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Jan. 18, 2012 Volume 33, No. 16

Diversity, a welcoming climate are MU campus goals


CDI strives for inclusive campus environment

As college campuses strive to become more diverse in their faculty and student populations, it can be a challenge to create an environment where people from different backgrounds and cultures feel comfortable expressing themselves.

The collaborative partnerships and strategic efforts of the Chancellor’s Diversity Initiative (CDI) demonstrate that MU provides a safe environment and welcoming climate for everyone — regardless of ethnicity, gender, language, sexual orientation, disability, national origin, socio-economic status, veteran status, political view or religious belief.

Begun in 2006, the CDI has three full-time and two part-time employees, as well as two graduate students that help administrators and other leaders expand their diversity efforts as needed.

“We have done a tremendous job collaborating with the campus,” said Noor Azizan-Gardner, interim chief diversity officer. “The whole notion of creating a welcoming campus is the responsibility of everyone on campus. What we do as the CDI is to provide the catalyst and infrastructure. We are the loom, in a sense, and all the players weave the fabric together and create this beautiful tapestry we call MU.”

Collaboration begins by recruiting a diverse domestic and international student body.

“Our role as the CDI is to make sure we publicize all of the support services on and off campus to ensure students are connected to the resources they need to be successful here,” Azizan-Gardner said. This could mean helping students find the right church, ethnic market or salon, or connecting them to specific communities.

“On campus, students have many opportunities to talk about difficult issues and interact with each other in a safe space through programming offered not only by our office, but through other offices such as the multicultural center, women’s center or black culture center,” Azizan-Gardner said.

Regardless of the courses taught, diversity issues come up either in the curriculum or class discussions, or in conversations among students. The CDI’s staff works with instructors to create classrooms where students are encouraged to discover different perspectives and are respectful of instructors and one another.

“We look for ways to be better at teaching and connecting students together to create the kind of classrooms where students and faculty can engage in difficult conversations without getting disrespectful, uncivil and dysfunctional,” Azizan-Gardner said.

The CDI continues to make faculty diversity one of its top priorities, and the staff works with chairs, deans and search committees to increase the number of highly qualified applicants belonging to underrepresented ethnic groups.

Student relationships also are part of CDI’s efforts.

“We are involved in training Residential Life’s student, professional and facilities staffs to discover how they can work together to make sure the space that students occupy after class is inclusive and welcoming,” Azizan-Gardner said.

One of the Chancellor’s Diversity Initiative’s big marketing campaigns this year involves bias incident reporting. MU’s equity office, a division of the CDI, tracks acts of intolerance against any person, group or property through its See it, Hear it, Report it bias incident report form.

“We know that bias incidents happen on campus and a lot of times they aren’t reported because of concerns about retaliation,” said Rebecca Calvin, director of marketing. “We want people — students, faculty, staff, alumni, parents and visitors to campus — who have witnessed or experienced a bias incident to report it. The information helps us identify areas in which we need to plan programming opportunities, and training and development.”

Learn more about diversity efforts at MU and read about upcoming events.

Diversity websites

To see campus-community guides and diversity-related programs that are open to everyone, regardless of race or ethnicity, visit these sites:

Asian/Asian-American Community

African-American/Black Community

Persons with Disabilities Community

Hispanic/Latino(a) Community

Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Questioning (LGBTQ) and Ally Community

Native American Community

Women's Community