The United World to Host Forum on Racism and Xenophobia
On the evening of Friday, October 30, OU student organization The United World will host a special forum entitled One World, One Humanity, which will explore student experiences of racism and xenophobia at the university. The forum, which features three international student speakers, will be held as a hybrid event, with options for limited in-person attendance and Zoom streaming.
Representing three different continents, the speakers — Nayifa Nihad from The Maldives (South Asia), Tatenda Chido Nicolle Dzvimbo from Zimbabwe (southern Africa) and Braulio Covarrubias from Mexico (Latin America) — will each discuss their experiences with and perspectives on stereotypes, systemic oppression and discrimination. “It is very common that the narrative of racism and xenophobia is more aligned with the white perspective than with the point of view of the victims,” TUW states in the event description. “Thus, OWOH's main objective is to combat racism and systematized xenophobia by providing platforms for the voices of the oppressed communities to define their own experience.” The event will include time for discussion, and attendees are encouraged to share their own perspectives on issues the speakers raise.
Each year The United World, a unique international organization whose members represent over 50 countries, sponsors initiatives and events that promote international awareness and sharing of cultures. As current TUW president Randy Bent-Barker explains, “We seek, through all of our activities, to provide a platform where everyone can celebrate the individual in them and in others, and where everyone can share their experiences, knowing that our TUW family will provide them with the greatest possible support.”
One World, One Humanity came together during a particularly tumultuous semester for international students, who are grappling with changing immigration laws, travel bans, a rise in xenophobia in the USA, and financial hardship related to the COVID-19 pandemic. The group felt compelled to hold an event that would not only focus on recent challenges but on what many see as systemic issues at the University of Oklahoma and in US higher ed generally.
“What inspired TUW to organize this forum was the fact that many of our members have suffered some kind of discrimination at OU, which is why at TUW we have wanted to amplify the voices of our international students,” Bent-Barker says. “We want to create conversations about how the systematization of discrimination has affected the oppressed classes at the university.” International students often feel invisible at OU and their concerns can go unheard, he notes, which can cause students to internalize discrimination. So for Bent-Barker, raising awareness of these issues is paramount. “If the university does not realize the problem and does not commit to its eradication, discrimination will continue,” he says.
Nayifa Nihad, a master's student in Global Studies who is speaking at the forum, hopes that attendees will be inspired to take action and work toward change. “Academia is embedded with whiteness, and the lack of voices of color in higher education is apparent, making it harder to make room for transformative engagement within our classrooms,” she says. “I hope those in attendance leave the room wanting to make tangible changes within our current educational environment by doing the work and not asking students and faculty of color to do it for you.”
Leaders of The United World see this event as an important opportunity to draw attention to the oppression of people of color at the university, as well as to create a safe space for students to tell their stories and find solidarity with one another. “Events like this can help minimize fear because people are mutually supportive,” Bent-Barker says. “Collective and solidarity actions for a just cause can make us aware that we are not alone, but that our struggles give us hope so that tomorrow can be better.”
In the future, TUW hopes to continue giving international students a voice and a platform, whether it is through forums or arts and cultural events. “Diversity and inclusion work should never end with just mandatory training,” says Nihad. “It requires continuous effort to make students of color feel safe and heard within the spaces of the University of Oklahoma.”
One World, One Humanity will be held Friday, October 30 from 6-8 p.m. in the Thurman J. White Forum Building, forum room. In-person capacity is limited to 55 people and masks and social distancing are required.