Incidents of racial prejudice and poor representation unfold on campus

Recent events of racial and cultural insensitivity leave many students hurt.

Kelly Holm, Senior Reporter

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Only weeks after Hamline welcomed the historically diverse class of 2023, instances of racial prejudice involving its members have surfaced. 

One incident was a video of white female students singing a song which included a racial slur, while others dealt with white students making racist comments to their black peers. 

President Miller sent out an email Sept. 30, referencing occurrences “involving students, where inappropriate language was used when communicating with others, or expressing oneself through song.” She urged students to think before they speak, and to use Oct. 3’s Commitment to Community lecture by Jeff Chang, which focused on hip-hop and race relations, as an opportunity to bridge divides. 

Instead, Commitment to Community brought its own struggles. 

Faculty panels held for first-year students before Chang’s speech, which were intended to discuss the ways in which it connected to both the Common Read On the Come Up and the Center for Justice and Law’s Criminalization of Poverty programming, left many with a whitewashed take. Oct. 2’s panel was comprised of four white professors, while Oct. 3’s featured one person of color.

“When I thought about the panel, I thought it was going to be a diverse group… but there were all white professors, with one female,” first-year TreVon McClellan, who attended the Oct. 2 panel, said. “They danced around the topic of [On the Come Up], which was basically race relations… the only professor that I respected on the panel was [Matt Sumera, who] said ‘I’m just going to sit and listen,’ because it wasn’t his place to talk.”

McClellan continued that the white faculty listed off qualifications when asked by students of color what gave them the right to speak for the black community. 

Hamda Osman, another first-year at the Oct. 2 panel, elaborated.

“Even if you did research, that still doesn’t qualify you to talk about certain issues that black people face, because you have not lived through those experiences,” Osman said. “At that point, they got all defensive… saying diversity isn’t about color, more so, it’s about diversity of thoughts.”

This year’s panel is similar to Commitment to Community programming from years past, according to Andy Rundquist, Associate Dean of the College of Liberal Arts and director of the FYSem program. Rundquist said that previously, the Commitment to Community committee, which is currently composed of one student and five faculty and staff members, would reach out to professors to see who had expertise on the subject and invite them to speak.

“Like, ‘hey, this is happening, who thinks they have some research or experience in their own scholarly work that can really add to this?’ We did that again this year,” Rundquist said. “There were some students who felt like the panels were supposed to be a direct response to the events that… President Miller’s email was about.”

Miller’s email, meanwhile, was not received by every first-year on Sept. 30, and so it was sent again on Oct. 3.

“I personally didn’t receive it,” McClellan said.

Perspectives on the panel’s outcome varied.

“I think [the panels were] a good learning experience. Tension is real, and how people feel is real,” said Jim Scheibel, professor of nonprofit management, Oct. 2 panelist and former St. Paul mayor. “We need to look at how we address a lot of issues about diversity and race… by avoiding [tension], we don’t come to any kind of solution.”

Osman’s view was slightly different.

“If you’re not educated about [racism] in 2019… as a black woman, I’m not going to be tolerating disrespect because of your ignorance,” Osman said. “If you’re confused about certain things, about culture, about religion or about color, I think you should go up to the person who’s knowledged about it, and then you can get the information you need.”

Moving forward, Oct. 3 panelist and Vice President of Inclusive Excellence David Everett suggested making Commitment to Community more student-led and proposed a series of “Community Conversations” to explore Hamline’s diverse experiences and perspectives. He stated that more information on the issue would be coming in the next weeks, and encouraged student input. He can be contacted at deverett01@hamline.edu.

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