A multicultural organization values the contributions and interests of all employees and acts to eliminate all forms of oppression within the organization, including racism, sexism, heterosexism, ageism, classism, ableism and religious oppression.
Of all the above mentioned, I can with complete confidence say that the ASUO has members and employees who reflect diverse social and cultural groups throughout all levels of the organization. Just by walking through the doors on any random day you can see the diversity of its members and staff occupying desks and computers, hard at work or hardly working. Instantly, the ASUO appears to have fulfilled its multicultural requirement; congratulations. However, there are more challenges to being a multicultural organization than just looking the part.
It is with full understanding that in writing this letter, I am subjecting myself to a tyranny of backlash from those guilty of these offenses in the first place. I feel it is only fair and about time that someone voices the truth about diversity issues within the ASUO. It seems that it is a tradition of the ASUO to use women of color as a senate quota, only to have them silenced in their various positions.
I was asked to run on the “Ben and Katie” slate toward the end of last winter. Although I made it clear where I stood on OSPIRG, they reassured me that my passion for student advocacy was exactly what they were looking for. With me, they got both a woman of color and an international student. Once I was elected and finally took my seat at the prestigious Senate table, I realized that I wasn’t expected to have any opinion other than that of the majority of the slate I had run on.
At first I thought I was imagining it; perhaps I wasn’t as educated about these issues, perhaps I really wasn’t making sense? Why were people looking at me as if I were crazy? Why was I being ignored? After voicing my opinion to a fellow ASUO female she said she noticed it too. This perplexed me. Why was I being treated differently than the other members of senate?
Then it hit me. At first, I was in denial. There is no way I was being treated differently because of what I look like. After many conversations with other people, the general consensus was that it would not be surprising if that were the case. I was surprised that I was being marginalized and silenced by the very people that claim to be the biggest allies to minority groups.
This both angered me and brought me to my breaking point in one Senate meeting that ran incredibly late. I was being openly disrespected, called names and silenced. That moment, it dawned on me — the full reality of what it meant to be a woman of color on the ASUO Senate. And in the events to follow, I was made aware that those offenders were in fact completely ignorant to the fact that their actions had caused my reaction. Instead of people assuming responsibility for their blind ignorance, I was subjected to name-calling, passive hate crimes, being ignored and being made to feel invisible.
No one wanted to deal with the blatant racism and sexism that I had been publicly submitted to. I never received a genuine apology from those responsible, and it’s because they genuinely don’t believe they are to blame for my reaction. Apparently, according to said “allies” of people of color, perhaps if I were not so aggressive in my argument I wouldn’t receive such averse treatment, and perhaps if I would be more aligned to what they deem to be worthy of a person of color I would be treated better.
What I have learned is that people of color on this campus are still placed in a box with a stereotypical label. Individuals who identify as minorities are repressed, and there is no support when something happens and an individual is marginalized. It has taken me various conversations with administration, staff and counselors to realize this isn’t news to anybody’s ears, and any solution would be welcomed.
So here’s my solution.
Senate will have to evaluate cultural competency every term: one from Dr. Robin Holmes at the ASUO retreat just isn’t going to cut it. Not through any fault of Dr. Holmes, but the follow-through crew dropped the ball. The leadership in the ASUO and on Senate is responsible for the climate in which we hold our meetings. If steps aren’t taken to help individuals through a problem when one arises, you are failing at what you do. And no, telling people it’s their fault and that they should censor themselves simply won’t do. Senators will call others out for “rude behavior” in the presence of the Campus Planner@@http://uplan.uoregon.edu/@@, but not once will those same senators hold each other accountable for racist and sexist behavior. I’ve tried many ways to go about educating individuals about how their actions make me feel, with no results. Individuals are so quick to brand themselves as allies; however, I recommend they take a deep look at how they make others feel. The biggest change starts at home, and some housekeeping would definitely be beneficial before people put on their capes and try changing the world.