There is a story we tell ourselves about what a college community is.
The way we talk about university, especially about our university, is somewhat removed from society. We describe it in terms that imply it sits in judgement, taking stock of where society falls short, and then modeling students to step in and fill those inadequacies.
The problem, the danger and perhaps the arrogance inherent in this is the notion that the university stands apart from the ills it seeks to cure. It presumes everyone walks into this institution as a blank slate, and everyone leaves it morally and intellectually enlightened.
There are parts of America that are deeply broken; some of have always been, while other parts have fractured in the short time I have been here.
The truth is that our university is not removed from that brokenness. More often than we would like to admit, it is a reflection of it.
Minority students are reminded of that every time they have a racially charged encounter.
Hearing a racial slur aimed at you or seeing a hateful symbol is a shock to the system that remains with you for the rest of your life. These encounters, however, are just the most extreme examples of behavior that alienate us from the community we seek to claim citizenship to. The demographics of this area are challenging; we stand out in most of the places we go. This makes it all too easy for the malicious few to isolate and intimidate us. Our voices rarely make it into critical spaces and are often diluted by other considerations when they do. This makes easy for the well-meaning majority to overlook our needs and/or remain complicit in our exclusion.
Political discourse between those of differing views has fragmented rapidly in the time that I have been here. Students of all political persuasion are beginning to accept polarization as the norm. Incitement, rather than conversation, seems to lie at the heart of our politics.
It is easier to score points at the expense of the other side then it is to communicate with one another. It is easier to lob shots at a distance then it is to sit at a table and attempt to persuade, or more importantly, to find understanding with each other.
This not only alienates many who would otherwise partake in those conversations, but leaves the remaining proponents in a constant state of mounting frustration.
These are not problems unique to us.
Hostility and incivility towards what is different or unfamiliar is a national epidemic and these are some symptoms of the crisis. But to cure them, we must recognize them as present, even here.
Audrey and I chose to run together because we hoped that we could lead the campus in a direction contrary to the prevailing trend. The cowardly act of vandalism that followed our election was a jarring reminder that this is where the work begins. Of the list of challenges we hope to tackle, the climate of our campus and the culture of our community may be the most difficult to remedy; one year will certainly not be enough, but we can take a bold step forward.
That is why we call on all of those who are a part of this community to join us in that courageous venture.
We need students to be vigilant of the culture they perpetuate. We need our political organizations to offer grace for has happened in the past and seek to model dialogue in the future. We need faculty to invite difficult but necessary conversations into the classroom. We need administration to engage ASA and the larger student body as we formulate concrete means and policies to protect and welcome all of our students.
I offer this not as a recommendation of things that have not happened in the past. Instead, I offer it is a charge to double down on the aspects of who we are that will be most crucial in averting the crisis. I offer it as an invitation towards cooperation between the organs that must coordinate together to avert the encroaching attitudes and norms that threaten to take root here in our home. I offer it as just the beginning of a roadmap for how we can get closer to the community we aspire to be.
When asked about prospects for the future in an even more challenging time, James Baldwin once said, “I must be hopeful because I am alive”.
I have no certainty as to whether we can reverse what has began to take root. I don’t know if we can hold off the crisis finding normalcy within our community. I don’t know if Augustana ever does become a place that is always welcoming to all.
But Audrey and I have elected to borrow Baldwin’s stubborn optimism. Regardless of where we came from or how we got here, Augie is our home. While we are here, we must all work together to make it what we believe it should be. Audrey and I will do everything that we can in our time to help it live up to its promise – and we hope that you will join us.
Luca Amayo is a junior government and economics major from Nairobi, Kenya.
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