Maggie Hagen (’15) discusses Luther’s history of addressing racism

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Maggie Hagen (’15) discusses Luther’s history of addressing racism

Maggie Hagen (‘15) presented on Luther's long history involving anti-black racism in the United States.

Maggie Hagen (‘15) presented on Luther's long history involving anti-black racism in the United States.

Andrea Hernandez Delgado (‘22) | Chips

Maggie Hagen (‘15) presented on Luther's long history involving anti-black racism in the United States.

Andrea Hernandez Delgado (‘22) | Chips

Andrea Hernandez Delgado (‘22) | Chips

Maggie Hagen (‘15) presented on Luther's long history involving anti-black racism in the United States.

Andrea Hernandez Delgado, Staff Writer

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Maggie (Steinberg) Hagen (‘15) held a forum titled “‘Here We Stand’ — Reflections on Luther College’s Racial history and Legacy” a religion forum as a part of a yearlong celebration of Black Student Union’s 50th Anniversary. This forum was sponsored by the religion department and was presented on Thurs., Oct. 25 at 7 p.m. in the Center for Faith and Life Recital Hall with approximately 90 attendees.

Hagen began her presentation by explaining why she chose to present on this topic.

“After the events in Ferguson [Missouri] in 2014, I saw that the campus was not reacting at all,” Hagen said. “Nobody even understood that it happened.”

She decided to write about Luther’s history with race for her senior paper, and her research stretched back to the founding of the institution.

Luther was founded to oppose slavery five months into the Civil War. Many young pastors at this time were being taught that slavery could be morally justified through a biblical justification, which many Norwegian Lutheran families disagreed with. Therefore, the Norwegian Evangelical Lutheran Church of America established Luther College. There, men training to be pastors were taught many things, one of which was that slavery could not be morally or biblically justified.

“I had no idea that when Luther was founded it was more liberal compared to other institutions in the way that they stood up for abolitionism,” Nya Ruach (‘22) said.

Hagen then spoke about Luther’s first black students. In 1950, the first black student, Asibong Okon (‘54) from Nigeria, arrived at Luther as an international student. He was the only black student for the next ten years at Luther. Afterwards, there were seven more black students integrated into the all-white school. These seven students came from historically black institutions such as Philander Smith, Little Rock, Spelman, and Fisk University. The students traded places with Luther students, who then attended the institutions where they had come from.

Gradually, more black students and other students of color came onto campus. Yet, these students were often met with discrimination. In 1968 the BSU was founded by Jerry Hutch (‘69), Byron Dean (‘71), Augusta Stephens, Reulan (Walter) Levin (‘71), and Carmen Allison.

The 1980’s brought low numbers of racial diversity to Luther. Black student enrollment declined dramatically because incentives for black students to attend were phased out. At this time, Luther’s attention was directed towards attracting international students.

In 1992 as a response, there was a petition delivered to the Board of Regents to increase the presence of black students and other students of color on campus. Soon after, the college received a Lily Endowment Grant, which enabled the creation of the Diversity Center, now known as the Center for Intercultural Engagement and Student Success.

After discussing Luther’s racial history, Hagen addressed the hate crimes that occurred on campus in the 2018 spring semester. She believes these events were treated differently than when she was a student at Luther. According to Hagen, the Luther community has responded more quickly to these incidents than when she attended Luther.

Hagen ended her speech with a call to action, saying that all of her information from the lecture should be put to use, like the story of the founding of Luther. She instructed the audience to listen and trust students of color when they speak. Finally, she said to be intentional and honest in every action of engagement including recruiting, retention, or alumni engagement.

After her presentation, the audience gave Hagen a standing ovation.

Nave agrees with Hagen’s message about the importance of continuing to learn and talk about Luther’s history and current engagement with the topic of race.

“For me to not talk about race would mean that I am avoiding it,” Nave said. “I don’t know how to keep it out of classrooms, from conversations about the wall to others, we need to address them.”

The next event commemoration BSU’s 50th anniversary will be the embodied dialogue, “Issues of Color: It’s More than Black and White,” directed by Luther Professor of Dance Jane Hawley (‘87), on Friday, Nov. 2 in the Center for the Arts room 121.

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