The topics of diversity, inclusion and respect were the main ideas of and open session on February 5, although the University of Missouri’s Board of Curators discussed various topics related to the UM system during a series of meetings over the course of two days.
The board met last week on both Thursday and Friday, but what made Friday’s meeting different is that it opened with a conversation between the board and a panel of students hand selected by Interim Vice Chancellor for Inclusion, Diversity and Equity Chuck Henson. The students were there to talk about respect and what it means to them. Board member Pamela Henrickson chose the overall theme of the meeting: “A Culture of Respect.”
“I am of the opinion that often offense is taken when none is intended. So how do we learn what other people find disrespectful and how do we communicate in a polite and respectful way that we feel disrespected by the words or actions of another?” Henrickson said.
The panel began with each student speaking about what needs to happen for the university to become more inclusive and welcoming for its non-white students. Student panelist Timothy Love discussed the importance of education, and how mandatory diversity classes could diminish the ignorance in others that he had experienced first-hand on the campus.
“There are students, like the young lady I saw in the writing center weeks ago, who thinks that all black people eat soul food and are from South Africa and the undergraduate junior that I met in the laundry mat who feels that black people are too sensitive and are responsible for their own unemployment rates. These examples are a result of a lack of diversity education, a deficiency in marginalized faculty, and the gross ineptitude of our present leadership,” Love said.
Other students focused on the board itself and how its members could be doing more to communicate and help the students on the University of Missouri’s campuses.
“It’s very interesting to me that before the things that happened on this campus, I never knew who our Board of Curators was. I never knew the work that they did. I never knew because they never came. As doing that work and understanding that it’s more than sitting and having meetings, it’s you and all of us stepping outside of the walls of our offices and asking what needs to be done and doing that work,” student panelist Jasmine Morgan said.
More than one of the student panelists brought up communication. They expressed frustration over being kept in the dark over what the board is doing to improve the university after the resignations of both UM Systems President Tim Wolfe and MU Chancellor R. Bowen Loftin. Henson apologized to the students, claiming that the job of keeping the students informed was his responsibility.
“It’s my job to make sure that you know what’s going on,” Henson said.
After the students finished their statements, they answered questions from board members. The first point brought up was the implementation of diversity classes that Love mentioned in his earlier comments. Many of the board members wanted to know how those would work considering some classes offered at the University of Missouri already addressed and discussed diversity.
“Should the diversity courses in your opinion be narrowly tailored or are there broad courses that we know do in fact involve diversity in every possible way, and are those sufficient?” Board member David Steelman asked.
Love, who was the panelist to mention the programs, stated that it was important for the classes to be new and not already being offered at MU.
“I would definitely propose, if we go forth with a diversity course requirement, to create a course series that comprises of two courses that collectively address all of these issues. If there are not already courses out there that comprehensively address both of these issues, at least race and gender, we need to create these courses from scratch,” Love said.
Students commented on the sources of their frustration. Student panelist Kelcea Barnes said it comes from wanting to improve the university.
“I know that I may be coming off a little harsh, but after going to this university for so long and having the opportunity to transfer so many times, and still staying here, I’m only harsh because I care. If I didn’t care, I wouldn’t be here. We’re here for change and it’s my mutual respect of you and your respect of me that I sit here and that we all sit here,” Barnes said