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Officials’ trip to Am Samoa accomplished nothing, WSU students say

Senior global politics and comparative ethnic studies major Roanna Zackhras, left, and senior biology major Ula Pele say officials could promote diversity by visiting the Samoan community on campus. [ABBY LINNENKOHL | The Daily Evergreen]
The student voice of Washington State Univ.
Students say there haven’t been any changes or follow through, feel unaffected

A semester after several WSU administrators took a five-day trip to Samoa, many are still unsure as to whether the trip actually brought about any tangible change.

WSU President Kirk Schulz and Vice President of Student Affairs Mary Jo Gonzales initiated the trip with the stated goal of learning how to better serve Samoan and Pacific Islander students at WSU. However, there has not been any real effort toward this goal.

Roanna Zackhras, treasurer of the Samoan student group Mitamitaga O Samoa, said she feels administrators need to do more to understand their culture, but that they didn’t have to spend thousands of dollars to do it. Coming to MOS general meetings and talking with members of other Asian and Pacific Islander student organizations would have been a valuable first step toward making improvements on campus, but no such contact was ever attempted.

Ula Pele, a senior biology major and member of MOS, said WSU officials should have started locally instead of flying to Samoa to talk to people who probably aren’t going to help students on campus. If Schulz and Gonzales wanted to build relationships, they could have traveled across campus to an MOS club meeting rather than across the ocean.

Since the trip, nothing has changed in the way the administration interacts with MOS or other Polynesian student organizations.

“There has not been any action toward what they said they were going to do,” Zackhras said. “There has been nothing, not even contact, not even coming to our general meeting.”

How can WSU leadership claim to have a strong desire to set things right without taking any action to achieve that goal? It feels disingenuous, and that is the impression that MOS members received. Zackhras said no one consulted them before the trip was announced, and based on the timing, she feels that it was more of an apology to Robert Barber and other Samoan athletes than a mission of cultural enlightenment.

“It was obviously for the athletes,” Zackhras said. “Not the Pacific Islander community, not the students, not the faculty. It’s honestly degrading, because we exist on campus, too.”

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