Recently, St. Olaf was mentioned in a New York Times article! But sadly, not for the right reasons.

Microaggression has been most commonly defined by Columbia professor Derald Sue as “brief and commonplace daily verbal, behavioral, or environmental indignities, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative racial slights and insults toward people of color.” Sadly, our campus has seen many instances of microaggression this past year. Allison’s post brought up the incident that happened on Cinco de Mayo, so I won’t go into that one,  but what about the other instances that have gone around relatively unaddressed?

The problem here at Olaf isn’t necessarily a lack of care, but rather one of action. There have been a few important student movements around campus, such as the Enough! campaign, and this week’s AuthenticOles.

Enough! describes their movement on their Facebook page as:

We are a group of concerned, committed students and allies ready to take action on campus in response to the reoccurring hate crimes that have hurt and marginalized a significant portion of the St. Olaf community. Change MUST happen – we will make it.

Their letter to President David Anderson called for an end to these circumstances on campus, with specific and upsetting occurrences from this past year:

  The phrase “What’s up with all the niggers?” written on a poster in Rand residence hall

The vandalism of the Sexual Assault Resource Network’s hallway in which the “not” sign from a series of posters reading “Rape, that’s not funny.” was torn down three separate times

The manipulation of an Oles for Justice in Palestine informational poster which read “Death in Gaza” to read “Death TO Gaza”

The theft of two Palestinian flags from the Oles for Justice in Palestine awareness hallway

The recurring theft of rainbow flags from the St. Olaf Queer Support and Outreach honor houseAnd lastly, all of the incidents and micro-aggressions that go unreported on a daily basis.

PDA’s response wasn’t very helpful. He addressed the problem only by acknowledging there was one, and reminded students of the school mission statement.

We have an opportunity and obligation to re-affirm our values, to re-assert our expectations of one another, and to re-examine the practices and programs with which we teach and reinforce those values and expectations.

The AuthenticOles movement had Story Telling, where they wanted to get fellow Oles to share their experiences here. “If you are a person of color, queer, low-income, struggling with body image or a mental illness, you have a story. If you are none of those but want to know more you are invited, too. Let’s stand together in solidarity, Oles. We are AuthenticOles.” Cynthia Zapata, a student involved with the group, explained what the purpose and goal are:

Authentic Oles was based on stories. We, as Oles, are not able to fit the mold that has been made by the structure, but so many people think that we do. Our whole idea was to have a conversation, to give a safe place for students to tell their stories. If people know that the reality they perceive is not actually what is, they can no longer ignore it. People have been “unveiled.”

This is a institutional problem. And administration and students keep throwing band-aids on it when the problem isn’t a wound, it’s a broken bone. Authentic Oles was not about fixing this. The first step in fixing the structure is to fight ignorance with knowledge. When people are aware of the structure and how they play as agents in it, they can become more active in changing it.

St. Olaf is supposed to be  accepting and a place of welcoming. The population here is inspiring, talented, overachieving, and intelligent. So why do we keep having the same conversation? The students here don’t seem like the type to be disrespectful and so insensitive, yet that’s where we are. Am I missing something here? With so many steps to encourage students to get involved and take a stand, why do these incidents still happen? I thought St. Olaf would have been better at responding to these events, and that administration would give some more concrete answers as opposed to vague statements. Hopefully these microaggressions will stop with the coming year, or maybe we just have to learn how to become for active for different voices. 

Examples of Microaggression: