Students share lived experiences at multicultural town hall


Photo by Victoria Reyna-Rodriguez/La Prensa

Senior Director of Residence Life Coordinator Kurt Earnest shares with Student Government officials the importance of education and intervention to limit micro-aggressions.

Katherine Kealey

Amid a snowstorm, representatives of the Student Government and members of the Iowa State University community discussed situations of micro-aggressions on campus during the multicultural town hall Thursday.

Those who felt comfortable speaking shared their accounts of identity-based micro-aggressions and aggressions they experienced while on campus. Director of International Student Experience Tom Sun is a senior majoring in computer engineering. He said while working with peers on class projects; people often assume he does not speak good enough English to perform certain tasks on projects.

“A lot of times this is very implicit but it kind of makes me uncomfortable that they are thinking like that,” Sun said. “Even if you don’t speak English fluently that doesn’t mean you aren’t as smart as everyone else who is here.”

Senior Director of Residence Life Coordinator Kurt Earnest was also in attendance. He spoke to how regardless of the intention behind a micro-aggression, there is still a profound impact on the person on the receiving end. 

“For me it is about what are some of the tools that can help like-minded people deconstruct the impact of micro-aggressions by interrupting them and perhaps educating people about the potential harm they are inflicting,” Earnest said.

Earnest proposed utilizing Green Dot as a resource to facilitate this education. Diversity and Inclusion Director Alyannah Buhman, a senior majoring in criminal justice, agreed with Earnest while shedding light on micro-aggressions when there is a power dynamic.

“Recognizing it and speaking up is difficult, especially if it is a professor or staff or someone who is considered a mentor or a leader for you,” Buhman said. “When they say those kinds of things, you don’t really know how to act when you have to have class with them for the rest of the semester.”

Diversity and Inclusion Committee At-Large Member Obi Agba, a sophomore majoring in political science, works with organizations relating to race, sex and class consciousness on and off-campus. He said while studying political science throughout his life, much of the curriculum has centered around western history. 

“I expected to learn about international politics but we have only talked about Europe for the last two months,” Agba said, referring to one of his current courses. “When they mention nonwhite nations they are usually described as pawns for the dominating powers.”

The Iowa State provost office is currently looking for an undergraduate student to be a part of the U.S. Diversity Class Committee. The committee will examine how to move forward with the newly implemented diversity objectives.

Student Body President Julia Campbell, a senior in agricultural business, said the position is still open to anyone interested. 

A common micro-aggression mentioned in the room was white peers often assume because a student is Black or Brown, they aren’t American. One student mentioned an encounter on a bus ride where another student asked him if he was a “711 or 9/11.”

“Speaking about micro-aggressions is going to make people uncomfortable, racism makes people uncomfortable, but you don’t grow by sitting in your box,” Buhman said. “You have to move outside your box and have conversations to really understand, learn and recognize so it doesn’t happen again.”

Due to the snowstorm, Buhman said she was terrified no one would show up but said the smaller group made the conversation more intimate and personal. The Diversity and Inclusion Committee intends on planning another town hall in mid-April.

“It is always a little difficult in the beginning because people don’t know what they are allowed to say or may not feel comfortable speaking up, but I am glad throughout the event everyone felt comfortable to share those experiences. That is really what we want for the town hall.”