September represents change for students coming to campus. Many new students look forward to getting away from home, while upperclassmen look forward to a new set of courses.
Over the summer, Minnesota has had to take a hard look at its police and community relations after the recent shooting of Philando Castile. People of all backgrounds have had mixed reactions to the situation. Demonstrations all around the state have sprouted in response to the question of diversity and whether or not Minnesota is capable of dealing with the growing cultural influx.
Student organizations across the campus of SCSU are reacting to the recent demonstrations that have taken place outside of Stearns County and the affect they have on the immediate community. Many cultural student groups see SCSU as a diverse university that focuses on inclusion, awareness, and believe other students are supportive of cultural change.
Grad student Steven Zilberg is a part of the Muslim Student Association; he says that his group feels welcomed on campus, but they are very aware of the this summer’s events and xenophobia issues around the St. Cloud community. Zilberg also mentioned that the university is starting a new mentoring program for incoming freshman. He believes that having juniors and seniors guide incoming students and introducing them to groups like the Muslim Student Association will help curb the fear surrounding Muslims.
“One of the goals that we’re implementing is this new mentor program where new students are going to have a mentor that has been on campus for a few years as well as getting out and other events such as Islam cultural events,” Zilberg said. “We’re getting out to let people know that we’re here as students, as real people and not a threat since Donald Trump and others are fueling that hatred, we’re trying to combat that as much as possible. It’s hard to do, but it’s a job we have to do.”
In the course of change in the political atmosphere, the Islamic community is not the only one trying to combat discrimination. The African Student Association [ASA] primarily focuses on promoting African culture on campus, but they have started to host conferences and meetings to educate students of all backgrounds on human rights. ASA member William Tokpa believes the community of St. Cloud is changing and that everybody is starting to garner their own opinion about political issues.
“The more voices you bring together, the more everyone feels included,” Tokpa said. “We discuss an array of hot topics and we get how people feel, so that everyone is more welcome.”
While SCSU is a college that welcomes all cultures, some students still experience inequality on a fundamental level. Vice President of the Korean Student Association [KSA] Emily Choi says she loves the SCSU campus and how much emphasis they put on diversity and acceptance, but some of her friends have experienced racial discrimination from people like the St. Cloud Superman: A middle aged white male who drives around in a Volkswagen Beatle and yells racial slurs through a megaphone at multi-cultural students. Some of them even showed up to a Student Government meeting last year and professed the prejudice they felt from having these things happen to them on campus. While they may not have been the focus of this summer’s protests, the KSA still represents how coming into a new environment as a minority can be challenging.
Despite the growing awareness of the benefits that cultural diversity brings, many people still experience prejudice on and off campus. SCSU encourages students to broaden their horizon, and experience the many cultures that surround the community by taking part in the various student organizations that celebrate student heritage.