Letter to the editor: ICA a welcoming place for all students

Dear Editor:

I am writing in response to the April 23 article, “False inclusivity and cultural insensitivity in campus spaces.”

For those who don’t know me, my name is Abdi Lugundi, sometimes called Swervo by those who don’t know me on a personal level. I am the current President of Allegheny Student Government and former Vice President of Theta Chi.

I grew up in the Kakuma Refugee camps in Kenya. I settled in the U.S around 2004. I am Somali Bantu, a minority ethnic group within the larger Somali clans. But most importantly I am Muslim, a Black Muslim and a foreign Black Muslim in post 9/11 America.

Many may think that 9/11 didn’t have an effect on me in comparison to my Arabic, Middle Eastern and Brown brothers and sisters of the Islamic religion. The 2001 attacks of 9/11 made the process of resettlement difficult for the Somali Bantu and caused many delays. There were security concerns delaying the process of resettlement for the Somali Bantu and even being given P2 status in 1999, they were not settled into the U.S until 2004. If it wasn’t for the fact that we were deemed as a “humanitarian crisis,” most of us would have never crossed paths. 

After resettling in Pittsburgh, I faced a lot of issues with my identity. Identity crisis has always been a part of my life, and something I am still facing today. 

Before I decided to enroll in Allegheny College, I had the opportunity to shadow a fellow Muslim from Kenya. He was a part of the Islamic Cultural Association and I really felt like I could find a place for myself. 

Coming to Allegheny College, I knew everything was going to be a culture shock. For one, I had a notion that I was going to be the only kid coming from the projects and going into an environment which doesn’t resonate with my lived experience. Two, people really never know how to treat Black Muslims — we have two contrasting pasts that we carry which really do not carry any good memories with America. I have also experienced this feeling from non Black Muslims within my community. It kind of gets awkward too when people try to avoid conversations or phrases that make them seem racist and prejudiced against us.  

Finally getting adjusted to the campus lifestyle through the help of Access Allegheny, I made my beginning friendships. I wanted to be more comfortable with my religious identity and also connect with others who share the same experience. In the club, I noticed there was not a representation of the Black Muslim experience or inclusion of the Black Muslim diaspora. After joining the board, I wanted to make a difference for the club. During this time, I did something which I would have never thought would cross my mind: I joined a historically white fraternity, Theta Chi. From this action, I received a lot of backlash from the president of that time and I felt I was exiled and deemed as a token. I joined Theta Chi because because I did not feel like I had to be a token or change who I was to be a part of this organization. They also did not resemble the other historical white fraternities on campus — everyone had their own personality and distinct character. It felt magical. After becoming a brother, I wanted to make sure others who were not traditionally accepted into these spaces could find a place for themselves. I never had to boast about how diverse the fraternity was because it was just something that was understood and happened naturally; it was genuine. When I became vice president of the Theta Chi, I also became co-president of the Islamic Culture Association. This gave me the chance to allow my brothers to gain knowledge and understanding of my religious background and lifestyle through weekly general meetings. Brothers and their friends have watched me pray and advocate for my religion until this day and they would stand behind my religious values over 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 did not know about the religion to gain awareness through interactions, discussions and events. I have had many friends think about converting, friends who have converted and friends who gained a new understanding of Islam through ICA. When it comes to being Muslim, it is not a race — it is a lifestyle. You treat people how you would like to be treated. You are encouraged to invite people to the religion and exemplify the beauty of being Muslim. 

During the month of Ramadan, Muslim and non-Muslim members on the board have worked tirelessly to provide Iftar for each night and solidify venues for the entirety of the month. ICA is and will be a welcoming space for all no matter what you believe in. At Allegheny College, we are here to learn about our differences. I do not want anyone to “shut up.” I want them to speak about what they don’t understand so I can help them understand. If it is not my duty, then it is the duty of the club. 

Also, during the month of Ramadan it is encouraged that you invite your neighbors and friends to break fast with you. I can never say Ramadan is culturally or religiously mine because being Muslim is not for a specific race or people. It is a lifestyle that you exemplify under the deities and guidelines of Islam. 

How can I feel included when I can’t represent the Muslim general norm in terms of identity or culture?


CORRECTION 5/7: This article was updated to reflect the accurate title as it appears in print.