Last semester the climate at Mizzou was marked by discord and heated exchanges, often illuminated or distorted by a national spotlight. Things were tense. But even when members of the Mizzou community have been at odds with one another, our disagreements have been fueled by love — our shared love for Mizzou. For some Tigers, this love emerges as devotion to our history and traditions. For others, it’s passion for progress and fairness. For all of us, it’s dedication to fellow Tigers — past, present and future.
This semester Tigers are coming together to foster a community we’re even prouder to be part of. We’re committing to Mizzou. We’ve heard the concerns of current and prospective students, of faculty and staff, of alumni and donors, of curators and legislators — and of all Missourians, really. We’re listening. Above all, we’re learning. We’re a university; that’s what we do best.
Here’s a peek at just a few things Tigers are doing to bring us all together:
1. We’re teaching new students about inclusion.
Last semester underscored the importance of getting to know people from all walks of life and learning to treat one another with kindness and respect; these skills are a fundamental part of higher education. This semester all incoming students are taking part in a diversity-orientation program created and taught by award-winning faculty members Stephanie Shonekan, chair of Black Studies, and Joan Hermsen, chair of Women’s and Gender Studies. Panelists include faculty members Tony Castro, Scott Brooks, Nathan Hofer, Urmeka Jefferson, Andy Hoberek and Rebecca Martinez. Welcome, new Tigers! You’re in good hands.
2. We’re rather robustly celebrating cultures.
Last semester (really, every semester) Mizzou’s reputation as a fun school was buoyed by the likes of massive Fall Welcome extravaganzas and off-the-charts sports fandom. That hasn’t changed. But this semester the label has taken on multicultural dimensions. International students threw a huge party in the Student Center. The Cultural Association of India put on the first MU India Day. The newly revived Black Alumni Network held events. We celebrated the Chinese New Year, ringing in the Year of the Monkey. And Tigers assembled an impressive series of Black History Month events highlighted by live music —jazz, hip-hop, gospel — and movie screenings.
3. We’re welcoming new administrators and educating all administrators.
Last semester issues arose between administrators and students — and between administrators and faculty — regarding fair treatment of all Tigers. This semester we have a new Mizzou interim chancellor (Hank Foley) and a new UM System interim president (Mike Middleton). We also have a Mizzou interim vice chancellor for inclusion, diversity and equity (Chuck Henson), and the UM System is hiring for a similar position to work with all four campuses. Meanwhile, MU administrators are in training with Benjamin Reese of Duke University to work on better understanding issues such as equity and implicit bias. They’re discovering new ways to be inclusive and leading by example.
4. We’re listening.
Last semester some Tigers said they felt they weren’t being heard. This semester administrators are holding regularly scheduled listening sessions. Provost Garnett Stokes has implemented traveling office hours. Vice Chancellor Chuck Henson has established the Working Group to open lines of communication. And Chancellor Hank Foley is holding Friday-afternoon chats, 4-5 p.m. in the Jesse Rotunda. Stop by! All ears are open.
5. We’re taking better care of graduate students.
Last semester graduate students protested proposed cuts in health insurance benefits and changes to stipends. This semester, in his State of the University Address, Interim Chancellor Hank Foley announced plans to continue to provide health insurance to graduate students and to increase stipends by $6,000 over the next two fiscal years. We need you, beloved graduate students. You are essential.
6. We’re making our campus even safer for students.
Last semester incidents of racism on campus and threats of violence in social media left some students feeling unsafe. Mizzou already has a dedicated and fully professionally accredited police force, and this semester we’ve made plans to increase the number of MUPD officers by 25 percent and the number of dispatchers by 50 percent over the next three years to serve and protect all Tigers. Thank you, MUPD, for looking out for us.
7. We’re combating discrimination.
Last year we welcomed Ellen Eardley as our new Title IX coordinator to handle sex discrimination issues on campus. This year Eardley leads the new centralized Office for Civil Rights and Title IX, which addresses all types prohibited discrimination, including race, color, national origin, ancestry, religion, age, disability, veteran status, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression and genetic information. Do you have an incident to report? Let the staff know.
8. We’re learning about our own history.
Last semester Tigers talked about placing recent conflicts in historical, social and cultural context. This semester we launched a new lecture series titled “The African-American Experience in Missouri,” curated by Keona Ervin, assistant professor of history, and Gary Kremer, director of the State Historical Society of Missouri. UMKC historian Diane Mutti Burke gave the inaugural lecture, an eye-opening examination of slavery in central Missouri. (Read her book: On Slavery’s Border: Missouri's Small-Slaveholding Households, 1815–1865.) The next lecture is March 23.
9. We’re making conscientious hiring decisions.
Last semester community members criticized the disproportionately small percentage of people of color on Mizzou’s faculty. This semester, the Division of Inclusion, Diversity and Equity has joined forces with the Office of the Provost and the department of Human Resources to roll out a training module that helps ensure search committees start with the most diverse and inclusive candidate pool they can when hiring new faculty and staff. We’re reaching out.
10. We’re doing really, really awesome things in classrooms, in laboratories and in the community.
Every day this university gives us scads of reasons to be proud. Here are just a few very recent examples.
- Sinclair School of Nursing programs were ranked among the best in the country.
- Five faculty members were named fellows of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
- Three faculty members were named fellows of the National Academy of Inventors (Chancellor Foley is a fellow too.)
- Silvia Jurisson received a patent on tools for diagnosing and treating cancer.
- Randy Prather and his team bred pigs resistant to the deadly PRRS virus.
- Robert Greene won a writing award at the Sundance Film Festival.
- Brad Carlson and Carrie Winship won teaching awards at the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival.
- Jeanne and Rex Sinquefield announced a gift of more than $2 million over three years for the Mizzou New Music Initiative (MNMI).
- Governor and alumnus Jay Nixon announced plans to allocate $5 million of the state budget to expansion of the Thompson Center so it can serve even more people on the autism spectrum.
- David Schramm received a $9.6 million grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to strengthen the families of 2,000 low-income Missouri residents in 21 counties over the next five years.
- We set up Volunteer Income Tax Assistance sites all over the state to help people do their taxes.
- We awarded more than 2,500 degrees during winter commencement ceremonies and presented honorary degrees to actor Hal Holbrook and True/False Film Fest founders David Wilson and Paul Sturtz.
- Mizzou's wrestling team won the Mid-American Conference Regular Season Championship.
- Mizzou's women's basketball beat SEC rivals Arkansas and Alabama.
- Two Tigers competed in the Super Bowl.
There’s more to come, Tigers. Stay tuned. And let us know how we’re doing.