SILVIA OAKLAND, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF
Events in the past few years both on and off Wartburg College’s campus have caused student’s to open up about their thoughts and feelings on diversity and inclusion. From the discussion of politicians to mass shootings to what feels like a divide between races, students have held panels, walk-outs and other various events to raise awareness and educate others.
“Our diversity groups are working really hard to make an impact here on campus and we’re branching out to reach a bigger audience that isn’t just the minority groups on campus,” Kaylee Michael, Black Student Union co-president, said.
Tony Onyia, a second-year computer science and political science double-major, advocates for the panels and events to continue on campus because he believes they’re helping to keep the black student population at Wartburg engaged.
“The black retention rate is kind of low, we’re losing a lot of multicultural students. I feel these panels and discussions will help retain them or show them they belong and they’re not outsiders,” Onyia said. “I think we should have more of it, but people don’t like being put on the spot. I feel it’s necessary to some extent to create a safe space that’s welcoming for multicultural students.”
From 2012 to 2016 the number of enrolled black or African American students at Wartburg saw a decrease of .5%, while the white student population saw a decrease of 3.5%.
Among these decreases, the Hispanic and Latino population saw an increase of 2.2%.
As students work to make change, there are still instances when students of color feel their voices are being ignored, according to Michael. Before school began, students held a panel for faculty members to better understand the needs of diverse and multicultural students on Wartburg’s campus.
“I think it confirmed what some of the faculty were already feeling,” Krystal Madlock, multicultural student services director, said. “We have a group of faculty who talk about classroom climate and what we need to do for students and it was an eye opener for others. I think it was a great start to something and we’re in the process now of figuring out what are the next steps.”
From the student perspective, these panels might cause students to feel as though they are representing an entire population that shares different experiences.
“I felt like the spokesperson for the black community,” Onyia said. “I’m not opposed to that, but I felt like my perspective is different than other people’s. I tried to give as much insight as possible so people can get the right idea.”
Students like Onyia are asked to be on panels because of their experiences and to give others a glimpse into the life of a multicultural student.
However, Michael and Onyia both recalled there were times some students and faculty relied on them to educate and inform people on their culture.
“There was a period of time were many students just felt burdened,” Michael said. “They felt they were carrying an extra weight because it’s like ‘Okay, I’m being taught by someone who has a Ph.D. but I have to teach them how to respect me as a human’. And I think there was a period of time were a lot students were getting frustrated and things were happening that shouldn’t be.”
Micahel continued with a story of how within one of her classes a professor made a “scale of race” and had students place races next to colors.
Michael, Onyia and Ellison all noted that while it is great students are curious about other cultures, they need to remember students sharing their experiences are simply doing that.
Their experience is their own and cannot be applied to every student of color. The panels, discussions and events on campus are meant to be prompts to guide students in the right direction of how to ask questions.
Not every student will be willing to educate another, but there are other resources to find the answers they are looking for.
“It’s unwarranted but I feel as though in the grand scheme of things they’re trying to help people learn,” Onyia said. “But I feel people have a hard time learning things by themselves. Some people don’t like teaching people and they expect them to learn it themselves.”
Not every student feels like Onyia and Michael, however. Monique Ellison, a fourth-year business administration major, views helping students and professors as an opportunity to be a part of a generation that changes ways of thinking.
“Honestly I don’t mind it, we are the generation that is going to change,” Ellison said. “Professors can be from an older generation, and they’re still trying to understand it themselves. I can understand why students feel that [frustrated] but I feel that’s a great benefit.”
“When cheer began before all students were on campus another cheerleader and I talked about our hair, but they had asked us and we knew they were genuinely curious,” Ellison said. “Now another black person may have taken it as them being ignorant or not wanting to teach themselves, but we took it upon ourselves to teach them. It’s hard, but ask out of your most sincere heart the questions you have.”
For more information on the college’s diversity statement, go to wartburg.edu/diversity.