Luther College Chips

Luther community responds to hate

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Matthew Espey (‘19), Rebecka Green (‘19), Asha Aden (‘20), Juan Pablo Velásquez Quiroga (‘21), Mikayel Simonyan (‘20), and Faye Lee (‘20) sing at the CFL prayer vigil.

Matthew Espey (‘19), Rebecka Green (‘19), Asha Aden (‘20), Juan Pablo Velásquez Quiroga (‘21), Mikayel Simonyan (‘20), and Faye Lee (‘20) sing at the CFL prayer vigil.

Jacob Warehime (‘18) and Matthew Gleaves (‘19)| Chips

Jacob Warehime (‘18) and Matthew Gleaves (‘19)| Chips

Matthew Espey (‘19), Rebecka Green (‘19), Asha Aden (‘20), Juan Pablo Velásquez Quiroga (‘21), Mikayel Simonyan (‘20), and Faye Lee (‘20) sing at the CFL prayer vigil.

Jacob Warehime and Katrina Meyer

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On April 24, the sign used to mark the Spanish Table in the cafeteria was replaced by a sign that read “Whites only.” The sign was discovered in the Student Organizational Suite and reported Wednesday afternoon. Students were notified of the incident via a campus-wide email the next day.

On Thursday, April 26, students received a second email notifying them of another incident that happened on Wednesday: a sign advertising PRIDE’s annual drag show was vandalized with the words “Bad Y’all are going to hell” on it in a stall in the men’s bathroom of the Union. The email also stated that two students had come forward to accept responsibility for the incident involving the sign for the Spanish Table.

Jacob Warehime (‘18) | Chips
Students and staff gather at the steps of the CFL for a prayer vigil.

In light of the two incidents, President Paula Carlson and the Luther administration organized a vigil outside of the Center for Faith and Life and a community discussion in the cafeteria. International students also organized a forum in Valders 206. All events happened on Thursday, April 26.

In an interview for Chips, Carlson acknowledged the impact of the swift response of the Luther community.

“The incidents that happened last week violate our core Luther values,” Carlson said. “They cause deep pain and hurt of members of our community. I was moved and proud that students, faculty, and staff gathered together to support one another and to witness our deeply-held belief in the dignity and worth of each person.”

The vigil was led by Campus Pastor Mike Blair as well as various students, many of whom are part of Interfaith in Action or College Ministries. Students spoke about responding to hateful actions from the perspective of their own experiences and cultures.

“You are loved by far more than you are hated,” Matthew Espey (‘19) said during the vigil. “No single person who takes to voicing their opinions in a bathroom stall is going to stop us from being our beautiful selves.”

Jacob Warehime (‘18) and Matthew Gleaves (‘19)| Chips
Jasmin Arias (‘21) speaks at the international student forum.

After students were done speaking, Blair and Faye Lee (‘20) led a litany in which the responses were “hell no,” and “amen.” 

At 7:00 p.m., members of the Luther community gathered in Valders 206 for a forum led by and focused on Luther’s international students. The forum began with Juan Pablo Velásquez Quiroga  (‘21) introducing himself and two other leaders, Alonso Zevallos Rubi (‘21) and Jasmin Arias (‘21). In Velásquez Quiroga’s introduction, he noted that the United World College’s international office had given their support to the petitioning around campus. Afterward, Zevallos Rubi spoke. He repeated the question “what now?” and lamented the fact that he now struggles to recommend Luther to his peers back home. Arias spoke next, noting that her parents were originally afraid that she would have a target on her back at Luther. She then called on the administration, saying “enough is enough.”

Afterwards, the floor was open for other international students to share their experiences of discrimination at Luther. Issues raised included stories of being told to speak English, not feeling safe wearing their country’s traditional clothing, and being unable to excel in the classroom due to feeling unsafe on campus.

At 7:30, community members congregated in the cafeteria for a broader forum on racism. The central dining area of the caf was filled, with many students and staff standing in the back, by the dish return. After an opening statement by Campus Pastor Mike Blair, President Carlson spoke, acknowledging that progress has been made, though there is more to do. Carlson called on attendees to “commit to change.” She then listed off a number of changes Luther has already made, or will make in the near future  based on the voices of student and staff over the last month. These changes were: Making the Larson west door 24/7 ID access, developing a LGBTQ+ webpage, increasing gender-neutral options on campus, dropping the question on first-year housing forms which asks if a student is comfortable living with international students, updating tour guide training manuals, restructuring first-year orientation, having Sodexo commit to a deeper diversity training of staff, and having the APC review general curriculum requirements.

After Carlson, Interim Dean for Institutional Equity and Inclusion Lisa Scott spoke, saying “What I see [here] is a committed community.” She also urged students to keep up their activism on campus.

“Keep it up,” Scott said. “Hold us accountable.”

Scott then introduced Okogyeamon, known professionally as Dr. Herbert Perkins, an expert in anti-racism training. Perkins was originally slated to come to campus on May 5., however he made an impromptu trip down to Decorah to speak at the forum after Scott contacted him earlier on in the day.

“Racism is not about ‘out there,’” Perkins said. “It’s about ‘in here’–inside us.”

Perkins then went on to say that a person cannot live within the United States without internalizing racism. He compared racism to a language, explaining that one cannot simply stop using a language that they have been taught from birth. Anti-racism, he then explained, is like a foreign language which must be learned. Perkins also stressed continued activism.

“It will take more than just a moment like this,” Perkins said. “It will take ongoing work.”

Jacob Warehime (‘18) and Matthew Gleaves (‘19)| Chips
Okogyeamon speaks about a culture of inherent racism at the forum in the cafeteria.

      The incident involving the Spanish table sign directly affected the Department of Modern Languages, Literatures, and Linguistics because the table is a part of curriculum for many students in the Spanish department. As a result, the department decided to release a statement condemning the acts and expressing support for students affected.

     “It is a perversion of the core values of inclusion and intercultural learning we promote as educators of language and culture,” the statement said in part. “We stand with all students who are harmed by such hateful rhetoric, and we will do everything we can to support you.”

      Professor of Spanish Nancy Gates-Madsen talked about the primary concern of the department being helping the students who are affected.

     “It is important for students to know that their professors care because we do,” Gates-Madsen said.

       The administration passed on an anonymous apology written by the students who claimed responsibility for the incident involving the Spanish table. Students organized a sit-in Friday to continue the conversation with the administration about creating meaningful change. Campus security and the administration are continuing investigation of the incidents.

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