The Cultural Connection Center starts the new semester with new safety measures and a renewed purpose.
By Emma Eidsvoog
Ratsamee Thosaengsiri came to the Cultural Connection Center first as a freshman, welcomed by a student named Michelle. Two years ago, the center, a 429-square-foot room on the third floor of the Clauson Center, included tables and chairs for students to play board games and do homework. Now, it’s limited to a walkthrough as a museum exhibit. But learning still happens, and so does the community Thosaengsiri was drawn to her freshman year.
“I love Bethel, but sometimes having a place that you can see people like you and have a space that welcomes you and you can sit in there and enjoy…Those were the best moments from freshman year,” Ratsamee Thosaengsiri said.
Thosaengsiri, now a CCC Ambassador, sits at the desk in the front of the room behind a sheet of plexiglass each Friday. She welcomes students into the space and introduces them to the exhibits.
Diversity and Inclusion Associate Pang Moua spent the summer trying to figure out how to continue their center with social distancing. In the past, the CCC involved sharing food and laughs and sitting close with one another on couches while doing homework.
“I’m looking forward to sitting shoulder to shoulder again,” Pang Moua said.
After the release of students from campus in the spring, Moua continued to connect through letters, meal drop-offs and prayer blankets. She knows the CCC is not just the four walls of CC317, it’s also the people.
When Moua and campus pastor Paul Kong were faced with restructuring the center, Kong was inspired by the Sankofa trips he led every spring break. The group visited sites that made a significant impact during the civil rights movement, such as the National Civil Rights museum, where Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in 1968. Kong thought of creating ‘exhibits’ within the CCC for students and faculty to reflect on the theme of humanity.
“Seeing powerful images triggers thought and makes you ask questions,” Kong said.
The space now serves as a walkthrough, like a museum, with exhibits for learning and reflecting. The first stop is a mirror with the words “Beloved, you belong here” placed over the top and polaroids bordering the edges. Kong says this is a reminder for all students that the center is intended for all students, including white students who feel the space isn’t for them to interact with.
“When you see the image of yourself it will help reinforce that you belong here, we all belong here; together,” Kong said.
Shelves with photos of CCC’s ambassadors line the left wall. Each week, an ambassador is on “spotlight” and will share their favorite snack.
The next stop, called “Know their name,” has papers written with names of people killed by law enforcement. In the middle, a mirror hangs with a block underneath saying “unknown name.”
Kong says the exhibit is to remind others of the victims’ humanity. That they had names, children and people who cared for them.
“When the person looks in the mirror, they realize that this could be us. This is who we are, we are also imperfect individuals,” Kong said. “A person’s name helps us remember their humanity.”
The back wall holds a collage of a poem written by Chief Diversity Officer Ruben Rivera, and on the right are images of Jesus portrayed in different cultural perspectives. Kong said the Jesus he related to the most wasn’t the European style he grew up seeing.
Plexiglass and tables divide the center down the middle, but they are plastered with printed out prayers and battery-powered candles.
This semester, Moua was excited to see new faces of students, faculty and staff in the center – one of them being Bethel’s new president, Ross Allen. The first week of classes tested the CCC’s new layout. Students came to connect after a six-month absence, some sat on the floor due to the lack of chairs.
“I hold my worries in tension with each other: protection and connection; protection from the virus and connection with students of color on campus,” Moua said.
Moua and Kong saw a need to clarify the purpose of the CCC. Their focus this year is to “support historically marginalized groups on campus and welcome people who have a desire to develop their intercultural competence.”
“The CCC is evidence that specifically students of color at Bethel have been crying out for a place to simply be, for a place to simply belong, to let down their guard and be accepted as them,” Pang said. “It’s like a rest stop for them.”
Series on Police Reform incites hope of starting more conversations at Bethel University.
By Chloe Peter | Contributing Writer
Gloria Portillo sat in a classroom full of other history students, where the topic of the day was history of poverty and economics. As the only person of the color in the room, the professor continued to call on her for opinions.
Normally, Portillo stayed quiet in class. This time, she didn’t have an option. She shifted in her seat as she explained her thoughts, the several sets of eyes on her becoming overwhelming. The more she expressed her opinions, the more she wanted to shrink into herself.
One student brought up “building the wall.” Another suggested that people of color who live in places where crime is high or are living in poverty should just go out and get better jobs or transfer to better schools. Portillo watched and listened as the rest of her class took sides and started to argue.
“You’re the one that looks different, so you’re expected to share,” said Portillo, a junior business major who identifies as Latinx.
Portillo is not the only student who feels uncomfortable with the racial tensions at Bethel – she has had many friends share similar experiences on Bethel’s campus and hopes that a guest speaker series on police reform in Minnesota which started Sept. 23 will help change that.
“If Bethel wants to continue to diversify as they repeatedly promote in brochures, which has come across as tokenism, then as an institution it needs to keep moving forward,” Portillo said.
The virtual series, which held its final session Oct. 14, included four weekly talks. The first given by the Commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Public Safety. The second given by a former police chief. The third, a Minneapolis city council member. And, lastly, state senator Jeff Hayden, who represents the district in which Floyd was killed.
Andy Johnson, associate professor of psychology, came up with the idea for the series after realizing how much misinformation had been spread around police reform following Floyd’s death in May. Through the online sessions, his goal is to provide the Bethel community with a wide variety of opinions about police reform.
“We wanted to teach students about working together as a team and gaining experience with controversial topics,” Johnson said.
Tanden Brekke, assistant director of community engagement at Bethel, helped put up boards over the windows and doors of Camphor Memorial United Methodist Church after he heard white supremacist groups would be targeting historic black churches in the area. Not long after, Brekke got a call from Johnson about the idea to create the series about police reform.
“This series will not fully unpack [issues with police and racial tensions], but it will get people more involved and more informed,” Brekke said.
Johnson and Brekke hoped that, by opening these talks up to the entire student body, it would open the door for new opportunities in discussing topics like police reform and race from a Christian point of view.
“We, as a Christian school, don’t have the luxury of being isolated or pretending that we’re not connected to the rest of the world,” Johnson said.
While Bethel created a George Floyd Memorial scholarship for incoming students with Black or African American heritage in August, the announcement was met with opposition from alumni and community members who voiced concerns about Floyd’s criminal history in relation to Bethel.
Shortly after, President Ross Allen announced the Bethel University Institutional Action Plan for Diversity and Racial Healing, which is expected to be shared with the community soon.
In Bethel’s Covenant for Life Together, one of the values listed includes “human life in all diversity and fullness, recognizing that women and men of all races, ages, and ability levels reflect the creative genius of our Maker.” Portillo hoped more conversations would be started along these lines and that more students will become involved after hearing about the series on police reform.
“If Bethel wants to continue to uphold this specific part [of the covenant], then [it should] get the students talking about this, no matter how uncomfortable it gets or how distant the issue is from one’s [white] everyday life,” Portillo said.
“A Minnesota man can’t be charged with felony rape because the woman chose to drink beforehand, court rules,” a Washington Post headline reads after a sexual assault conviction was overturned in the Minnesota Supreme Court in March.
The case, where a woman was sexually assaulted while intoxicated, was appealed due to a Minnesota sexual misconduct statute written in 1975.
The statute states a person who sexually assaults another is guilty in the third degree if “the actor knows or has reason to know that the complainant is mentally impaired, mentally incapacitated, or physically helpless.”
While the facts of the case weren’t debated during the appeal, the definition of “mentally incapacitated” was, since the woman wasn’t forced to be drunk. The court found the definition only includes those who are intoxicated against their will. In the case of the Minneapolis woman, she had been drinking alcohol and taking drugs prior to meeting the man, so she was labeled as voluntarily intoxicated.
The decision and new ruling was met with outrage. It sparked a campaign to change and strengthen the statute regarding the sexual assault laws in Minnesota, specifically calling for the law to state that all intoxicated people are incapable of giving consent to sex.
This statute is the difference between the perpetrator charged with a gross misdemeanor or a felony. A felony charge would put him on the Minnesota Predatory Offender Registry and increase his prison sentence. Instead, the court released him from prison and ordered a new trial for the man.
Close to home
While Bethel doesn’t carry out disciplinary actions based on criminal statutes, Title IX Coordinator and Compliance Officer Cara Wald follows policies set in place for the university.
“If a person is intoxicated, voluntarily or not, that person is unable to give consent,” Wald said. “Consent is one of the many issues that we examine when we receive a sexual assault report.”
Wald says the Supreme Court decision could easily be misunderstood and believes the justices’ “hands were tied by the Minnesota statute’s language.” The court didn’t have the capacity to change the law, but encouraged lawmakers to do so.
One Bethel student, who has preferred to remain anonymous, shuddered after reading the headline repeated over and over as more news outlets around the country reported the news. Her own experience mirrored the court case.
“It has opened the door again where I thought I’d shut it enough to finish school and finish it out here,” she said. “We hear this headline and it’s just hard.”
During her freshman year, she was sexually assaulted after a homecoming dance. She had been drinking alcohol when a male friend who was with her, assaulted her. This male student had been sexually suggestive for weeks leading up to the assault and made it obvious through Snapchat messages and comments that he wanted a sexual relationship with her.
“Freshman year, that was how I saw men; they saw me as somebody to sleep with,” she said.
The student didn’t report to Bethel’s Title IX or anyone else. She had a prior experience reporting an incident to Student Life and felt drained from the process.
“Now I would never report it because it’s not real,” the student said. “Maybe there’s more to it that I’m missing, but from the headlines and from what I’ve read, why would I go through the trouble of putting myself through hardship and reliving the trauma to have someone say, ‘Well, you were voluntarily intoxicated. It’s not real.’ I would feel like death at the end of that.”
A new bill for change
A new bill is moving through the Minnesota legislature that will update the wording in this sexual conduct statute. Legislators who wrote the bill are hoping to expand the definition of “mentally incapacitated” to include voluntary intoxication.
Democratic state representative Kelly Moller and Republican state representative Marion O’Neill co-author the bill that aims to fill the gaps in the Minnesota law.
“Sexual assault cases are grossly underreported, and it certainly doesn’t help when there are a lot of media stories about intoxicated victims not getting protection,” Moller said.
The current bill, House File 707, is based on the framework of a previous bill, entitled ‘Hannah’s Law,’ that was proposed after a young woman fell victim to the loose terms of the sexual assault law. This case could not have been charged, due to some loopholes involving intoxication and protections for children under the current law. Moller wants to note that there are some legal protections when it comes to voluntary intoxication and sexual violence.
In 2019, Moller and other legislators created a working group comprised of sexual assault survivors and advocates that aimed to share their experiences and give recommendations to ensure the statutes are able to provide justice for victims like Hannah.
Bethel task force taking charge
Philosophy professor Sara Shady says that there’s an unhealthy or harmful discussion of sex on campus which makes reporting sexual assault, especially in the context of drinking, more difficult.
Shady is part of a working group that addresses the problem of sexual assault at Bethel. Once the group was formed, they began to draft guidelines and plans that were approved by the Faculty Senate and Cabinet.
Since 2019, 90 posters with QR codes leading to Title IX’s website have gone up in freshman hall bathroom stalls. The websites titled “Complaints and Concerns” and “What to Expect” have been updated by the working group and include next steps for anyone who has experienced sexual assault.
One of the working group’s goals is to implement an NCAA “Step Up” bystander curriculum, which Bethel Athletics will utilize.
“The Step-Up Bystander training is an awesome training that extends beyond sexual violence into bullying/hazing, alcohol use/abuse – even a potential tool for recognizing racism or other kinds of bias,” Gretchen Hunt, a member of the working group, said.
Their plan is to test out the training on a small group during the next academic year before completely adopting the plan. The task force also plans to start voluntary discussion groups led by faculty and staff to talk about sexual assault.
“We hope that the training and the education that we provide to our students and employees gives individuals valuable information on this topic,” Wald said.
Title IX Coordinator/Compliance Officer firstname.lastname@example.org Office: 651.635.8657 Cell: 612.709.4783 Office location: ANC530
For an advocate outside of campus Minnesota Coalition Against Sexual Assault 161 St. Anthony Ave., Ste. 1001 St. Paul, MN 55103 Phone: 651.209.9993 email@example.com
24-Hour Emergency On-Campus Office of Security and Safety 651.638.6400 Office location: HC103
The “Sexual Misconduct and Sexual Harassment Policy” website includes phone numbers, office locations, emails, and names of those who you can report sexual assault to inside and outside of campus. Included are confidential resources as well. The “What to Expect” website contains information on what to expect when you report a sexual assault or harassment to the Title IX Coordinator. If you are in immediate danger, call 911.
Although emphasized as a part of America’s past, Indigenous Americans at Bethel are working towards increasing awareness and representation of their cultures.
By Soraya Keiser | News Reporter
Bridger Foster feels free when he dances in the annual powwow on the Red Cliff Reservation in Bayfield, WI. Eagle feathers in his hand, red paint on his face, bells on his legs and dressed in the regalia of a classically trained dancer, Foster follows the crowd clockwise around the gazebo as drummers beat out the rhythm. The beat of which represents the Anishinaabe people’s connection to the earth. Although hundreds of people come to watch and participate, Foster barely notices that.
“It’s very euphoric and very just in the moment,” Foster said. “Like nothing else matters. I feel very connected to my ancestors and I feel very at home.”
Foster, a junior nursing student at Bethel, is a card-carrying member of the Métis tribal nation in Ontario. This means that he holds official tribal membership with the Métis. He also has Huron and Wyandotte heritage and grew up surrounded by the culture of the Anishinaabe Ojibwe people in Northern Wisconsin. Foster is the director of the First Nations subgroup of United Cultures of Bethel and helps plan events throughout the year highlighting Indigenous American culture.
The de facto advisor for the First Nations subgroup of United Cultures of Bethel is Associate Professor of Communication Studies Dr. Scott Sochay. Originally from Northern Michigan, Sochay is a card-carrying member of the Little Traverse Bay Band of Odawa Indians. Unlike Foster, Sochay did not grow up surrounded by his native culture. Sochay’s father wanted to distance himself from the tribe after witnessing and experiencing discrimination because his mother, Sochay’s grandmother who was an Indigenous tribal member, married a white man.
“I grew up knowing I was Indian but not really knowing a whole lot about what that meant,” Sochay said.
It wasn’t until college when Sochay was really able to explore his heritage. Sochay received a scholarship to Michigan State University through the 1971 Native American Tuition Act because his grandmother was listed in the 1908 Michigan tribal census.
“Knowing that my native heritage was going to pay for my college education, I said, even though my dad really wasn’t all that interested in passing on his heritage, I want to learn what it means to be native now that it’s paying for my schooling.” Sochay said. “That really in a sense was the catalyst for me really starting to ask that question: What does it mean to be native?”
From this point on, Sochay dove into the culture and history of his ancestors when he got involved with the North American Indian Student Organization at Michigan State. By listening to speakers, participating in campus powwows and reading up on his specific tribal history, Sochay soon realized that the way he saw the world was “more native than that of mainstream Western culture.”
For Sochay’s tribe, everything living is intertwined. Humans, animals, plants, spirits and natural resources.
“In Western culture we tend to separate faith from reason, religion from science, the natural from the supernatural,” Sochay said. “In native cultures there are no walls of separation or distinctions. Spiritually, Native Americans see the world as far more alive.”
Because of this, he sees all aspects of the natural world as sacred.
Growing up in Northern Wisconsin, Foster and his tribal community hunted, fished and gathered only what was necessary for food and natural herbal remedies. With these practices he gained a deep respect for nature.
One way that Foster tries to emulate this respect is by living with zero waste. Back home, the Anishinaabe are very conscious of the resources they use. For example, if an animal is hunted and killed for food, the community uses every part of the animal, not just the parts they want to eat.
Foster crochets old t-shirts and plastic bags into blankets and sleeping mats for the homeless. He is also working with Bethel grounds crew to set up a compost pile on campus.
“I believe very much that God created everything we see and loves everything that he created,” Foster said. “So, for us to go around destroying what he created is disrespectful to Him.”
Protesting the pipeline
Respect for the earth has also led both Foster and Sochay to resist the replacement of the Line 3 Pipeline in Northern Minnesota.
Line 3 is a pipeline created by Enbridge, a multinational energy transportation company, to transport tar sands crude oil from Alberta, Canada to Superior, Wisconsin. Enbridge has plans to replace the pipeline with a new route. Both the current and future pipelines run through tribal lands, which are sovereign nations and protected under treaties with the U.S. government.
Environmental groups, tribal nations and their allies have staged regular protests for six years in order to prevent Enbridge from building a new pipeline.
“The Native American perspective is we are trying to protect our water because we consider it sacred,” Sochay said.
Activists also resist the pipeline because if a spill occurs, it would negatively affect the ecosystems of Northern Minnesota. Polluted water would hurt the fishing and wild rice harvesting that is essential to the culture of Indigenous tribes across Minnesota. However, this pollution would affect more than just Minnesota as spills would flow into the Mississippi River headwaters and the Lake Superior watershed, depositing tar sands into the Mississippi River and Gulf of Mexico.
This is a nightmare for many Native Americans that has already started to play out. 30 years ago, Line 3 ruptured, spilling 1.7 million gallons of tar sands and oil into the water system.
“So, it’s happened before. It’s not like the oil companies can say, ‘Oh this’ll never happen,’” Sochay said. “It has. And it’s happened in a big way.”
Line 3 is not unique in its controversy. Sochay’s tribe is dealing with a lawsuit of its own against the Line 5 pipeline in Michigan, and Foster’s family has been involved in the Dakota Access Pipeline protests throughout the past few years.
Sochay hopes that the treaties created years ago with many tribes across the United States will be upheld and that pipeline construction will stop.
“Native tribes that are recognized by the federal government are considered sovereign nations. You don’t enter into a treaty with anyone other than a sovereign nation,” Sochay said. “And so, when we don’t want pipelines through our tribal lands or potentially impacting the waters that we use to fish and grow wild rice, we are asserting our sovereignty.”
Joining the discussion
Foster hopes to better educate the Bethel community not only on the effects of a new pipeline, but about Indigenous cultures as a whole. He is talking with Bethel professors about how to accurately represent Indigenous Americans as not just a thing of the past. Not just as people only mentioned in chapters on colonialism in American history textbooks. According to the United States Census Bureau there are more than 2.9 million Indigenous people living in America to this day. Foster is also working on restructuring the Bethel Covenant for Life Together so that it is more culturally inclusive.
These efforts are to create a closer Indigenous American community on campus prove difficult because of the lack of students who identify as coming from an Indigenous background. Foster is one of four students he knows of that are Indigenous American, and Sochay is the only Indigenous American faculty member that Bethel has ever employed.
“Because there has never been in a sense what you would call a critical mass of native students here on campus, it’s very difficult to help develop a native community,” Sochay said. “As a Bethel faculty member, I often feel isolated at times because whenever anything here on campus happens that involves Native American culture in some way, shape or form, I know I am going to be called on whether I want to be or not. And sometimes that can be a little bit tiring or weary.”
Although both Foster and Sochay wish that Bethel would do more regarding Indigenous American representation, they realize that Bethel isn’t always the one to blame.
“It’s not a Bethel issue,” Sochay said. “It’s a larger cultural issue.”
He wishes that Indigenous American culture and rights were less overlooked and forgotten.
“As Native Americans we tend to get tired of issues related to diversity and civil rights [being] almost always framed exclusively in a Black-White context,” Sochay said. “We often feel like we are just left out of the discussion.”
The Bethel community responds to the fatal police shooting of Daunte Wright and the verdict of Derek Chauvin’s trial in collective dialogue and lament.
By Rachel Blood and Nate Eisenmann
Father, son and brother Daunte Wright was shot and killed by Brooklyn Center police officer Kimberly Potter April 11, just 10 miles from where Derek Chauvin sat on trial for the murder of George Floyd.
President Ross Allen addressed the tragic event in a Bethel community email April 13.
“Last Sunday’s police shooting of Daunte Wright—in the midst of the trial of Derek Chauvin, the tragedies that took place in Atlanta and Colorado, and so many other instances of violence—weighs heavily on the entire Bethel community,” he wrote. “We grieve for the friends and families of Daunte Wright and so many other individuals of color who face an increased risk of violence in our country.”
A Minneapolis jury convicted Chauvin on all charges in the death of Floyd April 20.
“While it cannot restore the life that was lost, this verdict is an important step toward the justice and reconciliation that we, as Christ-followers, seek,” Allen said.
Senior social work student Roland Osagiede grew up in Brooklyn Center. He was there last week for the protests happening in front of the police stations, directly across the street from where he attended high school.
Osagiede, who found out about Wright’s death via a phone call from his brother, did not personally know Wright, but knows a few people who did.
“The fact that this happened in my hometown is honestly very scary,” he said. “I have a lot of sadness, anger and fear in my heart. I easily could have been Daunte Wright, which is what is most scary. Daunte Wright could have been any one of my family members.”
Each day, Osagiede’s mother wakes up hoping not to see one of her sons dying on the news.
“If I’m being honest, I don’t feel safe in my neighborhood, and I’m sure many BIPOC families feel the same way,” Osagiede said. “I’m afraid to call the police for help because of what could happen. There is a huge disconnect between the police and people of color.”
Many of the police officers in Brooklyn Center live outside of the city, making it difficult for them to know and serve the community properly. Wright’s death lessened Osagiede’s trust in the Brooklyn Center Police even more.
Osagiede sees Wright’s death as a tragic accident that could and should have been prevented by Potter’s years of training and service. In similar situations with white people, he said, there seems to be more room for de escalation. He attributes the lack of deescalation to one thing: fear.
“I believe the officer made this mistake because she was nervous,” he said. “Why do you think she was nervous? I believe it’s because of the color of Daunte’s skin. I definitely understand that police officers have families that they want to make it home to every night, but something has to change.”
As members of the Bethel community come to terms with and process the reality of racism, Allen encourages all to engage in conversation with one another: RAs, RDs, student life staff, professors, friends or the Counseling or Christian Formation and Church Relations Offices. “My door—and my inbox—is always open,” Allen wrote.
On April 21 at 9 p.m., just under 30 hours after the Chauvin verdict, students filed into the Underground for a “Liturgy of Lament,” a student-organized event focused on providing a space for attendees to express their feelings concerning the trial verdict and the death of Daunte Wright.
Senior Elizabeth Szilagyi, in collaboration with Adjunct Associate Professor of Biblical and Theological Studies Dale Durie, planned the liturgy, a customary practice in which Christians participate in a variety of kinds of worship such as prayer, scripture reading and reflection.
This particular liturgy involved the repetition of a reading from chapter five of the book of Amos; this passage is one of lament for the lack of social justice.
“I’ve been doing this for years and years. But I’ve never used a pure lament passage for [a liturgy],” Durie said.
Durie explained the flow of the liturgy in four steps. There would be a reading of the chosen passages, followed by a time for reflection on particular words and phrases that stood out to the participants. Next there was a time for writing down a prayer—any prayer that came to mind. Finally, there was a period of rest and for processing.
“Do not be a human doing, but a human being,” Durie said, in regards to the fourth step of the liturgy. He stressed the importance of staying focused on God and offering up any thoughts that came to mind. “There is permission to be angry…to be fully human in this moment,” he said.
For many students, the fourth part of the liturgy—rest and contemplation—was the most meaningful.
“I enjoyed the few minutes to just be,” sophomore Nancy Alquicira said.
Whatever emotion students felt throughout the night, Durie wanted to ensure that they would feel comfortable in that moment to work through what they were feeling.
“We’re all processing different things,” Durie said, “for some it’s [the pandemic], others it’s the trial or Daunte Wright. Hopefully it was an experience where God was meeting them where they were at.”