Discussing ‘Cultures on Prairie’

Diverse panel discuss challenges for some SMSU students

Photos by Karin Elton Sandra Shimba, D’Ajah Tye and Muna Mohamed were among the panelists who presented Tuesday at a cultural event.

MARSHALL — Safety, peacefulness and quietness are some of the positive qualities of living in Marshall, said a diverse panel of Southwest Minnesota State University students. Some of the downsides — it could use a few more restaurants such as Chick Fil-a.

The panel was part of the Cultures on the Prairie of Southwest Minnesota event Feb. 11 at the SMSU conference center.

Panel member Muna Mohamed is a Marshall High School graduate and SMSU graduate who had two majors, justice administration and political science with a minor in pre-law. She is a graduate student studying for her master’s of business administration and is the SMSU student body president. She was born in Mogadishu, Somalia, and moved to Marshall in 1999. Sitting next to Mohamed was D’Ajah Tye, a sophomore majoring in social work. She moved to Marshall from St. Paul. Next to her was Sandra Shimba, a senior majoring in community psychology and health promotion. She is the state vice chair of Students United. Rounding out the panel was Hsa Mu, a Karen who came to the United States in 2011 from a Thailand refugee camp. He is a Marshall Public Schools parent/student connector and a part-time SMSU student majoring in political science.

Julie Walker, an SMSU communication professor and speech coach, was the facilitator for the day. Walker asked the panel about their experiences living in the Marshall area.

Mu arrived in Marshall in 2011 after living in St. Paul for three months. He said the cold Minnesota weather was a big adjustment.

Tye said coming from St. Paul, she didn’t stand out as a black woman, but in Marshall she did. She recalled doing business at a local bank and the teller couldn’t get over how beautiful Tye’s braids were.

“Can I touch it?” Tye said the teller asked. Tye was taken aback by that question. She told the audience she would never think of asking a white woman if she could touch her hair.

She said, however, SMSU is a “very welcoming school.”

Shimba came to Marshall from Houston, Texas. She is originally from the Democratic Republic of Congo, formerly called Zaire. She was shocked at how cold Minnesota is. “Really cold,” she said.

As far as living in Marshall, she remembered sitting on a bench outside Hy-Vee and an elderly man was pacing nearby. It was only when she got up that he sat down on the bench.

But, she said, “I feel at home here at school.”

Growing up in Marshall, Mohamed said she didn’t notice or pay attention to any prejudice directed toward her, but as a Muslim, it would have been nice in middle and high school to have a meditation room to pray in.

“I pray five times a day,” she said.

She said she faces challenges as an African-American, as a Muslim and as a woman, both internally in her Somali community and externally — “to be listened to, to be thought of as a leader as a woman.”

Shimba, whose sister also lives in Marshall, said at first she thought, “Why would anyone live here?” After awhile she realized, “it’s so peaceful here especially compared with Houston. You don’t hear anything at night. You can sleep.”

She also likes the closeness and convenience of stores.

Mu, who is married with a son in kindergarten, appreciates the “beautiful landscape. You can see the sunset.” He likes to go fishing, hiking and biking at Camden State Park.

The panelists appreciated the Access Opportunity Success club and Office of Diversity and Inclusion at SMSU.

“I wish I would have known about it sooner,” said Tye. Tye will be a first generation college graduate in her family. Sometimes when she gets down, her family says, “come home.” She goes to the AOS office, and they say, “you got this” or “what can we do to fix this?”

Mohamed, who is a graduate assistant at the AOS/ODI Office, said she felt supported by the “phenomenal teachers” at Marshall Public Schools starting with the English Language Learners staff — Vickie Radloff, Lori Dyce and at SMSU, B.C. Franson with her red pen, Erin Kline and Michele Knife Sterner.

Mohamed said there is a lot of potential for growth in Marshall. She appreciated the recent outpouring of support for refugees and LGBTQ+ from some Marshall citizens, and especially Marshall leaders.

“That was a huge eye-opener for me, just to have a conversation, not only for our campus but for our community to grow as one,” she said. ”

People can view a partial recording of the event at southwestabe.org under the drop down box, Innovative Learning. Then click on Web Conferencing drop down box.

The event was made possible because of a grant from the Southwest Initiative Foundation and Southwest Regional Development Commission, and sponsorship money from the Southwest Private Industry Council. SMSU allowed the use of the space free of charge.