Archive for June, 2018

Hate Has No Place Here

Dear Lyla,

I have taught summer school at Wartburg for many years and during this time of the year campus has a very different look and feel to it. For one thing it is very quiet with fewer folks around in general. But the one thing I noticed years ago is that it is the best time to get to know our international students well; as many of them stay on campus during the summer and work on campus. I try to get to know as many students as I can and learn from them; about their pursuits, passions, cultures and the like. What I learned last summer was that the socio-political environment is of great concern to our international students in particular. Many of them are wary of travel outside of the United States or afraid to visit home while enrolled at school for fear of not getting back into the country. It is also important for them to make sure their documentation is up to date. That is where this story starts. One of my students needed to get his passport renewed. Adeboye is from Nigeria and the closest consulates are Atlanta, GA & Washington D.C. A friend of his had agreed to drive him to Atlanta as it was closer than D.C. The fastest route from Waverly, Iowa to Atlanta is to follow the Mississippi river to St. Louis and then head east through Indiana, then south through a bit of Kentucky on route to Georgia. Shortly before Adeboye left on his voyage south, the NAACP had released a travel advisory for minorities traveling through Missouri. After all of the racially motivated events that had taken prior in the months leading up to last summer this made me extremely fearful for Adeboye’s safety. Anyone who has ever met him knows he is a gentle giant; soft spoken with a wicked sense of humor. I was terrified, Adeboye is a tall and impressive figure and someone who would be easy to profile. I talked about my concerns with him. We talked strategy for safety, travel routes and most importantly I made him promise to text me at every stopping point along the way. This was early August and while he was in transit on his way back to Waverly the events in Charlottesville VA were unfolding. On Sunday, August 13th the events of the previous day became more clear and more gruesome and the level of vitriol surrounding the tragedy from those defending the KKK and those counter to those views reached a fever pitch. I was drained and worried for the safety and emotional well being of our students and when I got to my office on that Monday I was reading the news and just started to cry. That is when Adeboye walked into my office to show me in person that he was well and had no issues in updating his passport in Atlanta. Being a compassionate individual, he asked me what was wrong and I told him that I was spiritually exhausted by the hate and I was so angry because the silence from my own lips on these matters were deafening. As we talked through our concerns, and different perspectives, we came to the conclusion that we didn’t have to wait for anyone to make a statement that would capture what we were feeling; we could make a statement ourselves. A short, but important one, Hate Has No Place at Wartburg College. That phrase is not new, it has been used by many, but we could make it Wartburg specific. So we created an orange and black themed piece of art that boldly proclaimed our position in English and confidently reiterated that statement in several different languages on the post card sized sign itself. It wasn’t meant as a great manifesto or grand gesture; Adeboye and I were hurting and this provided some balm for our injured hearts.  Initially only 60 copies were printed and I went from office to office just asking folks if they wanted one to put up in a public space. We never shared the impetus for the cards or the co-creation story behind it. It was a quiet gesture but one that we thought was important. We quickly ran out of cards and I had more printed. It seemed like every office had one. We thought, let the healing and meaningful dialogues begin! And then this winter semester one of the vans outside of the student center was found with racist epithets etched into the frost. It seemed for us that the scab had been picked off the wound. However, we were approached by some amazing leaders on campus about using the Hate Has No Place Here design for a rally they wanted to have to begin the healing process and open up the lines of communication. Adeboye and I were quite adamant that no permission was needed. We had created something that we hoped would become part of the fabric at Wartburg; seamless as if it always belonged to the community and not to us. Since the rally, stickers, buttons and more cards have been made and it fills us with hope to see them around campus. We are not naive, we know that hate had found its way to Wartburg and we have to wrestle with that as a community. No poster, button or sticker will be an adequate substitute for difficult and meaningful dialogue; but we hope it serves as a reminder to make room for those difficult conversations and be ever vigilant so as not to give hate a permanent place at the table.

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