Enough!

 

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:

http://stolafmicroaggressions.tumblr.com/

http://www.buzzfeed.com/hnigatu/racial-microagressions-you-hear-on-a-daily-basis

Remembering Rwanda

This week marks the 20th anniversary of the Rwandan Genocide, a 100 day period of the massacre of over 800,000 Tutsis. A ceremony commemorating the event began on April 7th, where a re-enactment of the genocide was carried out in the same stadium where the UN peacekeepers came to save thousands of lives.

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Brief History: on April 6, 1994, the plane carrying President Juvenal Habyarimana, a Hutu, was shot down, killing everyone aboard the plane. About 85% of Rwandans are Hutus, but the small Tutsi minority has generally been in power in the country. Some Tutsis fled to other countries and formed a rebel group, called the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF). The Hutus blamed the RPF for the president’s death, and thus the genocide began. The Hutu militia, called the Interhamwe, were given names of government opponents, husbands were forced to kill wives under the threat of death, Tutsi women were taken away to be kept as sex slaves. ID cards had ethnic groups declared on them, so roadblocks were set up, where they were slaughtered with machetes.

The massacre ended when the RPF and the Ugandan army eventually seized enough territory, and on July 4, marched into the capital, Kigali, and 2 million Hutus fled to the DC Congo, fearing revenge attacks.

Just now are we hearing not only survivor stories, but those of the protectors.

There are some examples of Hutus who helped the targeted Tutsis. Olive Mukankusi was one of the brave people who defied the majority to save others. Hiding Tutsis was punishable by death, regardless of ethnicity. Olive hid 2 girls, 15 and 17, that she had grown up near, as well as another neighbor. Eventually, another neighbor had tipped off the Interhamwe, who came to her house and took her and the 3 refugees out to the killing site by the river. They would have been killed, if not for the money that Olive now kept in her dress at all times. She paid them off, and left the women alone.

Another woman, Godleaves Mukamunana, also took Tutsi refugees into hiding.

“When they talk to me about rescuing, they ask me, ‘Well, you rescued Tutsis, if something bad happened, do you think they would rescue you?'” Mukamunana says. “And I always tell them, ‘Yes they would. I have no doubt about it.'”

But not all Hutus are as receptive. They tell her she is no longer one of them, she becomes ostracized, and the divide continues.
It is so incredibly important to remember the horrible atrocities that history has witnessed, not only to remember our mistakes, as a collective humanity, but also to pay respect to those who became victims and nameless numbers. So many of those who became casualties will not be identified, and so we must remember them. I think the commemoration was a beautiful tribute and reminder to what happens when we let hatred and stereotypes cloud our judgement.  Its hard to see how still how much people are affected by this event. Some of the audience members became so distraught they needed to be taken away because they couldn’t bear to watch anymore.

 

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It’s hard to imagine that as a global community, we let an atrocity of this magnitude happen, and did nothing to stop or intervene. But the people of Rwanda are resilient and hopeful, and determined to never let a situation like this happen again.

 

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-26925763

http://www.npr.org/blogs/parallels/2014/04/08/300508669/remembering-rwandans-who-followed-their-conscience

America’s Lost Fight for Democracy

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Everyone has heard of the Arab Springs – the political uprisings spreading across the MENA — the Middle East and North Africa –, and now farther to places like Crimea. People are beginning to question, rightfully so, the legitimacy of their governments in place. And those countries that have not reached a state of complete turmoil, are trying to rebuild the administrative sector. All of the revolutions also follow an extremely similar pattern: regimes reach a limit in oppression and dictatorship, the populace get weary of being persecuted, and violent clashes result until the ousted leader leaves with his tail between his legs and escorted to jail. The problem? Western media has a continuous indiscretion of reporting erroneously. Not always in the fact that the sources aren’t correct, or they don’t report with journalistic integrity. It is rather the fact that there is an inherent lack of understanding when it comes to MENA affairs. With the new draft of the constitution being released last month, many are left wondering where the country will land.

 

Here’s where it gets controversial: The United States is on the wrong side for democracy. The US wants to continue to ‘protect’ democracy in these nations, when the government in place is often autocratic and totalitarian. But so steadfast in their ways of upholding the name of democracy, do they turn their cheek and observe from the safe distance that allows them to throw around words like ‘military coup’ and ‘revolts’.
Hosni Mubarak was in power since 1981. As vice president, he was appointed after the assassination of President Anwar Sadat. His regime was 30 years of oppression, persecution, police brutality, and the injustice of reaping the benefits of a country where 80% of the population lives below the standard of living. The protests, starting in January of 2011, were peaceful and well organized, hundred of thousands strong. After 18 days of protesting, he eventually stepped down, and is now in the middle of court proceedings due to the illegitimacy of his government, as well as ordering police officers to go out and use physical force on the peaceful demonstrations. The country was in turmoil, there was no one clearly in charge, and Egypt was going to try having the first fully free elections. The clear front-runner was Mohamed Morsi, the leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, which the United States supported. The problem was not the fact that it is an Islamic group, but rather what the group stands for, which would have include the continued persecution of the Coptic Orthodox population, as well as the complete obliteration of any moderate voices in parliament. The elections were rigged, Morsi won by a landslide, and Egypt found itself under another dictator with the promise of a better tomorrow.

 

The United States needs to have Egypt as its ally because it holds such a crucial place, both geographically, and politically in the Middle Eastern world. The influence it holds over surrounding nations is not to be taken lightly. So instead of losing that control, the US continued to back the corrupted regime. Morsi had elected a member of a terrorist group as the governor of Luxor, he allowed Islamic fundamentalists kill hundreds of Copts, as well as bomb their religious buildings. Unemployment soared and more people were thrown into poverty. When the people had enough in 2012, they called on Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of Egypt, General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, to help the people rid themselves of yet another autocrat. When he listened, and peacefully demonstrations ensued, they western press used words to throw the military in an undemocratic light, claiming it was unfairly executed and a military coup had just taken place.

After participating in demonstrations in Cairo last summer, as well as spending 4 semesters contemplating the implications of American history, its clear to see we had it easy here. The world no longer works in black and white, and the gray is seeping into the political sphere. Our  stability is secured, our democracy in place, and our constitution has been set for over 200 years. But others are not so lucky, and their whole political format is changing.
So let me ask this: is it worth the United States to keep their political place in MENA while allowing millions of people to be persecuted? Or should they just continue to stand back on their high thrones of justice and democracy and never realize that they are trying to play a game in which they have no right or understanding to be there, yet continue to shout in the name of democracy?