After a semester of racial tension, Mizzou introduces a new program for incoming students.

Crowd of people in chairs, facing a person speaking.

In the midst of protests and resignations last semester, Mizzou held a teach-in, during which hundreds of students, faculty and staff crowded into a room in Ellis Library to talk with a panel of black faculty members, including Chuck Henson (with microphone), interim vice chancellor for inclusion, diversity and equity. A second teach-in is planned for 6 p.m. Thursday, March 10, in Ellis Library. This semester Henson and colleagues also have started a Diversity@Mizzou orientation program for all incoming students.

Update March 23, 2016: College of Arts & Science approves diversity course requirement »

Stephanie Shonekan

Stephanie Shonekan, chair of black studies, developed the new Diversity@Mizzou curriculum with Joan Hermsen, chair of women's and gender studies.

Kicking off the spring 2016 semester, Interim Vice Chancellor for Inclusion, Diversity and Equity Chuck Henson and his department, with the help of student leaders on campus, launched an orientation series for new students called Diversity@Mizzou. The sessions provide an introduction to diversity intended to raise students’ cultural awareness while also inviting them to explore the world beyond their own individual cultural boundaries.

“Diversity@Mizzou was designed as a response to the call for a diversity training course for incoming freshmen and transfer students,” says Stephanie Shonekan, associate professor and Diversity@Mizzou leader. “Joan Hermsen and I were approached to think about how we would design something for the spring. We decided that instead of teaching people how to value diversity, we [should] teach people to open their minds and think about the potential that is possible at a university like this.”

Required Course

The program, which began in January and is required for all incoming students, is separate from the diversity course requirement being discussed by faculty currently. The goal of the diversity course requirement is to give students a chance to take one course that can help them to understand ways of looking at the world that are different from what they may have learned before, says Shonekan.

Angela Speck

Angela Speck, a professor of astrophysics, is developing a diversity course requirement for the College of Arts & Science.

Currently, Professor Angela Speck is leading a team of faculty discussing the diversity requirement for one college on campus. If passed, it could be adopted campus wide in the future.

“We have a large group of people all across campus working [on the course],” Speck says. “The college of Arts and Science wants to add a diversity requirement; it will be put to a vote in March.”

Diversity@Mizzou already is mandatory for incoming students; however, a diversity course requirement could occur as soon as next academic year for students in the college of Arts and Science. Speck believes both programs are important. “We don’t learn something just once,” she says. “There are levels; sometimes we don’t engage with things the first time. To some extent you can’t expect to change people’s core beliefs. What we hope to do is open people’s minds to see things from a different perspective.”

>Uniting Tigers

Henson says he hopes the Diversity@Mizzou program will aid in creating a better relationship among students, staff, faculty and the larger community across the state.

Before creating this program, Henson spent time talking to students and staff in the Chancellor’s Diversity Initiative office. He realized that to create a better relationship with one another on campus, three questions need to be answered:

  1. Who are we, and how diverse is our community on and off campus?
  2. How do we want to be treated by one another?
  3. What do we need to know about each other, our history and the context in which we are moving forward to transform our culture?

To help answer these questions, he established The Working Group, which met for the first time on Feb. 17. The goal of The Working Group is to keep students in the know about various activities happening in the Inclusion, Diversity and Equity office. Henson is also hoping The Working Group will give constructive criticism and provide new ideas for campus leadership. He believes that if everyone works together, the culture of campus can be transformed.

The next session, titled "Defining Shared Governance: University Structure and the Roles and Rights of Faculty," will be held Thursday, March 10.

Multidisciplinary Undertaking
Nathan Hofer

Nathan Hofer, an assistant professor of religious studies, serves on the Diversity@Mizzou panel.

The Diversity@Mizzou program is made possible with the help of a panel of faculty members from different departments, all with various backgrounds as well, Shonekan says. The panel includes Tony Castro from education, Scott Brooks from sociology, Nathan Hofer from religious studies, Urmeka Jefferson from nursing, Andy Hoberek from English and Rebecca Martinez from women's and gender studies.

“The whole thing was called ‘Diversity@Mizzou: A Taste of Things to Come’ so, the idea was not to kick start a conversation about diversity, but give [students] a taste of what kinds of conversations they could be having,” says Nathan Hofer, assistant professor of religious studies. “We each got two minutes to explain our story and how we got to Mizzou. Then we opened up to some Q&A with the students. After that we each had seven to eight minutes to talk about what we do in the classroom and how diversity relates to that.”

While this isn’t the first time a program like this has been discussed for campus, it is the first time it has been made mandatory.

Despite last semester’s tension, Hofer says, he is positive about the university’s future.

“My hope is that this conversation will not end,” he says. “It’s actually a very exciting time to be here. Things are happening. Graduate students are organizing; undergraduates are organizing…it’s really exciting.”

The next Diversity@Mizzou session will be held 3-5 p.m. Wednesday, March 16, in Middlebush, Room 142. Panelists will discuss the types of classes and research promoting cultural/racial awareness, cultural plurality and social justice that can be experienced at Mizzou.

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