Posted on May 26, 2005

Has St. Olaf Really Diversified Its Campus?

Wendy Kelly, St. Paul Pioneer Press, May 26


I’ve spent the past four months at St. Olaf College studying Latin America. In taking the course, I anticipated a cakewalk history class where I blindly memorized who killed whom, in what country, on what day, and for what cause. Instead, I unknowingly enrolled in the most racially charged course I have taken. Looking around campus, it is easy to see that one of the few things absent is diversity. One would be hard pressed to find a higher concentration of blond Norwegian Lutherans anywhere. This diversity shortage isn’t for lack of trying, however. A greater percentage of minorities enroll at St. Olaf nearly every year.


With six multiracial students in class, we heard about a personal example or experience relating to our topic nearly every day. For a while, everyone appreciated having these real-life examples of oppression in Latin American countries and of issues we discussed.

Soon, however, a division grew in our little classroom. I, and others, began to notice how quickly minority students criticized white students for daring to rationalize the actions of historical Europeans and Americans. This criticism happened only a few times, but the threat of attack was enough to instill a fear of speaking one’s mind.

In contrast, white students regularly left inflammatory comments by these same multicultural students unanswered for fear that as a nonminority contradicting a minority they might sound racist. At one point, a student of Latin American heritage even went so far to say that minorities deal better with power because they have more sensitivity toward the rights of others.


This separation of multicultural and white students doesn’t end at the door of the classroom, either. Since taking this course, the segregation has become more visible to me. In the cafeteria, everyone recognizes the tables where the multicultural population sits. Of course, there are some minority students who branch out and sit with others, but on the whole, a distinct schism exists. It would be highly unorthodox for any nonminority student to sit at the multiracial table without an invitation.

I’ve also heard stories of harassment from the multiracial crowd toward other minority students because they were too like white students. Last year, one minority student continuously bullied a first-year Asian student who had been adopted by white parents at a young age because “[she] couldn’t even speak Korean . . . [she’s] not really Asian.” This tormented student transferred at the end of last year to escape persecution. I’ve also heard of another student who has an on-going feud with some of the multicultural students because they believe he is “white-washed” and not adequately connected with his roots.


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