Luther College Chips

“This is our everyday existence” – Sarah Wyatt (‘20)

The sentiment that hate incidents do not happen at Luther College is incorrect. Many students can attest to a Luther with daily racist, homophobic, and xenophobic interactions. These are their stories.

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Filiberto Lopez (‘19).

Filiberto Lopez (‘19).

Grace Onsrud (‘20) |

Grace Onsrud (‘20) |

Filiberto Lopez (‘19).

Emma Busch, Grace Onsrud, and Shasa Sartin

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JASMIN ARIAS (‘21)

Emma Busch (‘20) | Chips
Jasmin Arias (‘21).

When Jasmin Arias (‘21) visited Luther as a prospective student, she immediately noticed the distance between herself and white individuals on campus. 

“Before I decided to come to Luther, I already felt the segregation here,” Arias said. “When I came to visit in February of last year on a scholarship day, we were all put into different groups. I noticed I was the only Mexican American in the group and everyone else was a white American. They were all speaking to each other and nobody really spoke to me, so I was already left out. I was just standing there feeling awkward because almost everyone was having conversations and getting to know each other and I was just there. I don’t know if it was because they were awkward and didn’t really know me, but I just felt left out. I wasn’t even a student here yet and already noticed how things were on campus.”

Arias says she also struggled with a lack of support following the recent hate incidents.

“[On] the day of the sit-in, I asked these two people I know, a guy and a girl, why they weren’t at the sit-in and they said they don’t really go to events like those,” Arias said. “They just go to class and eat, so they don’t really go to events on campus. So [my friends and I] told them they should go because it’s affecting our community and she said, ‘I don’t really care anyway.’ We do know that even though there’s a lot of support [on campus] there are still those people who will continue to not care about what’s going on. But to know one of those people and be somewhat close to them hurts. I’m telling you about these events because I want you to come support us but you’re telling me that you don’t really care? I guess they see it as a waste of their time, but we’re all part of this community. So even if you think it’s a waste of your time, you should still show up, even for just 10 minutes. I guess people are just ignorant and don’t want to waste their time.”

 

VANALIKA NAGARWALLA(‘21)

Grace Onsrud (‘20) | Chips
Vanalika Nagarwalla (‘21).

“My name is Vanalika and I am from India. I grew up in a small boarding school, I guess you would call it. It’s in the middle of nowhere in the hills. We had quite a diverse campus with more than 60 nationalities. I am from a minority group in India, too, and I think after a while you become numb to certain things that happen, especially to do with the color of your skin. When someone sees me for the first time, they would never realize I’m from India and that’s why a lot of people can never really place me until I start speaking.”

Nagarwalla went on to explain how her accent has led to judgements about her home country.

“One time I was walking out of class and there was someone next to me that I didn’t know very well,” Nagarwalla said. “We started talking and the person said something to the effect of ‘You speak very good English for where you’re from’ and I was like ‘I don’t understand what that means.’ I had to question that because I didn’t know whether she meant for it to be discriminatory or not. So I asked her what she meant by that and she was like ‘Well I mean in India most people don’t speak English and you know, you seem to know English.’ I think to a certain extent that’s racist because someone is judging me by the way that I speak English, but at the same time I think it was ignorance and she didn’t mean to be racist. I think it’s just the basic facts that you need to learn about. English is the second most spoken language in India after Hindi. It’s common for Indians to speak English at a very high level. It is lack of knowledge and ignorance that sparks comments like these, but those little comments can lead to larger incidents like what has happened on campus recently.”

 

TAMAR TEDLA (‘20)

Emma Busch (‘20) | Chips
Tamar Tedla (‘20).

“[First year] during my spring semester, I was hanging out in one of my friend’s rooms and we were all talking about different actors and actresses because I love movies. I’m always willing to have conversations about different films I’ve seen, actors, the imagery and all of that. I love talking about film and I believe we were talking about ‘Hidden Figures.’ We were all just talking about it and a certain [black] actress was brought up and I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, she’s so beautiful. I love the way she looks and how she carries herself.’ And one of the guys in the room looked at me and he went, ‘Well, I don’t think black girls are attractive.’ To me. To my face.

And I looked at him and I went, ‘What do you mean?’

He said, ‘I don’t know, I just never found African-Americans to be that good-looking and just don’t find them attractive. Everyone has their preferences.’

Having a racial preference is racist and you absolutely can not say that based on the complexion and pigmentation of someone’s skin that they’re attractive or not. I explained these things to him and had to leave the room afterward because I felt super overwhelmed. I cried for an hour because I was so upset about what I heard, and the next day he messaged me and didn’t even apologize. He said, ‘Hey Tamar, about what I said yesterday, I know that may have hurt you and I truly didn’t mean to come off as racist and I hope you know that I still value you as a person.’ I didn’t respond. Thankfully he transferred and isn’t at Luther anymore, but I remember getting that message and a few of my friends encouraged me to believe him and accept his apology. But first of all, there wasn’t even an apology. Second of all, I think he was only upset because he got caught and I called him out. I know for a fact that no one else was going to. When we were all gathered together, I had to say something. It was a lot to handle.

It’s been hard to see myself as beautiful, because in our society if you have a lighter complexion you are seen as more desirable. Even within the black community, if you have a lighter shade of brown you are seen as more beautiful. Colorism is real. It affects so many women of color and I’ve struggled with it my entire life.”

 

FILIBERTO LOPEZ (‘19)

Grace Onsrud (‘20) |
Filiberto Lopez (‘19).

“My name is Filiberto Lopez. I am a current junior and the President of PRIDE.”

For Lopez, home looks a lot different than Decorah. 

“Back in [my first year], it was a big transition coming to the Midwest from California,” Lopez said. [In California] I knew only one white person and two Asian people at my school. It was not diverse at all. Where I was at school, most of the population was Hispanic and here it is the other way around and I am a minority. I come from a culture of being surrounded by people like me. [The transition] was a big struggle but I surrounded myself with great people that helped me.”

There were instances where the people Lopez surrounded himself let him down.

“I was living in Brandt my [first year],”
Lopez said. “At that point I was not comfortable with my sexuality and I was not out. I had a friend at that time who just decided it was okay for him to ask me in front of our other friends. He just asked me ‘are you gay? Because you just seem so gay’ and I remember I felt so small in that moment. I had never been asked that, because most of my friends back at high school had known me since I was very young so they never thought of that. Some of my friends reacted more than me and told him it wasn’t appropriate to ask that. After a couple of weeks, I cut that friendship out because I knew his intention wasn’t to help me, it was just to put me on the spot. So that wasn’t a great experience to have in the first couple of weeks.

Following that, I had another experience where I was hanging out in Brandt again playing pingpong with a couple of friends. A floor-mate came up to me and said he wanted to ask about rumors he had heard about me. So I asked ‘what rumors are people spreading about me?’ He said ‘I heard this rumor that you’re gay.’ And at that point I laughed and my friends didn’t know how to respond. I just said ‘I didn’t know that was a rumor. I thought it was a fact!’ And after that I was okay with my sexuality and I was ready for people to see the real me. After that I have always surrounded myself with people in the Luther community who are very positive.”

 

SARAH WYATT (‘20)

Shasa Sartin (‘19) | Chips
Sarah Wyatt (‘20).

“I am openly part of the LGBTQIA+ community,” Wyatt said. “I personally identify as the ‘umbrella term,’ queer. I don’t keep that a secret at all about myself, so I have experienced a lot of slurs on this campus. Especially like, I’ll go to dinner with a friend from PRIDE and people will think that I can’t hear them but they’ll be like ‘oh, look at those two dykes eating.’ And I’ve heard that countless times, or even if I’m just by myself people will just be like ‘there goes the dyke,’ and it’s like, [that is] actually not what I identify as and actually a slur. So, that has been a very regular part of my experience here at Luther. I personally don’t take queer as a derogatory term. I think it’s a beautiful term that’s kind of all encompassing of the LGBTQIA+ community, but a lot of people use it as a derogatory term. That’s just kind of another [part of] everyday existence. Also on several occasions people have told me I’m going to hell for being gay and it’s like, that’s just something that a lot of members of the queer community kind of get used to. Not that you should. But it’s just like a normal part of existence and that is not something that stops once you enter Luther’s campus, they just keep on going.”

Wyatt went on to explain the regularity of these kind of interactions.

“Any student that’s in a marginalized group, this is our everyday existence,” Wyatt said. “Even small microaggressions are so real, but they happen like every single minute of every single day here on this campus. And then I think with the incidents that happened that were very  loud and visible and reported, I think that a lot of people who have never experienced that were shocked. And then those of us who have experienced those things were like ‘yeah, this happened.’ This is part of an everyday existence for so many people that you don’t think to report it.”

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