American University is home to over 7,000 undergraduate students. Each with their own life, their own story, their own complaints, and their own triumphs.
Nsilo Mavour, a freshman SIS student from Brooklyn, New York, has an interesting past when it comes to activism and personal engagement with contemporary issues. He has even more to say about activism on this campus.
Beginning in his sophomore year of high school, Nsilo interned at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York where he learned about modern IR issues such as worker’s rights in the Congo and women’s rights in Saudi Arabia. This engagement and discourse about activism sparked a passion, and prompted him to join Global Kids’ Human Rights Activist Project. At Global Kids, he was sent to Bosnia in the summer of his junior year on a trip funded by the State Department to learn about how social media changes our opinions on certain social issues such as human trafficking.
Upon his return, the Black Lives Matter movement was already in full swing, protesting and mourning the deaths of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, amongst others. After being approached by his classmates about starting their own protest, Nsilo saw it “as a duty” and organized over 200 students. First, the students staged a “die-in” in their schools lobby, and then walked to their local district court building where they protested. Afterward, students protested at the Barclay’s Center in Brooklyn where they were recognized by many local news organizations.
“People here will say they’re about Black Lives Matter, or all about equality, but in their actions and their rhetoric, you can tell that it’s more of a front. It’s not genuine.”
Despite this track record for activism, Nsilo says he has maintained a low profile at AU. Part of the reason for this, he says, is the lack of a community dynamic at AU. In the interview, Nsilo talked about a sort of individualistic culture at AU that isn’t good for breeding meaningful, grassroots activism. He said, “When I was applying to AU and heard that it was ‘the most politically active school in America’ I was thinking of a more communal type of environment.”
Instead, Nsilo experienced a feeling of exclusion. Regarding other African American students on campus, he said, “Just in my speaking to AU students, they don’t feel like they’re a part of this community, and because of that, they’re not going to be as vocal.”
“People here will say they’re about Black Lives Matter, or all about equality, but in their actions and their rhetoric, you can tell that it’s more of a front. It’s not genuine. There is definitely a duality in their minds.” He went on to say that often times, discussions about race on this campus are met with outright denial of any sorts of issues here. This denial leads many students who have strong opinions to keep them to themselves.
“People are so focused on saying the right thing, that they don’t say the important things.”
In Nsilo’s opinion, there isn’t enough recognition on campus of the problems facing black students. Once we recognize these problems, “the people who feel like they’re not included need a chair at the table” he says. To white student leaders on campus, Nsilo says “I can be a member of your constituency and be black, and you can lead me and say you’re a face for the black community, but these people are not that. I have not seen any of them at any Black Students Association (BSA) event for example.”
“Another thing I feel stifles conversation at American is a problem with political correctness. Meaningful conversations that may otherwise empower groups on campus instead of isolating them.” In his opinion, a fear of being offensive has led to a fear of conversation in general, and this needs to be addressed.
“People are so focused on saying the right thing, that they don’t say the important things. When you have to say things that are not exactly comfortable, people get really angry and they shut down. People here are not very open to different strains of thought. If you don’t agree with them on the exact thing, in the exact way that they believe it in, you’re an other. Because of this, you’re forced to find your core group and only stick to them”
The message behind The Rival’s Student Profile week is the same message Nsilo is trying to convey: reach out to those around you and get to know them. You may be surprised with what you find.