Start a New School Year With Belonging

By: Dr. Susan B. Wilson, Ph.D MBA, Vice Chancellor of the Division of Diversity and Inclusion

A new academic year begins again. Whether you are new to UMKC, or have been here for a while, a sense of belonging is important to living, working and learning at UMKC. No matter how independent, no one wants to feel like he or she is on an “island.”

What do we mean by “belonging?” Belonging means being accepted and included as a part of a group. Belonging is a basic human need, and without it we feel lonely and disconnected. Research shows that social connections and relationships with others is important to our health and wellbeing. When we have social support, we are able to feel that we are not alone in our struggles, and we have others with whom we can celebrate our successes.

Unfortunately, some of us pursue belonging by excluding others—creating “in” and “out” groups.  We follow a “birds of a feather flock together” mentality because it creates a comfort zone for us. We may not realize that our exclusion of others creates profound pain and discomfort that can have real consequences.

If you are a new student, faculty or staff member, the question is “how do a build a sense of belonging?” The first step involves reaching out to others and trying actively to get involved. If you don’t find the connections you are looking for at first, don’t give up. Find others with similar interests who have ideas about how you might plug into UMKC. Nurturing and maintaining new connections take work, but is well worth the effort.

Creating a sense of belonging means working on your acceptance of others. We don’t all have to agree, yet we can try to understand the perspectives of others. This step requires an open mind so that you can explore other perspectives that may not be your own. Accepting others means that you avoid attacking and blaming others because they think differently from you. Lastly, it is essential to not focus only on the differences of others. Instead, look for similarities’ in others who may be different, but with whom you have things in common.

If we’ve been at an organization for a long time, we sometimes underestimate the importance of connecting with new people. Remember what it was like for you to be new, and offer a warm welcome. Get involved in new ways that will energize you and bring energy to others.

So let us all focus on belonging this year, and the way it strengthens ourselves, our groups and our daily experience.

A Call to Action in Inclusive Diversity

By: Dr. Makini King, Director of Diversity and Inclusion Initiatives

As we usher in a new school year, let us reaffirm our commitment to diversity and inclusion. In doing so we should first recognize that these are not simply words, but a commitment of action that emboldens us to both recognize and embrace our differences as assets rather than inconveniences. Audre Lorde posited that “we have all been programmed to respond to the human differences between us with fear and loathing…but we have no patterns for relating across our human differences as equals”(Lorde, 1984).

While our commonalities may serve to humanize us, our diversity serves to enrichen our lived experiences. For too long we have been socialized to see racial, ethnic, religious, class, faith, gender, sexual orientation, and ability diversity as an inconvenience, something we are legally obligated to accommodate. We are taught to initially and perhaps perpetually challenge the new ideas of Others. We focus on the temporary inconvenience of doing things differently rather than the long-term benefits of original solutions. There is, of course, empirical evidence that diversity is in fact an asset. Studies show that diversity can improve the citizenship and civic engagement of students (Gurin, Nagda, & Lopez, 2004), increase creativity and generate more innovative problem solving (Bassett-Jones, 2005).

In order to reap the benefits of diversity, we must first breach the barrier of the familiar and enter the space of the unknown. There is a certain comfort in doing what has always been done, but there is also a cost. Inclusive diversity is naturally innovative. It provides a built-in method of “thinking outside the box.” When we are offered the contributions of those who have experiences different than our own, we might try to accept the offering as an opportunity for growth. But we have to be willing to take the risk; resist our resistance to difference, press beyond the fear, embrace the inconvenient labor of change and ultimately open ourselves to an evolution.

At UMKC we must capitalize on the unique assets that exist in each one of us. In this new year we welcome our new staff, faculty and students. We know that with new people come new identities, experiences and a wealth of new knowledge. Let’s alter the traditional course and see our differences not only as equal, but as assets. Let us continue to create more inclusive spaces so that we can, together, embrace the gifts of our diverse community.

Four Ways MSA is Here to Serve You!

By: Keichanda Dees-Burnett, Assistant Dean of Students for Student Support & Director of the Office of Multicultural Student Affairs and

Iván Ramírez, Senior Student Services Coordinator of the Office of Multicultural Student Affairs – Avanzando Program

The Office of Multicultural Student Affairs (MSA) excited to welcome new students and the campus community back for another wonderful year! The MSA Office is here to aid in retention of underrepresented student populations and to enhance the overall student experience by creating opportunities for inclusive engagement, cultivating academic success, and encouraging the value of diversity. There are four ways we seek to engage students, faculty, staff, and alumni throughout the year:

  1. Our space is your home away from home! We are located in the Student Union in Room 319 and our space features a lounge and meeting space perfect for interacting with other students, the MSA staff and studying in between classes.
  2. We provide opportunities to nurture leadership, social and cultural development in students. Throughout the year we host the Summer Leadership Institute, the Multicultural Graduate Reception, Leadership Conferences, Diversity workshops and Show Me Success Academic Workshops that features topics on study skills, time management, test-taking strategies and more.
  3. We are the home to two mentoring programs: African Americans Cultivating Excellence (AACE) & Avanzando Latino Mentoring Program. These programs encourage academic success by connecting UMKC students to professional mentors and academic support services that will promote the improvement of academic excellence, persistence, and graduation. The components of each mentoring program include: Academic Support Check-In meetings with the staff, Academic Success Workshops, mentor match, and cohort activities.
  4. Last but not least, we provide advising and support to some of the best student organizations UMKC has to offer! The Multicultural Student Organization Council (MSOC) currently consists of nine multicultural based organizations: The African American Student Union, Latinx Student Union, African Student Association, NAACP Collegiate Chapter, Men of Color Initiative, Sister Circle, Sigma Lambda Gamma Latina National Sorority, Asian Students in America, Muslim Student Association. Each year we partner with the leaders of these organizations to offer exciting, cultural and educational events. We hope to see you at some of these events coming this fall!

Save the Date:
Asian Students in America’s AZ(e)N Time– August 29, 2019,12-4 p.m. (SU- 3rd Floor)
Men of Color Initiative- Open House, August 29, 2019, 5-7 p.m. (SU- room 319)
Latino Family and Alumni Weekend, September 27, 2019 (Location: TBD)
Black Student and Alumni Weekend, October 4-5, 2019 (Location: TBD)
Legacy Summit on African American Leadership, November 8, 2019 (SU, 401)
Follow us:
Facebook: UMKC Multicultural Student Affairs
Instagram: @MSA_UMKC
Snapchat: @UMKCMSA
Twitter: @MSAatUMKC




UMKC Rainbow Lounge: A Space for LGBTQIA+ Students

By Kari Jo Freudigmann, (Pronouns: she, her, hers)
Assistant Director, LGBTQIA Programs and Services

The Rainbow Lounge is a welcoming space for students, regardless of their sexual or gender diversity and expression

UMKC LGBTQIA Programs & Services within the Office of Student Involvement supports the Rainbow Lounge as a resource for LGBTQIA+ Roos. This space, located on the 3rd floor of the Student Union, offers an open environment for students to meet, study, and hang out. Students are encouraged to utilize the resources in this space, which includes:

  • Brochures and magazines from campus, local, and national organizations
  • Four computers and a printer for studying and coursework
  • A lending library that boasts an extensive collection of LGBTQIA+ literature and media
  • A lounge space with a couch, several chairs, and a TV
  • Access to information about student organizations, scholarships, and upcoming programs and events

We look forward to you stopping by!

Join the LGBTQIA Programs & Services newsletter

Rainbow Lounge Location and Hours

Student Union, Room 325
Monday – Thursday 8-7pm, Fridays 8-5pm

Upcoming LGBTQIA+ Programs

Pride Alliance Kick-Off (Student Organization Event)

Friday, September 6 at 5:30-7:30pm
Oak Street Hall Classroom

Safe Space Training

Tuesday, September 17 at 1-4pm
Faculty, staff, and graduate students can Register Here

Family Weekend Open House

Friday, September 27 at 1-3pm
Student Union, Room 325 (Rainbow Lounge)

Ally Photo

Wednesday, October 9 at 12:50pm
Student Union North Steps

Empathy is the Key

By: Scott Laurent, Director of Student Disability Services, UMKC Student Disability Services

We all have that ability to meet and help the hurt we see in the world.

We are in an increasingly complex world.  There seems to be so many differences between people these days.  If you are like me I’m always afraid of unintentionally offending someone through what I say or what I do.  There are times its bewildering to know how to act or what to say in a given situation.  When I see a friend who is depressed what do I say to them to help them?   How do I support my friend who is gay or a person of color and feels attacked by some social media tirade or some off-hand remark by a public official?

Luckily we all have the ability to understand how the other person is feeling. It’s called empathy.  We even understand the neuro-biology of empathy.  We all have that ability and the more we practice it the more effective we become with it.  It’s a skill that we can develop and learn to use to meet the hurt we see in the world.

Check out this short video by Brene Brown on empathy.

Diversity Ambassadors – Now Hiring!

In the 2016 Climate Study and Listening Sessions, students made it clear that they really wanted more opportunities to talk about diversity with their peers. The Diversity Ambassadors initiative was created to meet this need. The Diversity Ambassadors are UMKC students trained in diversity peer education looking to work with student organizations to meet the needs of our community by holding diversity dialogue sessions.

We are now hiring for the position of Diversity Ambassador facilitators for the 2019-2020 school year!

The UMKC Division of Diversity and Inclusion, in partnership with the Division of Student Affairs, are seeking passionate and self-aware UMKC students who have a demonstrated commitment to social justice, diversity, and equity, to apply for the Diversity Ambassador Program!

Students chosen for this rewarding initiative will become trained facilitators of diversity peer education and intergroup dialogues. Each Ambassador will lead, support, and organize Diversity and Inclusion sessions and special events, with the opportunity to meet and collaborate with UMKC Staff, Faculty and Community Constituents.

The Diversity Ambassadors are always representing the Division of Diversity and Inclusion, and the UMKC campus as a whole. These students will gain valuable interpersonal communication, facilitator, and leadership skills, as well as the opportunity to build community and relationships across the UMKC community.

In the past year, Diversity Ambassadors have reached hundreds of students in our community. If you would like to join the team, click here to complete our application!

For more information on the Diversity Ambassador Initiative and to make a session request visit our website.

Because of the Color of My Skin and Other Misunderstandings of Racism

By: Rhiannon Dickerson, Discourse Coordinator and Lecturer in Communication Studies

The other day I was going about my morning routine, making coffee and washing the dishes. I asked my Google mini to turn on National Public Radio (NPR).  Even though the technology makes me paranoid of the surveillance it brings, it’s also very convenient. Within seconds, I heard Scott Simon’s voice booming across the house. He introduced an author, Damon Young who said “the fact of the color of his skin has posed particular lifelong challenges, questions, and anxieties.” I’m sensitive to this particular framing—“the color of his skin posed challenges”—and in an immediate fury, told Google to stop playing NPR. The issue is not Scott Simon or even NPR, but the wider white liberal cultural landscape in which iterations of this same problematic framing are uttered every single day.

We’ve all heard it (and let’s face it, likely said it) before—“they only stopped him because he’s black” or “she was treated that way because of the color of her skin.” We offer up this interpretation of events as racial analysis, a demonstration of outrage and a display of understanding of racism. Of course, these statements do reveal much about the white construction of race, but they do not reflect the reality of racial interactions.

When we say that people of color are dehumanized because of their skin, we’re placing responsibility, or at the very least, the cause on blackness. One of the hallmarks of white racial identity is the lack of recognition of white racial identity. Most of the time, most white folks like myself experience race as something other people have something people of color experience and that we’re notably apart from. So when race is involved, it’s never our race. We can see this misunderstanding of race play out in those NPR moments. Whiteness is completely removed from these discussions. It’s obfuscated. Erased. Concealed. And so, rendered innocent by virtue of nonexistence.

The concept of anti-blackness is central in this exchange and in the construction of whiteness itself. Even in the moments when we white folks acknowledge racism, we’re still placing the responsibility on blackness. “The fact of the color of his skin has posed particular problems”—again, as though the root of those challenges was blackness.

Let’s be very clear: people of color are not targeted because of the color of their skin, but because of the race of the people who target them, because of whiteness, white culture, and white supremacy.

We know that language matters—that it can both reflect and form our understanding of the world. We must stop using language that places antiblackness and racism as a result of black and brown people. We should say instead, “He experienced problems his entire life as a result of the white race” or “white people and systems discriminated against him his entire life”. When we reposition the responsibility, we’ll have a better understanding of whiteness and people of color.

Latinx Students, Staff and Faculty take over the Student Union, and more!

By Danielle Martinez, Senior Executive Assistant to Vice Chancellor, Division of Diversity and Inclusion

A whole host of activities took place on Wednesday, March 20th to celebrate Latinx culture at the UMKC Student Union.  Highlights of the event are pictured below.


Students created sidewalk chalk art by writing special messages, as well as their names, on the sidewalk immediately outside of the Union to show pride, including “bienvenidos,” “be proud of your culture,” and “pronounce my name in Spanish.”


Latinx student organizations tabled at the event to discriminate information to students who were interested in joining or supporting their group and their initiatives.







Incredible dance performances by Cuerpo de Baile Areito KC.


Multicultural Student Affairs office handed out delicious paletas from Tropicana and a documentary on the Life of Activist Cesar Chavez was streamed in MSA village.







Mi Gente provided Pan Dulce for guests to enjoy

This event was sponsored by Multicultural Student Affairs, Latin@ Alumni and Students Organization, Avanzando, The Association of Latin American Students (ALAS), the Latino Medical Student Association (LMSA), Latinx and Latin American Studies, and Mi Gente, the Latinx Staff and Faculty Affinity Group.

“This event showcased Latinx culture, filled the Union with energy and spirit. The Latinx high school students who attended left knowing that UMKC is a place for them.” –Dr. Susan Wilson

Within that same week, Latinx students and their families attended a variety of events planned by ALAS, Avanzando, Multicultural Student Affairs and the office of Admissions. The first was Camino a Casa, where Reece Nichols presented in Spanish to educate families on the process of buying a house.  Next, Noche En Familia (Latino Family Evening), where students from the community and their families learned about the admissions process, scholarships, financial aid, and had the opportunity to interact UMKC students, faculty and staff.

Noche en Familia

All of our student organizations, Affinity Group, Latinx Latin American Studies and Avanzando came together to offer a night for prospective students and their families in which they could take part on Bilingual tours and a UMKC Info session in Spanish.

Camino a Casa

Representatives from Reece Nichols presented a workshop on home buying to the Kansas City Community Completely in Spanish.

Why are we still talking about diversity and inclusion?

By Dr. Susan Wilson, Vice Chancellor, Division of Diversity and Inclusion

Pillar 4 of UMKC’s new strategic plan reaffirms UMKC’s commitment to diversity through the statement “Foster an environment of invigorating multiculturalism, globalism, diversity and inclusion.”  This statement acknowledges the role of universities in preparing students to work and thrive in a today’s global marketplace.  Yet there are some who think, “Diversity—here we go again! What are we still talking about this?”

There are good reasons why we continue our focus on diversity and inclusion.  Diverse organizations are better able to meet the needs of their clients, customers and marketplace. At UMKC, our customers are our students. We are keenly aware that the demographics of future college students will be changing. A recent survey, “Knocking at the College Door,” reported, “20 to 45 percent of the nation’s public high school graduates are projected to be non-White, up by more than 7 percent over the class of 2009.” Women now comprise about 57 percent of all college students, up from 40 percent in the 1970s. Universities are also seeing higher enrollments of international, veteran and non-traditional students

What does this mean for us as an urban-serving university? As our students change, we must change. An understanding of culture and language helps us forge better relationships with students. Students expect education that is more flexible and is tailored to individual needs.  Diverse students want to know—before they enroll—that UMKC has programs and services that promote a sense of belonging. Instead of college being a “sink or swim” experience, students desire to have access to programs that are designed to support the success of diverse students.

This work is not easy and we still have progress to make. The good news is that UMKC is well on its way to address the needs of new generations for students that will be diverse, global and multicultural.

The Case for Black History

By Dr. Makini King, Director
UMKC Division of Diversity and Inclusion

We should not take Black History Month for granted. It exists for a reason and matters as much today, as it did when it was founded 100 years ago. When I was a young girl February meant attending a multitude of events at school and in the community with my friends and family to celebrate and take pride in our contributions as black people. We celebrated many of the greats like Frederick Douglass, Sojourner Truth, George Washington Carver, Harriet Tubman, and Benjamin Banneker. And at the end of the month, in the blink of an eye, the frequency and intensity, which defined my Februarys, would abruptly cease. Outside of church, Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Junteenth and the occasional themed festival, there were no other concerted efforts to exclaim black worth to the world in community with other non-black people.

I have come to expect the consistency of Black History Month. I am delighted and encouraged by all the events that occur in a convenient and perfectly packaged month, but I think I have been missing the point. Perhaps we all have. Black History Month is not solely about remembering a few select figureheads who did courageous work to progress America. It is about recognizing that if the issue is not forced, black history would be erased.

Black History Month (originally Negro History Week) was founded by Carter G. Woodson, a black academic, who in the early aughts of the 20th century, wanted to formalize the commemoration of black contributions to not only American civilization, but the world.

When we are called upon to think about the major contributors to American progress, most of us immediately conjure up images of old white men; George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, and Thomas Jefferson. We cannot help ourselves. The messages that we receive in our text books, our media, movies, and even in our common language, suggest that these are the only people who have contributed. Their value is automatically assumed and is as certain as the prominence of their portraits on American currency. The average American is otherwise hard pressed to easily name 10 non-white people who have made major contributions to civilization.

The fact is that black people, along with Asian, Indigenous, and Latinx people, have long been responsible, in part, for many of the joys America extols, often despite their marginalized status. Black contributions should not be tokenized, black history is not a single paragraph or chapter in a textbook, and it is not an elective, it is an equitable part of the equation. The erasure of black history on a global scale means that many of us never learned that black history includes not only the origin of man, but the existence of thriving civilizations, invention and complexity for hundreds of thousands of years before European colonization (see Berlin Conference).

In the 1920s Negro History Week (now Black History Month) was a response to the general belief that Black People had contributed nothing to world history. Recall that only two years ago Iowa Congressman Steve King questioned the contributions of minorities (which he called “subgroups”) to civilization. Although most of us, when asked, would vehemently deny this claim, the climate in which we are all immersed today provides little evidence of black contributions beyond a few footnotes.  When the history of black contributions is erased, it is only logical to conclude that it does not exist.

Black History Month is critical in the struggle against black erasure. The month will no longer be needed when our automatic recollections of who did what, are just as diverse as they are in reality. When we just as easily cite Lewis Howard Latimer as we do Thomas Edison. When we know as much about African Civilizations as we do European ones. Black people have long played a significant role despite being erased from the record. So the next time you visit a blood bank, sit at a traffic light (using your automatic shifts), pick up a telephone, eat potato chips, turn on a lightbulb, or enjoy the freedoms granted by any civil rights legislation, consider that none of that would have been possible without black contributions. This Black History Month, I invite you to go down that rabbit hole of Black History and learn the full story and when February ends, stay in that rabbit hole.