“Do you speak Mexican?” asks a bold-lettered poster on the bulletin board outside Fireside Lounge. The provocative campaign is the work of the Bridge, a new group on campus devoted to promoting discussion about diversity.
The lack of diversity on campus inspired Traveon Rogers ’16 and Kathy Trieu ’16, both from Houston, Texas, to start the Bridge group. The two felt that Oles face many problematic social norms and “taboo” topics, and the way they talk about and deal with these issues needed to be changed. Their solution, the Bridge group, is now part of Multicultural Affairs and aims to address the lack of cultural understanding among students.
“We realized students and faculty were only exposed to multicultural aspects of student life through food tasting events and cultural performances, but there was not usually anything that brought these different cultures together as a community,” Trieu said.
The group’s poster campaign is based on a question they often hear around campus: “Can I ask you something and you promise you won’t get offended?” The question’s ubiquity in conversations about diversity inspired Trieu and Rogers to do something about the awkwardness and uncertainty surrounding the diversity conversation on campus.
The Bridge meets every Thursday night from 7-8 p.m. in Trollhaugen. Trieu and Rogers hope that the meetings, which are discussion-based, will help students become more comfortable talking openly about difficult topics.
“We have professors who don’t know how to address students from different backgrounds, and we have students who are afraid to ask questions about each other’s culture,” Trieu said. “It shouldn’t be this way.”
Eight students serve on the Bridge’s executive board, and between 30 and 35 members show up regularly to the Thursday night meetings. The group also hosts guest speakers or organizations at their bimonthly Family Dinners. For their next dinner, they have invited activist Stevie Larson to give a lecture and host a workshop for students.
According to Trieu, Houston is one of the United States’ most diverse cities, so the transition to St. Olaf’s culture has heavily influenced her and Rogers’ college experiences so far.
“We too have much to learn about Minnesotan culture, so it really goes both ways,” Trieu said.
In addition to hosting meetings and events on campus, Rogers and Trieu hope to connect students with the culture of the Twin Cities. They intend to hold monthly events in St. Paul or Minneapolis to establish a connection between Oles and the variety of cultures there through volunteering and personal interaction. Above all, Rogers and Trieu want students to remain open to new experiences and cultures.
“We want everyone to be curious about differences in a productive and positive way while not being afraid of offending someone,” Trieu said. “I think if St. Olaf could be a place where curiosity felt safe, that would be the first step to creating a comfortable environment.”