated, burnt out, with the truth of Augsburg’s racism and the limits of representation politics laid bare. As far as I know, the underlying structures that protected the white status quo at Augsburg haven’t changed since I graduated beyond establishing an ethnic studies department. There’s a need for long memory in a place with a quick turnover. I hope my story helps shed some light on the deeply rooted issues of racism and systemic corruption.