By Laura Grimm
Student Senate spent four hours discussing one issue: racism.
Last Thursday, the senators traded out their weekly meeting to go to the Anti-Racism in Higher Education Training. After the training was brought to the Student Senate executive board’s attention, they unanimously decided to attend.
Student Body President Kaleen Krueger felt it was especially crucial for student representatives to attend this training.
“It’s really important for all of our student senators to understand our campus and our culture and be supportive of everyone at MSUM,” Krueger said. “It shows that the people who are representing you are dedicated to your environment and that we want to be supportive and understand everything that’s happening within our campus … and around the world.”
Last March, accusations of racism among senators culminated in black students walking out of a Student Senate meeting in protest. Student Senate issued a formal apology and now hope to focus on the future. Krueger claims this incident did not influence their decision to attend the anti-racism training.
“It’s not affecting (our decision) this year because we have so much to do and accomplish,” Krueger said.
According to senior Amanda Brandenburger, Student Senate’s treasurer, racism is a problem both at MSUM and nationwide.
“In any society, racism is a problem, so you’re going to find it on a college campus,” Brandenburger said.
Early last spring, Diversity Chair Lexi Byler started the #MSUM4All campaign, which included social media posts and posters of diverse individuals. Even though Byler graduated, many of the posters can still be found around campus.
“The #MSUM4All campaign was to show that it doesn’t matter who you are, where you come from, or what your background is,” Vice President Adam Schutt said. “We’re all Dragons and this campus is equal for all of us.”
The campaign was well-received, winning the Outstanding Diversity and Inclusion Program award at the student organization banquet last year. Still, despite its apparent success, the walkout occurred shortly after the start of the campaign.
To address the controversy, Student Senate passed a motion with the goal of “expanding student knowledge and awareness of diversity and diversity topics” last April. It included 10 possible actions to explore, including creating diversity training and adding a one-credit diversity class. Since the school year only began a few weeks ago, the senate has not yet had a chance to really explore any of these options. Moving forward, their first step is to identify which options the current senators think are the best to pursue.
“Ultimately, the senate has to decide as senators which ones they’re most passionate about. Some of them—like adding the credit course—that’s a very long process to add,” Schutt said. “We’ll talk about those things and what things they’re passionate about and want to continue working on and work towards more.”
The senators had a retreat on Saturday to discuss these topics in greater detail and work on a plan for the year.
According to the Office of Institutional Effectiveness, more than a fifth of the undergraduate student population in fall 2016 consisted of minorities, international students, and those who either did not know their race or identified with two or more races. The percentage of these students has been slowly increasing, and so has their representation on Student Senate.
“I am excited to see this year … that we do have a number of international students and people from different diverse backgrounds,” Schutt said. “It’s cool to talk about where they’re from and the perspectives they come from.”
Krueger is also excited to have more representation on Student Senate.
“It’s great that we’ve also been able to have more international students and more diverse students because that adds to their perspective on campus,” Krueger said.
So far, the increase in representation has been more of a happy accident than a deliberate attempt.
“It just worked that way, really,” Brandenburger said. She runs the Student Activities Budget Committee, which also witnessed an increase in its number of international students. “They just showed up; they answered my email. It’s nice to see them getting more and more involved.”
After the training, however, Krueger was more determined to deliberately increase the representation of students from diverse backgrounds.
“A great way to start is to start talking with administration and working on how we can get more representation for our students on campus,” Krueger said. “We’ve been working on trying to get students on committees, and I think that we can start right now looking for diverse students and having them represented on university committees.”
Schutt looked forward to the anti-racism training, especially learning how to prevent racist behavior.
“It’s cool that instead of it just being a diversity talk, it’s centered on anti-racism, so we’re going there to learn about things that we can do in our own school and our own lives too to stop racism from happening,” Schutt said. “You’re going to learn ways and initiatives and how to stop behavior like that from happening. I think it’s important to be teaching, especially for our student leaders.”
Brandenburger and Krueger both hoped to gain a better understanding from the training.
“Knowledge is so powerful,” Krueger said. “When there could be a potential instance on campus where a racist comment or statement or something happens, then we all have a better understanding of how to address it and how to understand everybody’s side.”
After the training, Krueger was very focused on what Student Senate could do moving forward.
“Taking a step back and looking at and evaluating our institution as a whole was something that I’ve done before, but this provided me more perspective about what I’ve learned about our institution, as well as where we can go in the future,” Krueger said.
Krueger is focused on advocating for students that experience racism, and the first step is to get more representation.
“It’s really important for us to get as much representation, so that the students have a voice, and I think this training just put it even more in my head that that diverse representation needs to happen,” Krueger said. “We need to have students of color, students of different religions and ethnicities, involved and participating so that we as Student Senate can represent them better and they can represent themselves, and they can say, ‘Hey, this matters to me. I want to make a difference.’”