Guest op-ed: Merger Pause only the Start

Michele Murray on behalf of the Division of Student Development stated, “We are pausing the conversation about merging OMA and ISC,” in an email sent last Friday, May 29. You may have seen the marches, attended a town hall or two, or even been genuinely a part of the conversation and efforts concerning the merger of the Office of Multicultural Affairs and the International Student Center. But I will not use this space to talk about the technicalities of the merger, or the administration’s views but rather, about the students who identify with marginalized identities, which these two offices are meant to serve. This is not an explanation for the student actions against the merger but rather some insight into a fight for empowerment and assertion of presence and voice at Seattle University.

As a person who is both an international student as well as a student of color, I have found a sense of comfort in both the ISC and OMA spaces and programs. However, as a black student there was always something missing, and it took some time to realize that I didn’t have a space at the ISC to address my needs as a black person and as a black woman. That’s where OMA came in. It gave me the space I needed to talk about race issues that other students found uncomfortable, to find people who know how to do my hair and most importantly, to never have to explain what it’s like not to belong, not to feel safe, and not to be acknowledged on this predominantly white campus.

There’s safety, love, joy, depth, conflict and powerful discussion that are enclosed in the tangible spaces of OMA and ISC. So when the merger was announced not too far from the end of the school year, it should not be a surprise that students of color, LGBTQ students, LGBTQ students of color and international students felt once again ignored and shut out from a campus that is meant to serve them, and the rest of the population equally. There was anger, resentment, bitterness and even just plain detachment after the realization that the spaces they treasure as a break from external oppressions were being moved and rearranged without their consent or involvement.

Students a part of OMA and ISC do want changes to their spaces, to their programs and to the institution about how race, gender, international and LGBTQ matters are addressed. But they want to be a part of the conversation that speaks to these changes. A student of color, passionate about the true meaning of racial and social justice, emphasized that the students against the merger are not against change but are for “change that comes from all of us.”

The initial feelings about the merger brought about action, some of which were looked at as too radical, exclusive and aggressive for something that just concerns this small university. The students against this merger, however, see it as a perpetuation of what it is like in the “real world” where white, heterosexual supremacy addresses colored, international and LGBTQ needs. Although the leadership in the Division of Student Development is made up of different people of color and even LGBTQ identities, the system they serve may not be as sympathetic to the emotional needs of these groups as they are considerate of the monetary needs of the institution. I strongly believe that these emotional needs that affect academic growth and graduation­—the latter of which the institution and Student Development cares about immensely­—can only be addressed if they involve the students they are meant to support. The merging of OMA and ISC spaces is not unique to Seattle U but is something that has occurred across the country, which students have fought against before (See ‘Administrators Delay Int’l House-MCC merger’ published on the Duke Chronicle). The actions our students have employed to pause the merger are actions they view through love, and actions with the intent to involve more students who should voice their opinions about alternatives to the spaces that serve their identities.

A tangible space and the energy that comes with it is something that should not be taken for granted. The work and time put into addressing this merger shows how much these spaces mean to students regardless of whether the group is made up of 10, 20 or 100 students. Their opinions matter and their voices should be heard. I have mentioned students of color, LGBTQ students, LGBTQ students of color and international students because of OMA and ISC, but the students with disabilities, the mothers, the parents and so many more students a part of this campus are not heard because they are few in number. But this does not mean that their needs should not count, or should count for less. The rallying, conversations and community building around and against this merger were for marginalized students to be heard because they matter, because they are visible and because they are powerful and it’s time that everyone else knows it.

The editor may be reached at [email protected]