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March 7, 2013 Volume 34, No. 22

Azizan-Gardner embraces her role as the university’s chief diversity officer

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EQUALITY Noor Azizan-Gardner, MU’s chief diversity officer, began working in diversity at MU in 1999. Photo by Shane Epping


Campus schools, colleges and groups contribute to diversity programs

Mizzou is home to various ethnicities, races, religions and sexual orientations. 

Does it matter? Yes. Diversity makes MU better.

Being a salad bowl of variations gives the campus a competitive advantage, said Noor Azizan-Gardner, appointed MU’s chief diversity officer last November. “We come up with better solutions when we have people from different backgrounds. Alike people can be unaware of some issues.”

Mizzou celebrates diversity through the Chancellor’s Diversity Initiative (CDI), established in 2006. CDI offers an engaging selection of programs and activities, including the bi-annual Mizzou Diversity Summit.

“We realize we are all dealing with human beings with needs, and all of us are working to find more meaning in our lives,” said Azizan-Gardner, who has worked with intercultural issues in the United States and Europe for nearly 20 years. 

Azizan-Gardner develops understanding among people and builds community. She advocates for multiculturalism by guiding the direction of Mizzou’s welcoming campus.

Bias toward people because of race or cultural differences is a breakdown of respect and civility. It can tear the fabric of a community and is not tolerated on campus. In February 2011, Mizzou officials investigated and resolved an incident of a student arrested for spray painting racist graffiti on a campus statue. In February 2010, officials dealt with a vandalism incident in which students scattered cotton balls on the lawn of the Black Culture Center.

“Even one or two high-profile incidents indicate there’s still work to be done,” Azizan-Gardner said. 

In 2012, Mizzou handled more than 40 reports of alleged bias incidents. To the extent possible, they were promptly investigated and resolved. 

In the past, people didn’t necessarily report bias on campus, so the CDI team simplified the reporting process. People with concerns can fill out online forms, or meet with Equity Office Director Noel English, who handles discrimination cases. If a faculty member alleges discrimination, an investigation proceeds through a process outlined in the University of Missouri Collected Rules and Regulations. 

“The point is there’s somebody to hear you and care about you,” Azizan-Gardner said.

Responding to need

Azizan-Gardner was born in Malaysia to Malayo-Polynesian-Chinese parents. Her father’s job required several moves to different countries, which taught Azizan-Gardner how to get along in various cultures and with different ethnicities. Her girlhood experiences laid the groundwork for her leadership role at MU.

Mizzou’s diversity initiative for students and faculty began two decades ago, with an academic program of training sessions and classes called MU to the Future. Azizan-Gardner took over the coordination of campus diversity in 1999.

In 2006, Deputy Chancellor Michael Middleton expanded the program beyond academics to students’ extracurricular activities and staff members.

“It was a brilliant move of inclusiveness because staff make a university run,” Azizan-Gardner said. “Now we are there for everybody: faculty, staff and students. Being that inclusive is critical.”

MU deans, who set the campus tone, work closely with Azizan-Gardner. She’s proud of the steps deans at the schools and colleges have taken toward multiculturalism.

The Trulaske College of Business teaches students a global mindset. Business faculty members developed Root Map Learning in a public-private partnership with Ernst & Young. The activities facilitate discussions to help undergraduate students understand the importance of thinking globally as part of their professional development, with the corollary of working closely with various ethnicities.

“I don’t think any other college has anything like it,” Azizan-Gardner said.

In the School of Medicine, Dean Robert Churchill, who retired last October, was the inaugural speaker of MU’s Leadership Diversity Lecture Series in November 2011. Churchill said then that the medical school had not delivered appropriate training to prepare doctors for LGBT issues. The school now incorporates LGBT issues into its curriculum. 

Measuring success

Part of the diversity plan is reaching out to students who might not contemplate a college education. 

As part of the Missouri College Advising Corps, a handful of recent Mizzou graduates regularly go into Missouri high schools to advise students about college. “We do this because it is part of our core mission of providing a world-class education for the citizens of Missouri in an increasingly complex and complicated world,” Azizan-Gardner said.

— Nancy Moen