Incoming WWU student president says diversity discussion should go beyond race

FOR THE BELLINGHAM HERALDJune 5, 2014 

Annika Wolters

Annika Wolters president-elect of the Associated Students at Western Washington University, Tuesday, June 2, 2014, at WWU.

MATT MCDONALD — THE BELLINGHAM HERALD Buy Photo

Annika Wolters feels no need to tip-toe around any topic when asked questions as president-elect of the Associated Students at Western Washington University.

"I still have a lot of people to impress," she said with a smile, noting the election was close and few voted.

Even so, as a double major in communications studies and journalism with a minor in women's studies, the 22-year-old isn't interested in sensationalism.

Wolters, a biracial student, says some media outlets and political figures blew matters out of proportion recently in commenting on a blog by WWU President Bruce Shepard, who wrote he would be a failure if he didn't eventually develop more diversity at Western.

She doesn't mind addressing the topic, but she is especially interested in encouraging students to become more active on campus, to get to know each other better and to be open-minded.

Question: Annika, why do you think only 7 percent of the student body voted?

Answer: There's always something going on in Red Square (named for the color of bricks). There's always someone trying to capture students' attention. I think a lot of students don't want to be harassed to vote. I ran against two other women who were already on the A.S. Board and I won by 30 votes, 538 to 508.

Q: What would you like to accomplish?

A: I'd like to see students who haven't been involved at Western become more involved. I'd like to see our students get to know who is representing them on the A.S. Board and to ask questions, such as about where student fees are going. I want to support our board members. And I'd love it if students would say to themselves, "My friend is involved; maybe I should be involved, too."

Oh, and I sure don't want there to be any more rioting (referring to the event in October). I was in my room and I could hear all that. I was like, "Really?" (incredulous look). I stayed away. Here, the federal government was shutting down and our students were rioting because there was no more booze (at parties shut down)!

Q: What are some campus issues?

A: Right now, we're working in divestment in companies (too strongly invested in fossil fuels). ... We would like to have a campus that's truly green and does not put (excessive) money into fossil fuels. We're also concerned about social justice issues, such as farmworker justice.

I'd like the campus to be more accessible to the public and our students to be more open-minded about the public. That works the other way, too.

Q: How did you view President Shepard's blog about diversity?

A: It's a shame we're (students and others) pigeon-holing diversity to people of color. ... I recognize he was trying to catch people's attention. Some people might have taken it the wrong way. I don't really know exactly what he meant; there was a focus on racial diversity. Maybe a different blog would be about (the importance of) economic diversity.

Q: Why did some people get so upset?

A: There are a lot of universities that look like ours (more than three-quarters Caucasian) in states that are more diverse than our state. But I think he was just trying to start a conversation.

Q: How do you view diversity?

A: We hear the word "diversity," we often think people of color. That makes it easy for whites to ignore it. What about first-generation students, older students, low-income, gender inequality, military veterans. I don't want people to think that diversity does not affect them. I think we need to have a campus that reflects the state, the nation, the world. The average European speaks two or three languages; the average African speaks three to five languages.

Q: Was the diversity issue sensationalized?

A: It must have really been a slow news week! I think it was sensationalized.

Q: Do you hear more students talking about diversity?

A: It's something people tend to tip-toe around. We don't know how to talk about it.

Michelle Nolan is a Bellingham freelance writer.

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