On Racism at SAU

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Written by Lila Odhiambo

Race has always been a touchy subject in the world and especially in our tight-knit Adventist community. People do not like talking about things that make them uncomfortable. But staying silent because of your discomfort can look to others like you do not care about the issue at hand. I, myself, have not had a problem with racism at Southern, but I know other students have had experiences.

In the Fall 2018 semester, Southern had multiple issues with racism. Because of this, an organization called “Against the Wall” came to Southern and collaborated with Campus Ministries and those in student leadership to host a series focused on racism in the SDA church as well as Adventist campuses. “Against the Wall” was a big stepping stone in the right direction. And, although we are not where we should be, their purpose was to show that they were against racism and racial inequality at any extreme. 

During the time, “Against the Wall” was present on campus, they allowed students to go up and share their points of view from either side. Junior English major Patrick McGraw shared his opinion at one of the events. And, although he does not remember the events in detail, he recalled some of his experience. 

“I thought about how I was a Trump supporter in high school and was like, ‘Yeah, I feel kind of bad about that because that’s not who I am anymore.’” 

During Donald Trump’s presidency, McGraw took a step back to see where his values actually lay.

 “I just remember feeling like it was the right thing to do,” McGraw said. 

In February 2018,  President Smith and administration posted a video apologizing to students of color for issues they faced on campus. Administration admitted to being slow at addressing concerns brought up by Black students and recommitted to listen and act on issues brought to them. An administrative position was announced in February of 2018 called the Vice President of Diversity so that these ideals could be put into practice. 

 Last year, when current SA President Sheryl Kambuni won the SA presidential election, former SA President and Southern alum Phillip Warfield stood up and said, “Black Power” as a congratulatory statement, because Black people are not often in a place of power or are looked down upon when they are there. This upset a number of students on campus, and they took to social media to express their concerns. 

On the SAU Confessions page, a student anonymously wrote, “I stand with supporting Sheryl, but it’s not okay to be shouting things like ‘[Black] women empowerment’ in the church.” 

The same student continued with the sentiment saying, “but what was worse was when the former SA President, who dealt with one of the worst race issues at Southern, shouted ‘black power!’” 

This student seemed to see Warfield’s statement as ‘racial elitism’ and felt it was a slap in Southern’s face. On the other hand, a student in support of Kambuni and Warfield commented under the post to express her feelings. 

“It’s Black History Month, and a Black female was elected President in a school that, when founded, didn’t even allow Black students,” said Isabella Eklund, sophomore social work major. “This was monumental, and Sheryl deserves to be celebrated.” 

During the summer of 2020, the problem with police brutality against Black Americans was being seen by the world. And, after the death of George Floyd, people took to the streets to protest against the numerous unjust murders occurring. Tensions between races were rising, and many saw this as an opportunity to share their opinions. On the SAU Confessions page, students were talking about a number of issues that arose at the height of these murders, such as “Black Lives Matter” vs ‘All lives matter” debates and the types of discrimination Black people face daily.

Things have been pretty quiet on campus since, but I will never forget the tension running through the school during that time. It has been nearly a year since the topic of race dominated conversations on campus. And, at this point, I am just waiting to see what happens next.

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