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Diversity moves to fore

The Chancellor’s Diversity Council held the first series of listening and sharing sessions to discuss UMKC’s Diversity Strategic Action Plan on April 2 and 3.

Speakers Dr. Susan Wilson, associate dean of Diversity Partnership from the School of Medicine, and Dr. Marita Barkis, director of UMKC’s Counseling, Health and Testing Center, led the open discussion among faculty, students and staff.

“It is important that we do not lose sight of historically underrepresented populations, specifically Native Americans, African Americans and Hispanics,” Wilson said. “We need to look at ways to expand enrollment. We have looked at the demographics of our area and our younger generations are, and will continue to be, more diverse.”

Wilson stressed the importance of diversity in the “business” of education.

Attendees included students, faculty and organizations like Institute for Urban Education and Multicultural Student Affairs, UMKC Athletics and the Admissions office.

A draft of the Diversity Strategic Plan, which included five key dimensions of diversity, was provided to attendees. Each dimension had a clearly defined goal, a set of objectives and a list of strategies and activities to promote it.

The speakers asked the participants how their work as a member of the UMKC community fits into the diversity plan.

Robert Greim, manager of compliance for UMKC Athletics, asked that faculty and staff members reach beyond what is stated in their job descriptions.

“We have a responsibility to promote campus organizations other than our own,” Greim said. “Of course you are going to hear from a coach that you need to play a sport. We need to show interest and get involved outside of our area of expertise.”

Director of Basketball Operations Jessica Trahan explained the sensitive balance when dealing with diversity.

“Obviously ignorance still exists, but on the other hand there is a heightened sensitivity to diversity issues,” she said. “We must find that happy medium. There isn’t enough funding to accomplish everything on this list but we need to decide what is most important and work toward that goal.”

Dr. Jennifer DeHaemers, assistant vice chancellor for Enrollment Management, said it is her job to help students understand the value and possibility of higher education.

“My work is about our students,” she said. “My mission is not only to get numbers, but to help students be successful and to graduate. Our survival as a university depends on educating the people of our community.”

DeHaemers said in order for the diversity plan to be effective, there needs to be significant personal and institutional change.

“We must address existing biases and begin those difficult conversations,” she said. “This can be achieved through staff development so we can gain comfort in discussing these issues.”

Several students suggested that Roo Camp, a summer program for incoming freshmen, should be brought back to UMKC.

“Roo Camp sets you up to meet people you can network with in the future,” said Latonya Haynes, who attended the event as a freshman.

“I know I, like many others, felt alone as a freshman,” senior Jordan Brooks said. “It would have been helpful to know about all the resources we have on campus beforehand, like counseling, free tutoring and résumé workshops.”

Judy Ancel, director of The Institute of Labor Studies, shared her observations about demographics at UMKC.

“My department alone is overwhelmingly white and male,” she said. “The administrative department is somewhat diverse, but it mostly consists of dreadfully underpaid women. The Sodexo employees on campus are mostly people of color, mostly women. They have horrible working conditions. This is something UMKC is incredibly insensitive to.”

Dr. Gary Ebersole, chair of the Faculty Senate and a professor of religious studies, highlighted some positive and negative aspects of UMKC diversity.

“The new general education program effective in fall 2013 now has a diversity requirement so that no student will be able to graduate without having some knowledge about other cultures,” he said. “The Board of Curators has come a long way in the past eight years. At one time, diversity was the last thing on their mind. The board consisted of socially conservative lawyers who were steadfastly against recognizing diversity. We also need to increase diversity in our faculty. We do not have the money to retain the best minority faculty.”

Barkis concluded the discussion by adding that the effort to increase and retain a diverse community on campus must be a group effort.

“The idea is that everybody owns it,” Brooks said. “We must have better collaboration among campus organizations.”

The next Listening and Sharing Session to discuss the Diversity Strategic Action Plan will be held Tuesday at noon in Pierson Auditorium. The Chancellor invites everyone to join in on the conversation.

kbaxendale@unews.com

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