Oppression exercise, reality for students

By Alexandra Kukulka

As an arts college, Columbia is home to students of different backgrounds, cultures and ethnicities, and there are multicultural organizations on campus to keep these students united. For many in these groups, oppression is a daily experience.

On March 14, One Tribe, a group of student representatives from each of the cultural organizations that address the issues surrounding diversity and social justice at the college, staged a Tunnel of Oppression for students and faculty members “to better understand the reality of oppression in a full sensory, experimental manner,” according to the college’s website. There were seven scenes in the tunnel that displayed different forms of oppression, from racial profiling to veterans and homelessness.

“I thought the tunnel was good in the way that it raised awareness to what people around us go through every day and we don’t even realize it,” said Matt Whitney, sophomore theatre major.

There are currently five official multicultural organizations on campus, including the Asian Student Organization, Black Student Union, Common Ground, International Student Organization and Latino Alliance, according to Columbia’s website. With these multicultural groups, college students can explore the deeper meaning of diversity, said Mark Kelly, vice president of Student Affairs.

“In the National Survey data, our students put us at the top of the country in how students positively experience diversity on our campus compared to other campuses,” Kelly said.

He added that the diversity on campus is evident in the life of multicultural affairs. However, he mentioned that our urban environment could add to the oppression students feel.

“We should all be reminded that Chicago remains, I believe, the most segregated large city in the country,” Kelly said. “If not, it is right at the top. So that is the city we live in.”

According to him, there have been a few reports from students complaining about oppression. The college does handle these situations carefully, Kelly added.

“It always depends on the circumstances, but through our student relations and Dean of Students Office, we respond to any issue like [oppression],” he said.

Corina Ferrer Marcano, sophomore journalism major, is the president of the International Student Organization. According to her, she and the members of her organization have experienced oppression while attending Columbia.

In her experience, she was discriminated against by an oral expression instructor because of her accent.

“We are not native speakers, and sometimes we make mistakes while we talk,”  Marcano said. “She would not make fun of us, but in a certain way she would go and say, ‘That’s a very common mistake that Spanish speakers [make],’ and that offended me.”

She said she believes teachers have no right to say such things when they haven’t been in the students’ shoes.

During the Tunnel of Oppression, there was a scene that highlighted teachers oppressing students in ways similar to Marcano’s case to help students gain awareness of these types of acts.

According to her, some of their regular Friday night meetings are devoted to talking about acts of oppression members have experienced. However, the group also conducts activities, such as thinking of the first word that comes to mind when you hear the name of an ethnic group in order to learn where the oppression comes from, she added.

“That way … you see what this group of people have to go through just because they are related to a word,” she said.

Serafin Lopez, senior art & design major and president of Latino Alliance, said he also believes that Latinos face oppression every day on both a small and large scale.

According to Lopez, the Latino Alliance has done research and found that Latinos at Columbia face a disproportionate student-teacher ratio.

“We found out that for the Asian, Caucasian and African-American populations, for every one faculty [member], there are at least 16 students that represent them,” Lopez said. “For every Latino faculty [member] there are 46 [Latino students], so there is that huge disproportion.”

In an effort to do something about the student-teacher ratios, Latino Alliance disscusses ways to educate the school about these numbers during their weekly Wednesday night meetings.

According to Lopez, the group wants people to learn from those who are different from them and to not be judgmental. Getting to know these people help, he added.

On the other hand, Russell Yost, senior fashion studies major and former president of Common Ground, an LGBTQA organization in which everyone is free to be open and connect with others, said students in this organization are often oppressed in a more verbal way, as many get heckled on the street because of how they look.

At Columbia, Yost said he notices the jokes students make about the institution being a “gay school” and the lack of straight men on campus. According to him, this reputation is bad branding.

Transgendered people are also oppressed at Columbia, Yost said, as they are required to room with students of their biological sex. This can be very nerve-racking for students, according to him.

“It is really hard to preach that Columbia is this great school when transgendered people get a lot of oppression,” Yost said.

According to him, Common Ground uses its Monday and Friday meetings to discuss  the oppression members face with an open conversation. The group keeps these problems in the light and plans special meetings if need be, he added.

The three groups agree that oppression needs to be discussed. According to Lopez, students should get to know members of other cultures to truly stop it.

“I think it is important that people remember that oppression is still going on,” Yost said. “It might not be right next to us, it might not happen to us everyday, but it is going on for people everywhere.”