Antioch and Diversity Today
When asked whether preconceptions about the Antioch structure, culture, and environment, as well as the institution’s pursuit of diversity and inclusion, influenced the decision to pursue an education here, Sasha Pak ‘16 tells a familiar narrative.
“I didn’t know about Antioch until I read a book, Colleges That Change Lives and the biography of Coretta Scott King, who talked about Antioch and how much she was accepted here during the years when other schools wouldn’t want to accept students of color,” Pak said. “Historically, Antioch has been inclusive about the students of color and minorities. Social justice combined with community work appealed to me as I began to learn more about liberal arts institutions and Antioch.”
Pak grew up in Central Asia, specifically, in the relatively small country of Kyrgyzstan. Pak lived in Bishkek, a capital city, was exposed to urban culture, and travelled to the mountains often on school trips and with family.
“It sounds odd, but we still have ‘nomads’ there, mostly outside of capital Bishkek,” Pak said. “Horses, lakes, mountains, and delicious mountain water make me miss my country a lot. Also, the education there is almost like private schools here; we had to pay to elementary and further schools in order to attend it. I guess that made us value it more and made us make the most of it.”
Pak hopes to one day attend medical school. Before attending Antioch, Pak studied at a community college, which “has eaten all my earnings from full-time job in health care.”
Pak said Antioch exhibits interest in diversity today through organizing trips to different events and conferences. “When I went to the Midwest Bisexual Lesbian Gay Transgender Ally College Conference in Lansing, Michigan … I met with representatives of various organizations during the career fair and some of them have told me things about Antioch I didn’t know. Such as, ‘this school has always been inclusive and open about accepting lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and transgender (LGBT) students and is known for creating awareness about minority groups.’ This made me realize that we are known all over the country, and for good things.
Pak and some other Antioch students also attended a Leadership for Students of Color conference in Kalamazoo, Michigan.
Pak regularly challenges other students to think globally. “It’s very easy to get caught up in the problems of your country that the other countries disappear from focus. I find it hard to communicate my ideas sometimes because I introduce them when the majority thinks otherwise. But, most times it is very rewarding to learn from each other. I believe that Antioch has the potential to create individual thinkers who will win a ‘victory for humanity.’”
Noella Nishimwe ’16, who emigrated from Burundi as a child, said she had to “overcome that feeling of not being recognized as a person but as a color” while living Mt. Vernon, Ohio, where she attended high school.
Nishimwe, who is studying science at Antioch, said her personal mission is driven by religious convicions. “My mission is first of all to be who God has called me to be,” she said. “By doing that I’m showing his love and that’s what people see. And people see what I do, and not just what I say.”
An immigrant, Nishimwe said she would like to work with refugee communities.
“I’ve been meeting some people from Burundi, Rwanda, Congo, and they lived in refugee camps. For me it’s hard to feel exactly what people feel, but I can understand what’s it lik to be separated from your mother and father, brothers and sisters at a young age. My sisters and brother are here now, and I can communicate with other cousins, but it’s hard for the other refugees. I want to be able to be there for the just to listen.”
On the question of diversity at Antioch, Nishimwe finds it more difficult at times to be a religious minority.
“Sometimes, when you say you are a Christian, it is taken as, ‘Oh, you hate these types of people.’ I know who I am. I’m not all the other Christians. I am who I am.”
But, being diverse in her religion also offers her opportunities to challenge others and learn from their experiences, she said.
“If I was still in Africa, I wouldn’t know how different people are here,” she said. “That’s how you learn. You have to know what’s out there. You’re not the only person—and just knowing you’re not the only person—you can share their challenges, their opinions, and be able to not just say you are always right.”