The Student Government Association (SGA) Taskforce Against Racism (STAR) hosted an event titled “Two Years Later: What Now?” on April 24 in the Center for Art & Dance (CAD). The event looked back at the spring 2017 protests against institutional racism that rocked the College and led to the creation of the Working Group and Council on Equity and Inclusion.
The protests, sparked by a series of racist notes, were spearheaded by a group of students of color – the Collective for Change on the Hill. The Collective led an overnight sleep-in in Buntrock Commons, the canceling of classes and a sit-in in Tomson Hall. During the Tomson sit-in, the Collective successfully presented their “Terms and Conditions for Negotiation” to President David Anderson ’74. STAR was formed out of students’ desire for SGA to continue the Collective’s work.
“STAR hopes to have an intentional, critical and analytical conversation on how we can use our voice to be powerful and show up,” the poster for the event read.
Joey Dagher ’20, one of the student leaders of STAR, did not want students to see this event as only reflective.
“This will not be looking into the past solely, it will be an active workshop with faculty and staff,” Dagher said in a post on St. Olaf Class of 666, a student Facebook page.
Tamira Fuentes ’19, the interim co-chair of STAR, opened the event by introducing the other members of the group, including Atefeh Alavi ’20, another STAR Co-Chair.
Fuentes recalled that Don Williams ’17 gathered St. Olaf students in the Link two years ago after they were the target of a racist note left on their car. Williams planned that initial conversation as a way to build community and support, Fuentes said. She hoped this event would do the same. Fuentes added she intended for the event to be a continuation of the conversations around identities that began in the space two years ago.
Fuentes acknowledged that some of the conversations that would occur during the event would make some attendees uncomfortable.
“I’m going to ask you at times to step out of your comfort zone,” Fuentes said.
The workshop component of the event began when Fuentes asked those in attendance to form small groups. In those groups, each member would complete the phrase, “I am from __” with facts about their identities. Fuentes asked the groups to answer these questions through the lens of the “big eight” of identity: religion and spirituality, ethnicity, sexual orientation, ability, immigration and nationality, socioeconomic status, race and gender identity. Fuentes also added age to this list, bringing the total to nine.
Fuentes encouraged participants to engage in “challenge by choice,” meaning they could choose what aspects of their identity they wanted to discuss but only to the extent that they felt comfortable doing so. Groups of six to seven people, made up of students, faculty, staff and alumni, split off and went to surrounding spaces to discuss identity and how it affects their leadership and participation on campus.
The group reconvened, and Fuentes described the second activity. This time attendees separated into small groups based on whether they were students, faculty or staff, to brainstorm problems in different areas of the College. These included academic departments, social groups and student organizations. Each group named a scribe to record their answers and topics of discussion on a large sheet of paper, and at the end of the evening Fuentes said STAR would transcribe the contents of the poster for future use.
Fuentes encouraged the crowd to continue the work that was done at the event, and asked them to continue to recognize problems, obstacles, and possible solutions to those problems on campus. She acknowledged the vulnerability showcased by all who attended, and asked that those types of conversations continue to happen every day. Fuentes ended by telling the members of the crowd that they have a voice and need to use their power at this school, even when they may feel unwelcome or uncomfortable. STAR received a standing ovation from all in attendance as she closed out the event.
The event was co-sponsored by The Sociology and Anthropology Department, Political Action Committee, SGA and was catered by El Triunfo. Additionally, members of Oles for Racial Awareness, Change and Equity (ORACE) were also present and helped plan the event. An organization for alumni and friends of the College, ORACE also formed in response to the spring 2017 protests.
The event was well attended by students, faculty, alumni and staff of the College, leaving standing room only in the Link.