I am writing in response to the April 23 article: “False inclusivity and cultural insensitivity in campus rooms.”
For those who do not know me, my name is Abdi Lugundi, sometimes called Swervo by those who do not know me on a personal level. I am the current President of the Allegheny Student Government and a past Vice President of Theta Chi.
I grew up in the Kakuma refugee camps in Kenya. I settled in the US around 2004. I am Somali Bantu, an ethnic minority within the larger Somali clans. Most of all, I am a Muslim, a black Muslim and a foreign black Muslim in America after September 11th.
Many may think that September 11th had no effect on me compared to my Arab and Middle Eastern and brown brothers and sisters of the Islamic religion. The September 11, 2001 attacks made resettlement difficult for the Somali Bantu and caused many delays. There were security concerns that delayed the resettlement process for the Somali Bantu, even gaining P2 status in 1999. They were only settled in the USA in 2004. If we hadn’t been labeled a “humanitarian crisis”, “Most of us would never have crossed.
After my relocation in Pittsburgh, I had a lot of identity issues. Identity crisis has always been a part of my life and something I still face today.
Before I decided to go to Allegheny College, I had the opportunity to tail another Muslim from Kenya. He was part of the Islamic Cultural Association and I really felt that I could find a place for myself.
When I got to Allegheny College I knew everything was going to be a culture shock. For one thing, I had the idea that I would be the only child who came out of the projects and went into an environment that didn’t match my lived experience. Second, people really never know how to deal with black Muslims – we have two opposing pasts that we carry that really don’t have fond memories of America. I have also experienced this feeling from non-black Muslims in my community. It also becomes uncomfortable when people try to avoid conversation or phrases that make them appear racist and biased against us.
With Access Allegheny, I finally got used to the lifestyle on campus and made my first friends. I wanted to be more comfortable with my religious identity and also connect with others who were sharing the same experience. At the club, I noticed that there was no representation of the black Muslim experience or the inclusion of the black Muslim diaspora. After joining the board, I wanted to make a difference for the club. During that time, I did something that I never thought would cross my mind: I joined a historically white fraternity, theta chi. Through this action I received a lot of backlash from the then president and felt banished and viewed as a sign. I came to Theta Chi because I didn’t feel like I was a sign or changing who I should be to be part of this organization. Nor did they resemble any of the other historic white fraternities on campus – each with their own personality and character. It felt magical. After becoming a brother, I wanted to make sure that others who were traditionally not accepted into these rooms could find a place for themselves. I never had to boast about how diverse the Brotherhood was because it was just something that was understood and happened naturally; it was real. When I became Vice President of Theta Chi, I also became Co-President of the Islamic Culture Association. This gave me the opportunity to teach my brothers knowledge and understanding about my religious background and lifestyle through weekly general meetings. Brothers and their friends have seen me pray and stand up for my religion to this day and they would stand behind my religious values above their own beliefs, true allies.
For as long as I can remember, ICA has been a place for Muslim and non-Muslim students where Muslim students are the minority within the club. This gave space for non-Muslims who knew nothing about religion to create awareness through interactions, discussions and events. Many friends have thought about conversion, friends who have converted and friends who have gained a new understanding of Islam through ICA. When it comes to being Muslim, it’s not a race – it’s a lifestyle. You treat people the way you would like to be treated. You are encouraged to invite people to religion and exemplify the beauty of being a Muslim.
During Ramadan, both Muslim and non-Muslim board members worked tirelessly to provide Iftar for each night and solidify the venues for the entire month. ICA is and will remain a welcoming place for everyone, no matter what you believe in. At Allegheny College, we’re here to learn more about our differences. I don’t want anyone to shut up. I want them to talk about what they don’t understand so I can help them understand. If it’s not my duty, then it’s the club’s duty.
During the month of Ramadan, it is recommended that you invite your neighbors and friends to break with you. I can never say that Ramadan is culturally or religiously mine because it is not for a particular race or people to be Muslim. It is a lifestyle that you exemplify under the deities and guidelines of Islam.
How can I feel included if I cannot uphold the general Muslim norm of identity or culture?
CORRECTION 5/7: This article has been updated to reflect the exact title as it will appear in print.