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ISSUE 115 VOL 19 PUBLISHED 4/26/2002

Harambe criticizes apathy

By Stefanie Graen
Staff Writer

Friday, April 26, 2002

Harambe, St. Olaf’s annual diversity conference, concluded Saturday after a week full of activities to stimulate awareness and appreciation for diversity in the community. This year’s theme was "In Living Color: Exploring Diversity." Students were invited to an open mic night at the Larson Coffeehouse, international dances in the Crossroads that included merengue and salsa, an improv group and a South African Gospel Group who shared their Christian experience, mission, and vision. There was also a diversity forum with President Christopher Thomforde, Dean of Community Life and Diversity Eida Berrio and Student Government President Nick Wallace.

Harambe is a Swahili word which means "working together in unity." This includes a discussion on the concept of diversity and what it means in the St. Olaf community. The conference has been taking place annually for ten years, and while each year’s vision and theme changes, the idea is the same. According to Harambe President Hannah Oliha ’02, the goal is to "bridge gaps and increase awareness of diversity issues."

Although Harambe is a well-publicized event, Oliha and many others believe that Harambe’s goals miss the mark; not because of the speakers, facilitators, or events, but because of the St. Olaf community as a whole.

"Diversity is encouraged and sustained when an informed community takes action." Oliha said. "We are indeed an informed community, but we are not active and that is the worst form of hypocrisy. It is not enough for students of color to carry the baton ... The responsibility belongs to us all." Her reasons for stating this are "not to cause commotion, but to open up the lines of communication that we might remedy this problem."

Jared Anderson ‘03 agreed. "It seems as if every few years there is intense discussion on diversity [at St. Olaf], but most students are unsure what becomes of it."

Attendance at Harambe has been low in past years, and "this year was no exception," Oliha said. For the students and all others involved in the rigorous planning of Harambe, the low turnout was frustrating.

"This small percentage are those who are often most aware of the changes that must be made," Oliha said. "The majority, if not all of them, are students of color who believe in the vision of a diverse campus and are willing to work that the vision might be fulfilled. While many other students profess to share this vision, the numbers in attendance during past conferences have told a different story."

Heidi Anderson-Isaacson, associate director of student activities, is impressed with the amount of work the students put into planning the conference, and has been impressed with the results. This is what she feels makes the low attendance turnout frustrating. The people that attend the events should not only include those who always attend and those who understand the diversity issues being faced, but others as well.

"Students from all organizations – music, athletics, student government, student media, et cetera – should be attending events like the Harambe conference because it will help us grow together as a community," she said.

Although faculty and staff have usually been engaged in the richness of Harambe, in order for its mission to succeed, more students who are concerned about meaningful dialogue on diversity needs participate in the annual conference. Courtney Peterson ’03 agreed. "Harambe should be an important event for the students of St. Olaf, who now more than ever need to become involved in finding out how diversity affects us, and how it functions in our community. We are all diverse people in some way, and that is why it is up to each person to figure out what he or she can bring to the discussion."

Harambe is an established conference at St. Olaf and will most certainly continue its creative activities and meaningful events. But in order for the conference to truly be successful, Oliha said, something may need to change. "What is certain is that the old is not working. Something new and different must take place."

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