A visiting diversity consultant says best practices at Missouri State University can’t be followed unless it has best practitioners.
Speaking before some 100 members of MSU’s Student Affairs division Friday, Dr. Lori Patton Davis took comments and offered perspective on diversity issues facing universities throughout the country.
“How you show up in your work affects students. And if you’re not aware of who you are, what your biases are, what your assumptions are, that doesn’t lead to best practices.”
She recommended further collaboration between campus departments and within the community, and for employees to learn more about the school’s Multicultural Resource Center and how it coincides with their department.
“I’ve spoken with professionals who know there’s a multicultural center but don’t really know what it does even though it’s in the same division. That’s not right – you could just probably look on the website or contact a colleague and have a conversation.”
Davis noted that a multicultural resource center is not needed to get diversity work done, alluding to the idea that every entity within a particular division plays a role.
It was the second day on campus for Davis, an expert in creating cultural centers in predominantly white institutions. A lot of talk focused on the misconceptions of multicultural centers, such as that they cater to only students of color or are unwelcoming to whites or majority populations.
“I don’t think cultural centers create this environment where it’s unwelcoming but that people create assumptions on their own and then use those assumptions to guide their behaviors and not be involved,” said Davis.
As certain misconceptions come to light or as race dialog takes place, notably in smaller group settings, Davis encouraged MSU staff not to be afraid in asking questions and to hold others accountable.
“So really it’s just about you getting to a point where you’re okay with feeling uncomfortable – not to a point where you feel comfortable – but that you’re okay with dealing with the discomfort that comes with challenging a colleague or challenging a supervisor or raising an issue that you know has been avoided for years.”
Employees in attendance shared that the cultural center is needed because the region as a whole is not as diverse as the university and to help welcome minority students. Additionally, students are now starting to find their voice and speak out about diversity issues across the nation, one employee stated, and a cultural center can offer comfortability in that.
Davis said students that call for certain changes can often misunderstand the process and bureaucracy that goes into working out those issues or creating better solutions. She says institutions can do a better job of explaining that process to students, but also by explaining any actions that can be taken immediately versus long-term.
Since last year, a number of protests have occurred at MSU by students seeking improvements to the school’s diversity and inclusion efforts. Just this month, there were calls to remove MSU’s assistant vice president of Multicultural Services after allegations he had discriminated against students. The case was closed this week, after the student who complained about Juan Meraz decided not to seek a formal investigation.