SILVIA OAKLAND, TRUMPET EDITOR IN CHIEF
Culture, heritage and language are a small list of things people hold near and dear as part of their representation. On campus, students opened up about feeling the need to assimilate to what they were seeing in their environment.
“I think in the beginning it was harder for me,” Leticia Silva, second-year music major, said. “It was people just thinking or saying ‘oh no she’s just the Brazilian girl.’ I couldn’t be seen as a musician, student or a friend, no I was a Brazilian here.”
The feeling of loneliness was also present when Silva first began her time on campus. With groups like International Club (IClub), Silva felt the support from within the group that allowed her to become more comfortable with herself and her time on campus.
This sense of community however also created a divide between students in I-Club and those who were not. Dr. Zak Montgomery, associate professor of Spanish, said these student groups can be beneficial for students, but also can create a divide for them.
“Having groups is good but I think that sometimes people feel excluded because they’re not an international student so they don’t participate in iclub,” Montgomery said. “Or they’re an international student from a Latin American country and they don’t want to participate in S.A.L.S.A. [Spanish and Latin Student Association] because they don’t think they belong there either.”
Silva came to Wartburg much like any other student, to learn. But for a period of time, Silva said the classroom was a difficult environment to navigate.
Instead of speaking during class, Silva would wait until the end of class when other students had left to ask professors questions. “I tried to hide all of my accent,” Silva said. “I tried to not talk in class, to sit in a place where no one could see me and I tried to avoid people so they didn’t have a reason to laugh at me or make fun of me.”
Alondra Gonzalez, third-year international relations and philosophy double-major, suggested that professors should be required to have a form of cultural competency to help them understand the diversity they could see within their classroom and how to approach issues that they might be afraid to discuss.
Montgomery said faculty and staff are working to make sure students are feeling comfortable in the classrooms, but not through a class setting.
Montgomery also said students might not always see this because there are many conversations that happen outside of regularly scheduled faculty workshops, such as the fall faculty workshop which consists of multiple days of meetings where specific professional development conversations are held.
“There are a lot of conversations that happen behind closed doors with faculty and staff about these issues,” Montgomery said. “We have suggestions over lunch, over coffee where we talk about how to better support this group or that group.
“It’s the way I identify myself, express myself, it’s the way I feel more like me,” Gonzalez said. “That’s the way I talk with my family. It’s hard just to go by one language, it’s like you’re losing a little bit of yourself.”
Montgomery also said that from his own research he has noticed at times there can be discrimination that happens between Latinx students who are born or raised in the United States and those that come from other coutnries. Both groups have different experiences but he hopes they can work together with groups like S.A.L.S.A and I-Club to have powerful and important conversations.
“Growing up I had to balance both languages, I didn’t see I had an accent,” Gonzaelez said. “I always assimilated to what culture I was in. I thought the right accent was the American accent because the more similar you are the less looks you’ll get, the less reactions and discrimination you’ll get. But everyone has accents, there isn’t one right accent.”
Silva said the I-Club events hosted are for everyone, not just international students. Silva and other members of I-Club are encouraging students in I-Club to join other student groups while reassuring the support they offer will still be present.
“In order to make a change we need to be ready to explain to people who we are so we can strengthen our own identity and help others understand,” Gonzalez said. “I think as people that are diverse it is like an unspoken duty.”
For more information on I-Club or S.A.L.S.A., go to wartburg.edu/orgs/.