The status of racial and ethnic minority students on campus has been the subject of many recent conversations sparked by a student-run movement known as Activate.
The group appeared on campus the final week of January with a written declaration posted around campus. It read, “We, ACTIVATE, pursue freedom for students of color spiritually, academically, culturally, and psychologically by demanding institutional support and the creation of racial consciousness at Azusa Pacific University.”
Activate has since created a Facebook page, released additional handouts and hosted various events.
More than 50 students attended a “speak-out” hosted by Activate in Seven Palms on Feb. 5.
Senior sociology major Casimiro Jesse Peña president of the Latin American Student Association, opened discussion by reading the movement’s proclamation.
“Activate is a coalition of students passionate about bringing justice and freedom to all members of APU,” Peña said. “We strongly believe that injustice for one student is an injustice for all. This movement promotes unity amongst the entire student community.”
The speak-out was followed by an organized chapel walkout on Feb. 6, which ended with a prayer circle in Kresege Plaza made up of students, faculty and administration — and was later joined by President Jon Wallace.
Azusa PD and Campus Safety Department officers were present during the walkout to ensure both the civility and safety of students partaking in the demonstration.
Activate published three resolutions to its Facebook page later that day. According to the post, each resolution was passed by majority vote within each ethnic organization represented by the signatures of the respective student leaders. These included LASA, the Black Student Association, the Asian Pacific American Student Organization and the Pacific Islander Organization. According to the documents, the resolutions were collectively authored by officials from the organizations.
The resolution “Increase in Ethnic Organizations Budget” advocates for an increase in the total annual budget across the four ethnic organizations from $2,000 to $60,000.
The resolution “Racial Discrimination Policy” pushes for the adoption of a university policy and set of procedures regarding incidents of racial discrimination and calls for the involvement of student representatives in the creation.
The resolution “Mandatory Diversity Training” advocates for required diversity training for faculty and staff members.
The voicing of the movement’s intentions has led to mixed reaction by students on campus and online.
The college application YikYak has been a forum for this discussion both positively and negatively. While there have been posts in support of Activate, other posts about the walkout were negative.
One post said: “UMOJA has the ugliest black girls I’ve ever seen on campus. Why do even exist?”
Another post was under the name KKK and said, “Where the black people at?”
However, not all responses to the movement were hidden behind anonymous posts.
Junior journalism and photography double major Josephine Jimenez wrote a letter addressed to Activate and posted it to her personal blog on Feb. 12, which was later shared in the Facebook group Overheard at APU.
Jimenez agrees the conversation should be started, but “not necessarily in the direction they’re taking it.”
“I feel there is a lack of communication between Activate and the rest of the university,” she said.
Jimenez said students told her they did not know what the Feb. 6 walkout was about.
“There’s too much demonstrating and not enough intellectual outreach,” she said.
Sophomore applied exercise science major Stacey Mendoza disagrees with the way some supporters have participated in the movement.
“They create — whether they want to or not — the dichotomy between white versus colored,” Mendoza said. “I don’t think that’s constructive to the movement they’re trying to create because it’s really not in line with what Activate is trying to do.”
Mendoza agrees with validating the claims made by the movement regarding racial discrimination, but says the experiences of those who have not experienced racism need to also be validated.
“They’re running on the assumption that everyone experiences racism. I never felt uncomfortable being a person of ‘color’ until Activate started,” Mendoza said. “It was never really an issue for me, I never felt uncomfortable being a certain race. That isn’t necessarily their fault, but that experience needs to be validated as well.”
Students involved in the movement, however, have varying views.
“I think this movement is beautiful because it’s the first time all of the ethnic orgs have stood together to believe in a cause,” said junior exercise science major Zabrina Zablan, who participated in the speak-out and walkout. “Last night was a somber night of just telling people’s stories and sharing people’s pains and standing together to be unified in one body of Christ. It’s amazing. It brings a lot of people to tears because it’s been years in the making.”
Other students involved echoed a desire for these stories to be heard by the rest of the APU community.
“I just want the student body to be aware of various situations that occur in our community,” said Ayalet Brown, a junior communication studies major. “I also want them to know that APU is a place to welcome everyone, regardless of their race/ethnicity.”
The university administration has received Activate’s declaration and resolutions, and administrators have been present at the events.
On Jan. 30, they released a written response, which said: “There is a disconnect between the environment we strive for that demonstrates respect and value for people and that members of our community experience. We expect more from this Christ-centered community. You deserve more from us. We are ready to meet and collaborate with the Activate participants, to marry our collective wisdom, ideas, passion and strength to improve the state of students of color at APU, and to move closer to the positive future for APU that we all desire.”
Feb. 16, the first official meeting took place. Eleven representatives of Activate, the administration and student leadership gathered to discuss how to move forward.
“Building a sense of community and communication is essential,” said Dr. Kim B.W Denu, special advisor to the president and provost and present at Monday’s meeting. “I think it’s not this idea of us or them. If we, at APU, are going to move towards a common purpose so that all of our students feel valued, that means we are going to have to work together. Administration can’t do it alone. Students can’t do it alone.”
“I think Activate has initiated a great process where we can collaborate and we can work together. Some would say they would have gone about it a little bit differently, that’s really neither here nor there. It’s how do we build and work together at this point forward,” Denu said. “I think today’s meeting was a great start.”
SCRD Executive Director Ed Barron, Diversity Office Executive Director Richard Martinez and Dean of Students Terry Franson joined Denu at the meeting. Wallace also was present for part of it.
“Our administration is leaning forward from the top all the way through the ranks as far as taking the Activate movement serious and hearing students’ concerns,” Barron said. “The tone of the letters has been absolutely positive, and we’re eager to connect and join and bring to bear the full weight of our wisdom, the full weight of our ideas to be able to rewrite these narratives. Will we be able to eradicate everything? That’s not realistic, but we are leaning forward and are ready to give it our best shot.”
According to the statement released by administration in January, survey data from the Higher Education Research Institute shows APU senior students of color feel “less of a sense of belonging and more marginalized than students of color at peer institutions.”
As the university and Activate work together toward improving conditions, many students may wonder how they can contribute to a positive campus climate.
“Any of the students I work with will tell you I have a favorite question, ‘Help me to understand?’ rather than seek to be understood—which we do when we make our own experiences first, when we make our own perspectives a priority, our own view a priority and try to convince someone of that—it creates this sort of antagonistic, sort of polarizing dynamic,” Barron said. “But if we take the time to ask the ‘help me understand’ question, maybe a dialogue can start up through personal responsibility and integrity of all students.”
Timeline of Activate
Jan. 25 – Activate Facebook Group appears online with declaration; Flyers appear on campus.
Feb. 4 — Activate students chalk the campus
Feb. 5 — Activate hosts the speak-out in Seven Palms at 7 p.m.
Feb. 6 — Walkout during chapel followed by prayer circle and resolutions