Students look for improvement in Augustana’s efforts on racial justice

Maria Fernanda Rubi

Just as the country, Augustana is in an ongoing battle for racial justice.
Some students said there is still room for improvement in Augie’s efforts on racial justice. They call not only the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion and multicultural groups, but also all the departments, staff and students to take action.
“I was definitely surprised to hear we were ranked #1 for diversity in college,” sophomore Marissa Melone said.  
“Superficially, we look diverse. But actionwise, there is a lot to be done,” senior Pace Mentor Vanessa Catañon said. Castañon is a former student staff member from the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, and has been a pace mentor for three years in a row.
“I don’t think they [Augustana] are doing a lot to promote inclusion, it is pretty much student led,” Castañon said.
The Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion has been leading events to promote racial justice and  educate the student body. However, Castañon thinks the job should be distributed among other offices too. 
“We are giving the responsibility to the ones being marginalized, we should get support from others, even if the office is made for it or not,” Castañon said.
Melone suggests multicultural groups could receive more encouragement from the administration. “OSL gets tons of support, I don’t know why we can’t get that for multicultural groups,” Melone said.
When asking sophomore Kira Banks, fundraiser chair in Black Student Union and Latinx Unidos, how diverse the campus was, she said we were a four on a scale of one to 10.
“Students of color like me and international students step out of our comfort zone by waking up and existing in this campus, and others can’t even do it by participating in uncomfortable conversations,” Banks said.
Last year, one of Banks week’s topics in a class was race. She said her peers were silent, but when changing the subject to climate change, everyone would talk. Banks and Catañon agree that people don’t feel uncomfortable having those conversations, but they should be normalized to acknowledge issues and make long-lasting, positive change.
Banks and Castañon believe Augustana would not have taken action promoting race justice if it wasn’t for the current social context. “The school needs to be proactive, not waiting for something to happen,” Castañon said. 
“I am worried people are showing Allyship for BLM as a trend,” Banks said.
Banks said she wishes Augustana could give more consistent education on the matter. “The diversity and inclusion online course should have more follow up. The moral of the story is, yes it sucks, sometimes people are racist, but I got through it. It should be we are actively trying to change it so no one gets to feel that way,” Banks said.
This year the Office of Student Life and Leadership (OSL) led a multicultural fest. “I think events like cultural fest are very helpful because a lot of students like me are looking to get involved in [multicultural groups] but are not sure where to start,” Melone said.
Another thing Augustana does to promote inclusion is offer the PACE Program for first-year students. “PACE program made us feel more comfortable with the transition to college, it helps us get to know more people, and provides us resources,” Brian Salinas, first-year, said.
Melone said the candlelight vigil that was held to grieve lives lost to injustice was beautiful and eye-opening. “They talked about experiencing microaggressions from staff and other students, I didn’t know this was happening at Augustana,” Melone said.
“Hearing stuff once is not enough to start making a change, the more you learn about it the more you are likely to start learning on your own and taking actions,” sophomore Henry Webb said.