On Thursday, January 18, for the opening Colloquy of the new quarter, former PUC alumna and instructor of psychology Allison Musvosvi spoke to a crowded sanctuary. In her talk, titled “#woke?”, she shared narratives from her childhood upbringing in Zimbabwe, Malawi, and Botswana, and her experience immigrating to the United States. She also encouraged the audience members to have hard conversations surrounding race and privilege. Musvosvi currently works as a research analyst at ILLUME Advising, LLC.
Musvosvi recounted having her understanding and concept of race broadened after moving to the United States and learning about Latinos, Native Americans, and other ethnic groups, and noticing the color of her skin and her country of origin made people classify her differently. She told the story of her first day of school in America, when her teacher spoke very slowly to her after class and asked whether she had food. Musvosvi realized the teacher assumed she might need help, based on their concept and bias of Africa, her accent, and the fact that she was thin.
“Sometimes our shallow understanding of the issues can actually be harmful and hurtful, and sometimes just as harmful and hurtful as spewing out some of the other hateful epitaphs that are part of language,” she said. “My challenge for you is to take your activism beyond the internet, take your curiosity beyond just curiosity, take your questions, and have a real conversation, and to deepen your understanding about some of the things you might be inherently ignorant of.”
Musvosvi went on to graduate as valedictorian of her senior class, and as her fellow classmates began to apply to colleges, she realized she hadn’t been part of the college prep classes most of them had participated in. She ended up attending community college, and took an African American history class to learn why she was being treated the way she was in the U.S. The class helped her learn about the issues and struggles she didn’t understand. She encouraged audience members to acknowledge their own shallow understanding of issues regarding race, class, ability, mental health, and diversity, and to grapple with them, saying, “Being #woke is an ongoing struggle.”
Musvosvi shared a story of a former coworker of hers who used a wheelchair, and how she opened her eyes to the struggles people with physical disabilities face. It made her aware consideration must be taken to ensure spaces are inclusive, accessible, and that everyone is welcomed into them. She said, “Do we think about the things we say? Do we think about the things we do? Do we think about who feels uncomfortable in our space and ‘What can I do to change that?’ Or are we content in saying, ‘I’m comfortable here, so everything is good’? Are we content in saying ... ‘It’s 2018! Racism is over, sexism is over, all of these isms are over.’ Or are we thinking, ‘Where do I feel comfortable and how might someone else feel uncomfortable in that space, and what can I do to change the difference?’”
When discussing what it means to be #woke, Musvosvi said she believes, “It’s the recognition and the expectation that being uncomfortable and feeling uncomfortable is a necessary part of unlearning our oppressive behaviors.” She encouraged the audience to think about the places they feel comfortable and to recognize most likely they are comfortable there because they are occupying a place of privilege in that space, and it may come at the expense of someone else and their comfort. She challenged the audience to have conversations with people different from themselves, particular those in marginalized groups, and to utilize the internet to read and learn about other peoples’ experiences.
“One of the things I think is imperative for this generation is the recognition that shallow knowledge, just having an opinion about this group or that group or what they should do, that’s not enough. That shallow understanding of another person’s circumstances can actually be more harmful than overt hate,” Musvosvi said in closing. “We need to put ourselves in a place and ask, ‘What do I not know about? What do I need to learn about? How can I make my friend group, my classroom, my campus, or my business, more accessible to those other people?’ It’s going to be uncomfortable, maybe expensive, it’s going to take a lot of time, but that’s what it takes.”
The Colloquy service was a highlight of a week full of diverse and cultural celebrations, including a presentation entitled “Who Am I?” that explored the complexities and challenges of the Black identity through a panel discussion presented by the Black Student Union; a talk from the Student Organization of Latinos (SOL) Club honoring Hispanic heritage and support for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program; and special food-based events featuring a variety of cultural foods, including rice cakes from the Korean Adventist Student Association (KASA).