The issue of race has been at the forefront of American minds for the better part of this year. This has been no different for students on campus. Over this semester the Anchor has covered different aspects and perspectives of race on Hope College’s campus. To wrap up our coverage of this issue for the semester, the Anchor spoke with Marvellous Ogudoro (’23), an international student from Nigeria.
Being an international student gives Ogudoro a unique perspective on the issues of race and police brutality in the US. He says of his position, “The feeling of solidarity without placement, that’s the best way I can describe it, as any person with empathy hopefully feels, I feel very much that that struggle is a struggle worth fighting for. The issue of race in America is something that everyone should be a part of making better.” International students of color face a unique set of challenges when it comes to perceiving the inequality in the US. Most only intend to be in the US for a temporary amount of time but still want to fight for what is right. Ogudoro explained, “It’s interesting as an international student to not know where your place is in that. I stand in solidarity with victims of police brutality and I think it is a very important struggle. I have tried to contribute to that struggle, but I think for international students especially those of us from Africa who are black and come to the US, we haven’t grown up in systems where racism is a part of our dialogue so it’s difficult to know where exactly we should be placed in the struggle.” For international students of color there is not the same history of racism as there is in the US.
This lack of historical racial tension changes how international students perceive incidents of racism, like the cases of Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd and Breonna Taylor that started protest this past summer. Ogudoro described this change by saying, “I think a lot of African international students have more of an intellectual reaction and solidarity as compared to an emotional reaction.” Ogudoro affirmed his desire to fight for change. During the pandemic Ogudoro stayed in the US, meaning he was here for the largest waves of protests. Ogudoro said of this experience, “I attended one of the protests in Holland over the summer, and it was a lot. A lot of emotions and a lot of pain. I think it’s really interesting to watch things going on online and then actually to be there physically with people like me who were hurting.” The combination of racist incidents and responding protests can also be very identity defining for international students of color. Ogudoro said that he had never really been confirmed in his identity in the US until the protest, saying, “The George Floyd incident really solidified my black identity in the US. I wasn’t pushing against it, it just never really settled in until the protests started. I had to realize that if I come across a random person on the streets and they look at me, even if my Nigerian chain is proudly on my neck and I speak a different language the first thing that registers for them is not my name, Marvellous; it is not Marvellous, the international student, it is Marvellous, the black man. And that for me was very shifting in my identity; solidifying my identity as a black man in the US.”
One of the biggest things international students of color have to get used to when they come to the US is the culture around race. In many of their home countries race is a much different concept or not even really a concept that exists. Ogudoro said of the race culture in Nigeria, “I don’t know how to describe the difference in race cultures between the US and home if there is no race concept back home. It’s not even an issue of difference, race as a concept literally does not exist.” Ogudoro continued to explain this difference in culture by talking about when President Barack Obama was elected, “I joke with friends because I remember appreciating Obama, not because he was black but just because he was president and it would just be really cool to be president.” Ogudoro went on to discuss how, at the beginning of his time in the US, he had to learn all of the different American terms regarding race. This is because in Ogudoro’s home country, these terms are non-existent, “Back home in Nigeria, where I grew up there is one word for foreigners, ‘oyinbo,’ and it basically means ‘light skinned’ but the more accurate description is ‘non-Nigerian.’”
Life in the US for international students of color, of course, heavily involves campus culture. When discussing diversity on campus, Ogudoro echoed sentiments expressed by others in past articles of the Anchor’s Black Lives Matter series, saying, “I think diversity can be looked at in two different ways. I think there is something to be said about there actually being people from different backgrounds on campus, and then there’s another thing to be said about those people feeling like they can actually survive and thrive at Hope.” In past articles, sources have told the Anchor that while Hope does a fairly good job recruiting students of color, it has trouble supporting them once they are here, and that is no different for international students of color. Ogudoro explained that Hope has still a while to go before international and domestic students of color can feel at home on campus.
Finally, Ogudoro expressed his desire to tell students on campus that it is okay to need a moment to breathe. The fight for racial equality is long from over and students of color have that to deal with as well as the stresses of schoolwork and other difficult aspects of life. Ogudoro, being a self described happy-go-lucky person, encourages other students that, “It’s too long a road for us to not take a moment to breathe.”