MizzouDiversity Summit addresses achievements, concerns

Wednesday, October 20, 2010 | 10:34 p.m. CDT; updated 3:59 p.m. CDT, Thursday, October 21, 2010

COLUMBIA — MU Chancellor Brady Deaton acknowledged the school’s “checkered past” regarding diversity relations in his opening statements at the 2010 MizzouDiversity Summit at Memorial Union on Wednesday night.

Deaton said that in the past the university was on the “wrong side” of legal battles involving gay rights and race relations and noted that the first black applicant to the university was denied entrance.

“We’re not responsible for the sins of the past, but that doesn’t excuse them,” Deaton said. “We still have much to accomplish.”

The theme of the school’s second biannual summit built upon Deaton’s words and encouraged students, faculty and staff to “(take) ownership for an inclusive campus,” according to Roger L. Worthington, assistant deputy chancellor and chief diversity officer at MU.

The chancellor highlighted an abridged list of developments that have been made since the last summit in May of 2008. Some advancements included a new veterans support center, two new organizations created for students with disabilities and the inclusion of gender-neutral bathrooms in new facilities as a part of the university's LGBTQ initiative.

Deaton mentioned that this year’s freshman class was not only the largest but also the most ethnically diverse. According to the progress report, this year’s incoming class is 8.9 percent larger than last year’s class, while the number of minority students grew by 32.6 percent to 1,034 students.

Deaton and other panelists then addressed some areas of continuing concern at the university and underscored domestic partner benefits as an ongoing battle for members of the school’s faculty and staff.

Last year, the results of a faculty-staff benefit survey showed that while 35 percent of respondents were strongly in favor of domestic partner benefits, a matching 35 percent were strongly opposed.

“Of those 35 percent, only one or two percent would take advantage of the benefits, since many partners work and have their own benefits,” said Leona Rubin, chairwoman of MU's Faculty Council. “It’s not about money; it’s a social issue.”

MU is one of eight universities in the 63 Association of American Universities member schools without domestic partner coverage.  

The panel then opened a question and answer session for attendees, addressing concerns raised by students, faculty and staff.

MU sophomore Taylor Dukes asked the panel what was being done for the needs of LGBTQ freshmen housing. She emphasized that while it is awkward for homosexual students to room with a member of their own sex, it is often too expensive to live in a one-bedroom suite. Another MU student asked what the school was doing about the Dream Act, a proposed legislation that would help undocumented immigrants enroll in college.

The panel had little to say about either concern as both involve legal issues beyond the panel’s control.

Worthington concluded the panel on an optimistic note, promising that the school would identify these and other “salient issues.”

“For the next two years," Worthington said. "We are going to work on the very difficult issues you all have raised tonight."

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