Symposium Day lacks initiative


Students and faculty discuss the the Black Lives Matter movement in Wallenberg Hall during Augustana College’s Winter Term Symposium Day session. Photo by Kelsey Cunningham.

Symposium Day has always been an event of mixed opinion at Augustana College. Term to term and session to session, the quality of each Symposium Day can vary widely. This winter term’s Symposium Day was no exception. This year’s trouble with Symposium Day started before the day even began. Augustana launched emails and advertising for the social justice themed symposium featuring a student-created mural. The artwork had originally been for Hispanic Heritage Month’s “Build Bridges Not Borders” event, hosted by the Office of Multicultural Student Life and Latinos Unidos. The mural was originally sent out without any credit to the artists, offices or the event that originated it. To the college’s credit, they did eventually send out a correction email with proper credit attached for the art. But beginning a social justice symposium by borderline-plagiarizing student work to promote a different event is shameful. With this disappointing blunder weighing on my mind already, I headed into the sessions with some reservations. My first session, hosted by student Karina Huerta, the Office of Multicultural Student Life’s Michael Rogers, the Office of Multicultural Student Life and Dr. Araceli Masterson, focused on the 43 disappeared students from Ayotzinapa, Mexico. This session was jam-packed, and the full house was well deserved. Huerta led the session, with assistance from Masterson and Rogers, and it was a powerful and emotional session. The next session did not go as well for me. It was “Social Justice in Art” by students Ashley Newell, Erin Runde, Sarah Ludwig, Elise Morgan, Bridget Quinn and Sydney Gilbert. The presentation did not seem to be about social justice so much as about (white) feminist interpretations of art through the ages. The students involved had clearly worked hard on their presentation however, and made many good points about women’s representation in art that seemed geared towards an audience very unfamiliar with art or feminism. But I found myself wondering how much any of them really knew about social justice. Part of the presentation focused on Frida Kahlo, and much vital information about her identity as an indigenous woman, a bisexual person, and a communist was left out entirely from their presentation. These facts cannot be divorced from her art, and the presentation on Kahlo came across as very whitewashed for that reason. Additionally, comments on another work of art equated having a flat chest with being a man and wearing makeup to being a woman, which to a student of social justice would immediately be recognizable as a transphobic, heteronormative and patriarchal statement. That these socially unjust statements were made in a presentation labelled “Social Justice in Art” is more a failing of the concept of Symposium Day as a whole than a failing of the students involved. Last year’s sessions were just as rife with problems, and this year made it clear that we can all continue to expect more of the same. There is little oversight or quality control in what the college is willing to pass off as “social justice” programming, setting the bar incredibly low so everyone can get over it. The college struggles to educate us all to a point where the bar can be set to a more reasonable standard, one that is truly socially just. But as the debacle with the Build Bridges Not Borders mural proved, Augustana College itself doesn’t always have the best grasp on what social justice actually means. I was glad, then, to see members of the administration present in the final session I could attend for the day, “Hello From the Other Side: Experiences of Microaggressions in Higher Education” by students Lizandra Gomez-Ramirez and Cindy Morales, and the Office of Multicultural Student Life. The issue of microaggressions has loomed large on campus in the past few years. Hopefully the administration who attended this session will have a more complex understanding of why this seemingly innocuous problem has such monstrous consequences for students at Augustana, and why true education on social justice requires more than just one day a year to occur.