COLUMN: MU must build upon its existing diversity programs

Trump recently attacked diversity and racial sensitivity training, calling them divisive and subsequently banning them in the federal government. However, at many institutions, these programs are essential to start discussions about race.

Jamie Holcomb is a sophomore journalism major at MU. She is an opinion columnist who writes about campus life and social justice for The Maneater.

MU has a long history of segregation and racism on campus and not just in the distant past. A group of people screamed racial slurs at Student Body President Payton Head in 2015, and subsequent protests led to the removal of former MU Chancellor Tim Wolfe. This is an important moment in MU’s history but is not often talked about among professors and students. Even today, racism is prominent at MU.

In an effort to root out what President Donald Trump’s Administration has deemed anti-American propaganda, diversity training is now banned in federal agencies. The administration’s memo claims that teaching about systemic racism and racial sensitivity “run counter to the fundamental beliefs” of our nation. Trump is completely misguided in these assertions.

In reality, it’s essential that people learn America’s real and often dark history. Diversity and inclusion training in many settings is vital to create a comfortable and safe environment for people of color. They are especially important at predominately white institutions like MU, which is 75% white, according to MU’s Office of Enrollment.

Citizenship@Mizzou is a workshop for incoming students that focuses on diversity and inclusion. It was part of MU’s response to the 2015 protests, in order to address racism in the student body. It’s broken up into two sessions: one that is mandatory for everyone, and one that students choose. The first seminar focuses on how students can be good citizens on campus and practice MU’s four core values. The second can be any session that more broadly focuses on different cultures.

The citizenship program doesn’t just focus on racism but also helps students better understand and appreciate others’ backgrounds. An MU student stated on Twitter that they wish MU “put just as much effort, resources, energy and planning into Citizenship@Mizzou as they did into Welcome Week”.

These efforts were a good start, but there needs to be more focus on diversity and inclusion, especially in the wake of recent protests for Black Lives Matter. MU students are concerned about the lack of response to these recent injustices, and the administration needs to respond to these complaints with action.

To strengthen its citizenship program, MU needs to start teaching all students about the racist past of this university. The intent is to educate students on the dark history of MU and its lasting impact. Students should feel comfortable opening up a dialogue about these past incidences so we can learn from them.

MU should make efforts to improve and expand Citizenship@Mizzou. The workshops that students are able to choose to fulfill their requirements should encompass many different cultures and experiences to push students out of their bubble. Students should also be required to take several of these workshops to ensure they are more culturally aware and sensitive.

Over the summer, #BlackAtMizzou was trending on Twitter and showcased the many negative experiences that students have had at MU because of their race. Reading through the posts, it’s easy to understand why Black students don’t feel a sense of belonging. They’ve heard things from their white peers like “there’s too many Black people on campus." Racism is a big problem at MU that needs to be addressed by both students and administrators.

Not only is it important for students to go through diversity and inclusion training,but professors, faculty and administration need to be properly educated as well. Everyone at MU should play a part in fostering a safe environment for BIPOC students. Incidences like the racist joke made by MU professor Joel Poor show why more education is necessary.

MU has a solid direction for how they can expand on their current Citizenship program and create more opportunities for education. Although diversity training and increased education will not solve systemic racism at MU, it’s simply one step on a long list of actions that will help BIPOC students feel more welcome here.

Race Matter Friends is a Columbia organization that has organized a bail fund to help those waiting for trial that can’t afford to pay their bail. https://racemattersfriends.com/community-bail-fund/

Edited by Sofi Zeman | szeman@themaneater.com

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