BIPOC students and alumni share their encounters with racism at Bethel.
By Alice Hong | Contributing Writer
In the midst of racially-motivated violence and harassment across the U.S. within the past year, Bethel has begun to make tangible steps towards racial reconciliation. Faculty and administration have acknowledged that the increase in anti-Asian hate crimes, the killings of Black lives and the escalation of the border crisis have significantly impacted the physical and mental health of students from marginalized communities on campus.
One of these steps is the Take Action Group, which was developed in the summer of 2020 following George Floyd’s murder as an invitation to Bethel faculty and staff to read, discuss, and seek to apply the concepts in “How to Be an Anti-Racist” by Ibram X. A second racial reconciliation initiative, called Micah 6:8 training, was developed to increase cultural humility and decrease 2`unintentional racial bias within Bethel staff, faculty, and students. These trainings were designed by Bethel faculty and staff in a collaborative effort to be relevant for Bethel’s departments through workshops and debrief sessions.
President Ross Allen has released a series of statements this year that condemn racism and encourage the Bethel community to pursue justice by being anti-racist. His hope is that “these statements call us not only out of the sin that destroys the image of God in humanity, but also into responsibility and restoration as we seek to build a more equitable, just, and hopeful future together.”
When interviewed about how he will create a safe space for Black and Indigenous People of Color (BIPOC) students, President Ross Allen stated that “their [students of color] lives matter at Bethel – and when each of us brings our unique perspective to conversations in the classroom, on the athletic field, or over coffee at Royal Grounds, our community is better for it.”
While Bethel’s administration has taken preliminary actions to create a safer space for students of color, the BIPOC community on campus say they still face microaggressions daily.
Below, you will find first-person accounts that detail Bethel BIPOC students’ and alum’s encounters with racism. This collection of quotes from is rooted in hurt and frustration. Therefore, it may be triggering for BIPOC readers due to its vulnerable nature. Just as sharing these experiences push BIPOC students into a vulnerable space, reading these accounts requires a vulnerable heart and a willingness to learn and lament.
Before I go into detail about my particular experience with prejudiceness at Bethel, I would like to state that this is one of many stories that I could tell and that there are several unheard stories from other BIPOC students. In my research principles class we were allowed to work with a partner for our research project, so I asked another student if she wanted to work with me and she agreed to it. As the semester progressed, I could sense that she was very uncomfortable around me. Everytime I came into class and attempted to communicate with her, she would not engage with me at all.
When I would ask important questions pertaining to our project, she would reply with one word answers. I tried my best to communicate with her in person and through emails. In addition to this, I did almost all of the work. Later on in the semester, I went to class, sat next to my partner, and tried communicating with her… I was sitting right next to her and she decided to email me instead of directly talking to me as if I’m unapproachable. She emailed me saying, “Hello, sorry I wasn’t able to tell you this earlier, but Dr. Anderson said it would be okay if we worked separately on our project since it is a larger one. We could both work on the same subject, but separately and I think it would be better if we did that.”
After class I met with the professor and the professor told me that my partner emailed her saying that I did not help her on a particular assignment, which is a complete lie because I worked on that assignment all night while my partner did the bare minimum. It is ironic because she is conducting a study on prejudiceness towards minorities, but she can’t even work with a minority and her prejudiceness clearly came to light.
Thankfully, this professor knew my partner’s story did not add up because I submitted nearly all of our assignments. I was given the option to do my project separately, join another group, or start all over. I chose to start over for various reasons. However, this was an extremely stressful process for me. I completely lost motivation and I was struggling with many other things outside of school.
I wanted to share this story because these types of situations occur at Bethel on a daily basis and it is swept under the rug. This is just one example of barriers that BIPOC students have to endure. Lastly, I would like to add that these prejudiced circumstances are extremely detrimental to the mental health of BIPOC students, so it is important for us to not only address this issue but to implement ways in which BIPOC students can be supported as well as enforcing a no tolerance policy for prejudiceness of any kind.
My existence is constantly questioned as my ethnicity is seen as a club or a party trick. I am constantly asked “how native are you” as I am asked to justify my existence. I always reply the same way, “I am native enough.” I have been asked so many insensitive things that I have come to make a list, things like, “do you live in a teepee?”, “Do you have running water?”, “Are you a US Citizen?”, “Do you have stuffed eagle body parts?”, “Are you a pagan?” etc.
My culture views women very differently, and some of the things that are talked about freely and commonly among other men make me incredibly uncomfortable. Yet if I speak out I am ostracized as odd, or “unmanly.” I am not able to listen to the music that I am used to or eat what I am used to, as it upsets or offsets those of western culture that inhabit the space around me. I am forced to fit into a white box that I am not in any way happy in; I sneak what I can in here and there to be able to connect to my ancestors and remember who I am. I often find myself losing who I am and what I love as I am forced to be this person that I am not, this western version of myself that I do not enjoy, yet see no real way to avoid this. As the only proud Native in my friend group here at Bethel, I am always aware of any topic of any class that may even touch on the topic of Native Americans.
I have also been overlooked and shrugged off as simply a white person. I am white-passing and this is a burden that I have to carry; it is a daily reminder that my ancestors were raped and killed for the fun of it, as they were seen as less. I am forced to look like the aggressors of history while living in a community with the survivors. When I tell people I’m Native, I immediately see a change in the demeanor of the conversation. Often I have been talked down to and jokes have been made at my expense as I had distanced myself from the majority. These people were obviously nervous and somehow almost always made the wrong move. I often try to avoid the topic of race or land in this country so that I do not have to fight off a crowd of people all by myself. Yet here at Bethel, we do not really talk about Native Americans if not as a thing of the past, or as one entity. This needs to change and it needs to change now.
Roland Osagiede, Black student
Throughout my time at Bethel I’ve been mistaken for several other African American males that attend Bethel. There is a particular person that I get mistaken for on a regular basis, though, which is what makes this such a big microaggression. This individual that I get mistaken for works at the same job as me, and is also African American. Other than those two similarities, this individual and I share nothing in common as far as physical features. We have different hair lengths, different heights and the individual even wears glasses.
Despite these differences, I still get mistaken for that individual. This might not sound like a big deal, but it really is to me. After mistaking me for another individual, most people don’t even take the time to ask what my name is. This truly shows me how much they care about me as a person. It honestly makes me feel less and less seen while attending Bethel. It almost feels as if people assume we all look the same because we share the same skin color. The saddest part about this is that there aren’t that many African Americans who attend Bethel. With that in mind, you would think that it would be a lot easier to remember people’s names and be able to differentiate individuals.
Ashwani Chumber, Indian American alum
As an Indian student at Bethel, I felt safe and knew that racism wouldn’t be directed at me due to the proximity to whiteness that comes with my ethnicity. However, this somehow opened up a door for others to talk down about other BIPOC students, particularly Black students.
I would have white classmates tell me about how they were annoyed by a certain Black student who was in their class. One of my white friends would oversexualize and fetishize Black men while also acting disgusted if a Black man wanted to date her. ‘It’s just a preference….’ Sure… Freshman year, I had a white friend who did not hesitate to say the N word if it was in a song. Sophomore year, I was friends with someone who called Black people dirty and said she always felt unsafe around Black men because ‘they all want me…. why wouldn’t they?’ I also had a white male friend who felt that it was justifiable to hate Mexican men because his sister dated one who was predatory.
Unfortunately, I felt that I was in a position to help these people stop being racist, when in reality they were using me as their token friend of color in order to justify their actions.
During the fall semester at Bethel, there were only two POC in my PE class. I was one of the two POC, and during my time in class, a white girl came up to the other POC and asked if we were sisters. I was shocked and curious why she thought we looked alike, because we are from two completely different geographical regions in Asia.
African American student
Hearing about Bethel’s ‘great community’ has always stung because I’ve never felt it. I tried so hard to fit in, but I can’t deny my Blackness for the comfortability of white students. I should be able to come as I am. Because I’m open about the struggles of being Black in America, I’m instantly a social outcast. Someone will read this and rip me apart, which is why I’ve chosen to be anonymous. Being a BIPOC student on campus either means you water aspects of yourself down or have only a few friends. I only have a few friends, but I love them for their full selves and they love me for my full self. They march alongside me and stand up against murder; they don’t politicize my existence to give them a reason not to care. They care about me, my community, my people. They are the ones in which I see the Christ my mama taught me about.
My experience at Bethel as an Asian American student has largely been a series of microaggressions that have been hidden underneath a veil of ‘Bethel niceness.’ In my time here, I have heard inappropriate and racist things, especially from white students, who often joke about or undermine my cultural identity. One of my many experiences includes a facilities worker who came into my room to fix my blinds, and he pointed at my penguin stuffed animal in the corner of my room and said, ‘Oh, that’s funny because you guys like to eat those, amiright?”
I was extremely shocked at that random and insensitive comment, and froze in that moment. I’ve also had friends make jokes like “Oh I wish I was a minority so that I can get into this or that school/program, or so I can get this “perk” or scholarship.” This is such a hurtful thing to hear because I grew up my entire life wishing I was white because I hated the pain that came with being a first generation Asian American immigrant. My life story and hardships rooted in that pain is not a ‘perk,’ nor is it an advantage. The fact that some white students view it as such reveals the ignorance in this student body.
During my freshman year of college, I brought some food from home. This dish that I had, we eat normally at home so I didn’t think anything of it. However, one of the girls from my floor walked in and was like, ‘That smells disgusting.’ And from that moment on, I knew that this was about to be a long four years.
Being a person of color at Bethel University can be described in one word: exhausting. Constantly being surrounded by people who don’t look like you is depleting. There have been numerous times where I have considered transferring schools because of the trauma that goes along with being a person of color in a predominantly white institution. The responsibility of educating faculty and peers about race and cultural competence is placed on the shoulders of students of color repeatedly.
My experience as a Latinx student at Bethel has been nothing short of draining. It’s the passive aggressive racism that steadily gets overlooked. Although there are a small handful of students who I can depend on, it would be accurate to say that being a student of color at Bethel has taken a toll on my mental health.
“They’re a product of their environment.”
That has always been the phrase that dwells in my mind when I try to wrap my head around the many exhausting and hurtful moments that I have had to endure in my time here at Bethel. I used it as a way to understand why someone voted the way they did, or why even as Christians, students here refused to offer even a sliver of empathy towards their peers of color.
And up to now, I used it so I did not have to actually take on the full force and effect of their words or actions. But not anymore. I had a conversation with a friend that reminded me that phrase is no longer an excuse, reminding me that there comes a point when that phrase no longer means anything. That even if the life of most students here has been shrouded in ignorance and privilege, it is no longer enough to justify their ways of disregarding BIPOC students and the issues surrounding us and our communities. There is so much out in the world, and you should not limit yourself to only what your parents or church have surrounded you in.
The few looks I get when I wear my cultural clothes or when I put our traditional clay makeup on my face doesn’t get to me, but what really made me feel like an outcast was when I experienced racism from my own adviser. I had changed my major, and when I was assigned a new adviser, I had no trouble with it and was looking forward to meeting with her. What I later learned about this new adviser was that every time I would meet her, she would be discouraging and would always say that I would not make it into my dream career. She would always try to convince me to change my major or future plan because I was not ‘good enough.’ It’s not anything new when the students treat you differently, but you wouldn’t expect to be treated like this by someone who should be encouraging and supporting you.
I feel like in the past two weeks with the shooting in Georgia, there was a lack of acknowledgement of the hurt that Asian Americans feel at Bethel. I did not hear anything immediately from administration to grieve or even an email to acknowledge the pain that we are feeling. I think Bethel has a lot of room to grow as an institution. There was no direct email from the President right away to say something about it to make me feel safe. It feels like no one is behind [me] besides a few professors who I personally connect to. I did not see any support from BSG besides Alice Hong. However, she is a student of color who is hurting right now, and she is supporting other students who are also hurt. That’s not how it should work. BSG as a whole, not just a leader of color, needs to make sure that we matter, that we belong here. And that we deserve to be cared for here. Because we also pay to go to this institution, and BSG has to be more responsible for all of our experiences as students here.
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