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Multicultural groups struggle to fit in on campus

April 8, 2015

The struggles for multicultural organizations to fit into the mainstream culture and to keep self-identity have always been an issue around the UW-River Falls campus.

“We try to promote Asian awareness on campus and we try to make every individual feel welcome and embrace the culture,” said Ka Zoua Vang, the co-president of the Asian American Student Association (AASA). “We also welcome people who are interested in [learning our] culture with us.”

AASA members are mostly Hmong. As for people from other ethnicities, mainly one or two people represent each kind of background.

“Only two members are non-Asian, but they only come when they can,” Vang said.

Sisters and Brothers of Islam (SBI) currently has four members, and three out of the four are not Muslim.

“The other Muslims on campus come to the meeting when they can, but it is not their top priority,” said co-President of SBI Mohammad Battah.

One of the reasons Muslims do not constantly go to the meetings is because they don’t feel there is a strong connection with the community. Some have the idea that their friends could be afraid of it. The other reason is because of the projection of media.

“They do not want to be associated with negative commentation,” Battah said.

The Islamic organization on campus recently had the idea to change the title from SBI to “Friends and Believers of Islam,” or FBI, in order to approach more people who are interested in Islamic.

“One of the challenges we are having here is, do we change our name, do we change the identity of who we are?” Battah said. “We asked a good 20 plus students what they think, the majority of them want it ‘Friends and Believers of Islam,’ but none of them showed up to our meetings.”

AASA has the same issue as SBI; the organization also wants to change its title.

“Because we hold the name Asian American, there’s not a lot of students [that] come,” Vang said.

Also, the situation doesn’t only happen on domestic students, but also international students, as they don’t consider joining because they keep the idea that they are Asian, instead of Asian American.

Sometimes peoples’ ideas and stereotypes about “multicultural” is limited by the mainstream media, which refers to non-white races. UW-Madison Professor Patty Loew suggested trying to use more collective words, which could attract more peoples’ attention, rather than keep out other races.

However, the titles are known around the world, they’re not specifically used within the campus. If those organizations want to change the names, what are the names going to change to?

To keep self-identity but at the same time worry about fitting in and to include more students to the organization is a great challenge to all multicultural organizations.

“The only way to balance it is to have people willing to come [with an open mind],” Vang said. “Don’t think about fitting in, think about willing to learn.”