After a multitude of students spoke about their experiences with racism on campus, whether it be the dorms, the Quad or their graduation, the Multicultural Student Center realized it was time to take action — fast. It was from this sense of urgency to strengthen the bond between underrepresented minority students and the Boise State campus that Francisco Salinas, director of Student Diversity and Inclusion, came up with the idea to create a space where students had the opportunity to share their stories. This idea, eventually, came to fruition as the Navigating Race, Strategizing Space series.
“I think at times we have underrepresented students on this campus who are having these experiences, but they don’t know that there (are) similar experiences being had by some of their fellow classmates who may not be from their identity group,” said Ro Parker, director of Multicultural Student Services. “There are students from underrepresented groups that are being vocal, and I know that some of them already in positions of leadership. We’re reaching out to those students come and bring members from the groups that they’re part of. The idea is to listen to each other about how they’ve overcome those (experiences) and how they’ve dealt with those.”
Salinas and Parker created the discussion series to open the conversational doors to students who have yet to share their stories with a broader audience than those closest to them. The series will take place on April 2 from 5:30-7:30 p.m., followed by a faculty and administration listening session on April 9 from 3-5 p.m. and a final student-focused session on April 16 from 5:30-7:30 p.m., all located in the Student Diversity Center.
“This is really targeted at underrepresented minority students, but everything we do is open to everyone,” Salinas said. “For underrepresented students, they have experiences that they have decided to keep to themselves or only share in limited company. In this case, there is a big gap in what the students are experiencing and what the administration knows they’re experiencing, and we want to close that gap.”
From an organizational perspective, the series seems prepared for success, but the true performance of the series can only be gauged by the readiness and openness of the students willing to use the platform for discussion. While Salinas recognizes the need for underrepresented students to share their experiences, Elizabeth Almanza, graduate student and First Forward coordinator, believes the discussion goes beyond a platform, and can be considered a healing mechanism.
“To me, it’s like a social justice-oriented approach to healing,” Almanza said. “It’s a platform for students to come and have their voices uplifted. I feel like (students of color) all experience oppression on this campus, but some of us may not be able to name our oppression, we may not have the verbiage to do so. To me, it’s going to be amazing to hold a space for students to share and be able to relate to those experiences and know they’re not alone in their journey.”
While this healing process will only occur over time for the students affected by racism at Boise State, Almanza believes the series of discussions will open valuable doors for the students using the platform, as well as the administrators, who the series creators hope will attend the listening sessions to foster the growth of the students’ ideas across the university.
“(The second session is) an opportunity for them to come and learn, tell their true experiences,” Almanza said. “It’s going to be a really transformative space, where faculty can come and learn about ways to make spaces more inclusive and welcoming. The final session is focused on students again, and my goal would be to organize, mobilize and strategize. It’s an opportunity for students to feel empowered and able to enact change.”
More than anything, however, Almanza hopes that fewer students have the same campus experience as she has had since becoming a graduate student at Boise State. She also intends for the Navigating Race series to be both an educational and transitional experience for the relationship between underrepresented minority students and their identities.
“In terms of my race, at first I kept to myself whenever I would hear my colleagues make racist comments,” Almanza said. “I had a colleague ask me how I knew so many illegals, where I’m really from. I had a professor tell me that all I do is talk about race and capitalism, and that she believes ‘that Elizabeth is a threat to the rest of the students, and she makes everyone uncomfortable.’ That was an experience that was really disheartening, but it was somewhat addressed. I believe that students shouldn’t have to go through that regardless of whether they’re paying out of pocket or not. I’ve paid to be oppressed on this campus.”
Almanza sees the value in the event, while recognizing that it can’t succeed without the support of the administration, faculty and staff listening to the messages and receiving the feedback that the students prepare. While the event is student-focused, Parker wants those attending to know that the event is student-driven, as well.
“We do say that students have a very powerful voice, but until they can find out what that process is, like who do they talk to and where do they aim this at, it can be really frustrating experience,” Parker said. “And so, I think that for them to come together and say, ‘Okay, let’s everybody get together, and let’s have a discussion about where we need to go with this…’ I give a lot of credit to the students for asking for this.”