Editorial: MU should bring diversity into classroom

Instead of simply pointing to statistics and numbers for diversity, MU needs to put an emphasis on improving the student experience.

After a December listening session regarding the events in Ferguson, [MU administrators asked student leaders to help facilitate discussion and help create a plan to address race relations](link to CDI story) on campus. Students suggested stronger dialogue and action on race, and requested the creation of an “intergroup dialogue course” that would promote discussions among students about race relations in a small classroom setting.

“You don’t get to have difficult discussions in diversity lecture courses,” said senior LeChae Mottley, president of the Legion of Black Collegians, in a Maneater article published in this issue. “Difficult discussions usually lead to actual learning.”

Similar ideas had been discussed by the university in the past. Angela Speck, Faculty Council’s Diversity Enhancement Committee chairwoman, told The Maneater that the council discussed — and voted down — a mandatory cultural competency course earlier this year for MU students because the council believed it was not a realistic goal. She said, “It’s not going to happen.”

MU officials have told The Maneater they started more serious discussions about race after the events on Ferguson. In addition to the open forum, administrators like Cathy Scroggs, vice chancellor for student affairs, have devoted much of their time listening to students’ concerns. Moreover, Summer Welcome coordinators have begun to rethink the way they train leaders on diversity, Scroggs said.

We believe the administration’s efforts are a step in the right direction, but MU could have done and should do more to promote diversity and tolerance on campus.

The recent suggestion for a dialogue course deserves serious consideration. MU currently offers a range of cultural studies, but much of the current curriculum lacks the environment necessary to foster constructive dialogue in small, open groups. As Scroggs said, college is a place where ideas and issues converge, and MU should make it its priority to promote this type of dialogue.

Such initiative shouldn’t just be limited to one class, though — it should permeate all curricula at MU. Instead of requiring all students to attend one class, MU could consider a new cultural competency requirement for graduation that would give students a variety of coursework. These courses could potentially encourage more students to become more open and receptive to different viewpoints during their time here.

We are also concerned that not enough students are participating in the programs that do exist, such as the Multicultural Certificate program. Only 800 students are voluntarily completing the program, Vice Provost for Undergraduate Studies Jim Spain said at the December forum. MU enrolled more than 27,000 undergraduates for fall 2014.

Chancellor R. Bowen Loftin said in a statement after the forum that he plans to continue dialogue and work to improve the campus climate. If we want to truly become an inclusive campus, we need much more than a mere 3 percent of the undergraduate population taking time to become more culturally competent. And for that to happen, we believe the administration needs to dedicate more of its time and resources encouraging students to come out of their comfort zones and learn from other students.

Advisers could actively suggest students pursue this certificate, and should be encouraging students to enroll in classes promoting diversity on campus.

Remodeling diversity training for Summer Welcome Leaders reflects a forward-thinking attitude that should be extended to other parts of campus such as Tour Team or the Department of Residential Life. MU could expand the amount of diversity requirements among Freshman Interest Groups. While this won’t reach all of them, around 30 percent of freshmen living in residence halls enroll in FIGs each semester, according to the Department of Residential Life. More coursework in FIGs discussing race relations and diversity would help the university make students aware much earlier in their academic career.

As we move forward, students face the reality that even if administrators implement changes suggested by students, eliminating prejudices and hatred on campus will not happen overnight. But students have voiced their concerns and the university should wait no longer to take more meaningful action. Now is the time to hear from administrators.

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