IntroductionOh noh Ami!
I’m Kelsay Myers, co-founder of the Asian American Student Organization with Danielle Trierweiler. Along with other students from the Latino Student Organization, the Black Student Organization, and the Muslim Student Organization, (although their speaker had to back out due to a conflict this evening), we created this speak-out as a first step towards raising student awareness of the need for Ethnic Studies.
Ethnic Studies came out of the Civil Rights Movement in the late 1950s-1960s when students of color recognized the need for self-determination not assimilation. It has historically been fought for by students and without student interest will and has failed. We hope the speeches prepared by the students tonight which focus on personal experiences on campus, why we need Ethnic Studies and what it should be will persuade you to join the fight for Ethnic Studies.
Our thinking came from struggling with and in the academic programs K College currently offers. The college seeks “talented students from diverse backgrounds who are looking for academic and personal challenges that are offered in a Kalamazoo College education.” But the college does not take responsibility for giving the racial minority students it brings here adequate resources or offer the educational programs to teach us our culture and our history. These holes in the educational system leave all of us at a disadvantage if we want to be “educated citizens” and have the best education that we can.
Other small liberal arts colleges offering ethnic studies programs such as Oberlin or particularly Macalester College, which has an American Studies program focused on racial and ethnic studies should serve as models for what K can become in the future. Without resources for the minority students to develop self-determination, K will not be able to compete for us.
Munni Rahman, formerly '11
Here I am!
I am HERE!
My name is Munni. Rahman. Amongst twelve hundred people here, I am one. I do not want to blend into the midst of the crowd. I need a shining star to guide me to help me find myself. I need ethnic studies to pour its lights on me so that I can become visible.
After coming to Kalamazoo College, I felt like I took a step back in time, when minority students were fighting for their rights to attend college for the first time. I attended classes with some of the brightest people, yet ignorance prevailed in their minds. I came to this college seeking a liberal arts education; that is what attracted me to this school. I find it hard to believe that this is truly a liberal arts college. Education should include experience plus text, but I feel like so far I have been only receiving the text portion of the education. But this changed when I enrolled into Professors Cabasuao’s English class, reading autobiographies. In less then five weeks, I learned so much about my self, and I was able to tie my other classes together which allowed me a receive a real education. I found myself enjoying my other classes more. Microeconomics made more sense in terms of reality; graphs were not just what I saw.
I was fortunate enough to take this class, since Professor Cabasuo will no longr be here. But why can’t we have more classes like that in K College? I believe having an ethnic studies program on campus will allow room for connections to be made, thus giving us a true liberal arts education. In turn, this will help uplift the invisible cloak of ignorance that our campus is covered with.
Adam Warner ‘08
I would like to talk about what this speak-out suggests for the student’s relationship to the institution, and in turn the condition of our curriculum and the structural resources available to students.
There are a few fundamental things that an individual must accept when one becomes a student, upon entering school. The first, is the curricular goals and missions of the school, which determine the way in which one will be educated. This then suggests that the school has a certain perspective on the body of knowledge they introduce and find absolutely necessary for an individual’s education. Foremost, the student must accept the authority of the academic and professor on the subject. While this relationship varies according to professors, the student’s concession is fundamental. Like most institutions, colleges have an administration and employees. In our case, as students, we pay the college to be employed. Therefore, the college states the intents and purposes of what we will gain and benefit from our educational experience here.
This speak-out is a response to the institution that we inhabit, engage with, and economically sustain. It is a means to draw attention to the fact that the body in which the college is realized has identified a gap between the ‘actual’ and the ‘possible.’ the very presence of people here today is testament to unfulfilled promises. Perhaps, more appropriately stated, the very presence of people here today suggests that they have not been included in the promise of the college whatsoever. Conversely, the absence of individuals also speaks to our problem today. Given the past and recent instances of racial prejudice exhibited on the surface of our campus. The question we are asking today, is how have the resources and curriculum offered by Kalamazoo College produced this very response, or non-response.
While there are certainly many responses to such a question, I would like to point to the school’s motto: "At home in the world." This captures the school’s idea of a cross-cultural education that incorporates experiential and traditional forms of education. Kalamazoo College prides itself in the Study Abroad program. I would like to suggest that as long as the “world” referenced in the motto is limited and defined simply by our campus, with our white student body, and our curriculum that conspicuously excludes, understates and marginalizes programs such as ethnic, cultural and gender studies programs, which consequently excludes the experiences of underrepresented students, while simultaneously reifies the experience of the majority, it is safe to assume that the “world” referenced in the motto is simply the one the college has constructed.
We can always be at ‘home’ in the ‘world,’ when that ‘world’ is merely an extension of our home. I can think of no better example of this than the study abroad program. The failure to contextualize, or provide students with a comprehensive approach to the assessment and elucidation of that experience, turns the program into voyeurism. The experiential intent for study abroad is deemed ineffective if it is just to be ‘experienced.’ Experiential education only works when students are given spaces to articulate and interrogate these experiences. This problem is perhaps most evident in the process leading up to the program. For example, the CIP’s egregious preparatory programs that conveniently lump everything into either “European” and “non-European.”
Our role here today, and hereafter, is to identify and explicate the division between what the school does and does not provide. To articulate and present to the administration the gap between the mission statement and our day-to-day material experience. It is clear that the school is undergoing a transformation as evidenced by the face-lift. While there have been some encouraging changes in the past four years, we cannot simply assume that the problems we experienced will dissolve with these changes. Rather, it necessary that we practice the other thing that comes with being a student, which is resistance.
Kelsay Myers '07-'09
On “Resistance” Education
I want to talk about how I am shut out from the K Community because I am an Asian American woman, and my issues can only be addressed in an Ethnic Studies program. I have spent most of my life assimilated to the dominant white culture, hearing whiteness and white privilege in the academia, the assignments, and my various communities. But I need to hear the voices of my people, now--the people of the "Third World," Korea, China, Japan, the Philippines, activists in Asian America--these are the voices I need to hear to form a healthy sense of self and to know my relation to the world around me.
Asian American Studies was formed, like Ethnic Studies, to be a safe space for minorities who feel alienated from their academic environment that can be hostile at times. It is a place for self-determination and shared experiences and histories. East Asian Studies is not enough. It does not address the experiences of Asians in America or Asian Americans. It does not address the history of activism that people like Yuri Kochiyama, who worked for Civil Rights, Afro-American Unity, Puerto Rican nationalism, and Asian American activism live and breathe. In 1968, the longest strike in American history was at San Francisco University for Ethnic Studies. Blacks, Latinos, Asian Americans, and American Indians came together in struggle. I find it disturbing that in 2007 we need to do the same at Kalamazoo College. We are still having the same struggles and still fighting to hear our voices reflected in the curriculum, not by way of insertion or "recognition" of the need for diversity, but understanding the different lived experiences of Asian American students and others.
If knowledge is power, how can we be powerful if we do not have access to everyone's histories, if we do not hear everyone's voices? It is not enough to diversify our campus without being accountable for the act of diversity. We need to take responsibility by demanding the right of every student to have an education that is not formed in resistance, that does not deny them a voice and a community. We must fight for Ethnic Studies on our campus!
Marlene Ramos '08
As I stand here and look around Kalamazoo College I recall the moments I have struggled to continue my education here. It has not been easy, but life is not easy and all I can say right now is that there are many students that have struggled to stay here, especially the students of color. Kalamazoo College has been diversifying the campus, but it does not understand the true concept of diversity. It is not about bringing color students to campus and say “hey the campus is diverse.” That to me is only presenting a false image of diversity, thus diversity is about different backgrounds, races, cultures, languages, life experiences, etc. That is diversity, not only an image. I am a Mexican-American female and my name is Marlene Ramos and this is my story.
At the age of 11, my family and I traveled to Blissful, MI to work in agricultural labor work. Every spring and summer we would migrate to Michigan. We met different people of different ages, ranging from 13 yrs to 60 yrs old. Each season brought different people and different working conditions. Sometimes the season was bad and there was not enough harvest. Sometimes the season would be good, and we would return to our homes with enough money to make it through the year. It was difficult to understand why my brothers and I had to work at such a young age. However, my mother would always remind us “miren huercos, aqui es donde yo cresi, ustedes quierien vivir la misma vida que yo?” (“Look kids, this is where I grew up, do you want to live the same life as mine?”). Of course none of us would reply. We would only shake our heads, thinking, “no, we did not want this life.”
I grew up in South Texas, a predominantly impoverished Mexican-American community. Due to the high rates of poverty, there were numerous social issues including immigration and education. Many of my friends, including myself, have parents that are immigrants without educations. Very few parents would encourage their children to get an education, because they needed the children to work to support the family. Sadly, many of these children get involved in drug trafficking because it is the most available job and produces a lot of money; however, many of them are killed or end up in prison. Other children continue working in agricultural labor work or find other jobs, which explains the large percentage of high school dropouts in Texas. I was lucky to have a parent who spoke to me about the power of education, and I did not want to be another statistic in the high school dropout list. I finally learned that this was my reality; a reality of survival.
For a long time all I knew was that I was a migrant worker and that was the only reality. That changed when I arrived to Kalamazoo College. My perceptions, my knowledge, and my understandings of the world did not quite fit here. Many of my peers made sense of their lives through academics, while I made sense of it through life experiences. Many of them came from sheltered homes who did not have the same exposure of life as I had, and it was something that I could not explain. It became difficult to share any of my ideas because I became threatened to how they perceived the world. Due to this I would get scared to ask or share any of my thoughts to my peers or in my courses.
Because of this I question my views, my values and my ideas. It would not match up to the ideas of my peers, but I had to constantly be calm and try to understand their perspective of life because the key was to understand their reality and maintain my own. I constantly searched for people that shared the same ideas as I did, mostly outside of the university. I hanged out with people in the low-income neighborhoods, people of different races, ages, and backgrounds. I figured that if I could not find comfort in the university I would find it out in the real world. I maintained my reality by finding individuals who had similar life experiences as me and where we shared common ideas. This is the only way that kept me alive at K.
I finally reached a point in my life where I understood that my reality was different, but that understanding came with time. It was very challenging and took hard work and I am still learning and understanding. I am learning how to live in two worlds and I will be honest there are still times where I question my views, my values and my ideas, but I have to remind myself where I come from and who I am. I was a migrant worker and now I am a student. That is what diversity means to me.
1. Rheanna Milardo, Amber Guerrero, Danielle Trierweiler, and Daira Raheem also spoke at the rally.
2. As stated elsewhere, Munni Rahman left K after her first year because of the issues she spoke of here.