Biggest steps forward: diversity initiatives

After making national news for campus protests and resignations, the university took significant steps to improve campus diversity.
Members of Concerned Student 1950 join hands at a press conference at Traditions Plaza on Monday, Nov. 9. The 11 original members of the student movement gave new demands, which must be met “in totality.”

After former UM System President Tim Wolfe resigned on Nov. 9 following student protests, the UM System realized changes had to be made. The system has created a variety of new positions and programs to improve campus climate, and while these initiatives aren’t a full solution, they’re significant steps.

The university created a new vice chancellor for inclusion, diversity and equity position and appointed Chuck Henson, a professor and associate dean in the School of Law, as one of MU’s many interim administrators. His new position includes increasing faculty diversity and addressing student, staff and faculty complaints about MU’s racial climate.

The university’s efforts to increase diversity and tackle racism have extended to the entire UM System. In March, interim UM System President Mike Middleton named Kevin McDonald, currently the vice president and associate provost for diversity and inclusion at Rochester Institute of Technology, as the UM System’s chief diversity, equity and inclusion officer, effective July 1.

Henson announced “The African American Experience in Missouri” lecture series in December. Diane Mutti-Burke, associate professor of history at UM-Kansas City, gave the series’ inaugural speech Feb. 3, addressing the history of slavery in mid-Missouri. The three-semester, 12-speaker lecture series, presented by MU and the State Historical Society of Missouri, continues to bring awareness to Missouri’s history of turbulent race relations and the lives of black Missourians.

Although the Faculty Council Committee on Race Relations began meeting last spring in response to students’ December 2014 call for action, it has become even more necessary after last semester’s protests for diversity and inclusion.

The committee of 12 students, faculty and staff has met for two hours each week since last May to consider one another’s viewpoints in regard to on-campus racial issues and possible solutions. This June, the committee plans to release videos on what they have learned.

The College of Arts and Science also approved a diversity course requirement that students have been asking for since 1990, which will require students to take three hours of diversity-intensive courses.

MU has taken steps this year to improve campus climate and become a national leader in the conversation about tackling racism on college campuses. However, these steps are just steps, and MU still has many more to take to make campus inclusive for all students.

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