Winona State University's Newspaper since 1919

The Winonan

Winona State University's Newspaper since 1919

The Winonan

Winona State University's Newspaper since 1919

The Winonan


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WSU diversity: a deeper problem?

Abby Derkson/Winonan

Last week was International Education Week at Winona State University, a week of events dedicated to highlighting a rich, diverse culture as a campus priority.

Jouapag Lee, the student groups coordinator for the Knowledge, Empowerment, Advocacy and Pluralism (KEAP) Center, had some different opinions on the subject.

“Diversity hasn’t been a priority at the university in the past twenty years,” Lee said. “Diversity doesn’t just mean your skin color or sexual orientation. It’s your social identity.”

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According to Lee, there has been a lack of action taken by the administration to support those who are diverse.

“There was a diversity report published in 2011. We asked for WSU students to submit their stories about discrimination, harassment, security, safety, etc. We got over 11 pages of stories,” Lee said.

At the same time, she said, the university reported that no hate crimes on campus had been documented.

“There’s a lack of visibility in these instances of discrimination that happen,” Lee said. “We want someone to be accountable, and we haven’t found a single person or committee to say yes, we hear your complaints, we hear your concerns and we’re going to change this for you.”

Drawing the level of attention desired to these issues has been a major source of frustration for Lee and other KEAP members.

“The only response that we’ve gotten is that the university embraces diversity, but we don’t see any action,” she said. “It’s almost as if no one takes our experiences seriously.”

According to Christopher Veeder, a student senator, there is also a lack of understanding and tolerance by students.

“There’s a lack of knowledge about others,” Veeder said. “I’ve heard jokes that show how low of a tolerance level we have on campus. When you’re making fun of someone’s race, religion or sexuality, that crosses a line.”

Lee recalled an instance in which she felt she was treated unkindly by her peers.

“I was walking home from the library,” she said, “and a car pulled over and started yelling obscene things at me. When I yelled back at them and they realized that I spoke English, the car drove off and turned around and threw things at me before driving off again.”

Incidents like these, Lee said, are not unusual.

“Things like that happen,” she said. “We’re just waiting for the next instance of discrimination or harassment to happen.”

According to Lee, the lack of tolerance, support and action has led to a low retention rate of diverse students.

“I’ve had alumni tell me ‘Why are you going to that school?’ or alumni who tell me ‘I just went there to get my degree and get out,’” Lee said.

Lee and Veeder advocate for the KEAP Center, an organization on campus that promotes a safe space for students to talk about issues. The mission of the KEAP Center is to provide a space for students to talk and validate their experiences.

According to Lee, real change cannot be made without the administration.

“What we’re asking the administration to do is let us focus on being students,” Lee said. “The information is there, the organization is there, it’s just the follow through of what we are advocating for is not there.”

“If we can act, we must act,” Veeder said. “We should do whatever we can to make sure that students can feel like they are welcome and part of the wider community at WSU.”
Contact Abby at [email protected]

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