Respect, responsibility, discovery and excellence — not just words, but values to MU. For the last few years, these concepts have been the foundation of MU’s values statement, but a change could be in sight.
The Missouri Students Association, in a letter last week, asked a task force that created the initial values statement to consider diversity as a fifth value for MU. The letter cites recent events, particularly a racially charged column in a March issue of the independent MU Student News, which led to a sit-in on the steps of Jesse Hall.
Campus Climate Study, an ongoing diversity survey, released its second volume in April, showing that racial- ethnic minorities, non-native English speakers, people with disabilities and members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community are perceived as the least accepted groups on the MU campus.
Mel George, professor emeritus, who led the Values Task Force in 1997, said he is re-assembling the original committee and adding a few members, including MSA President Brian Laoruangroch. George said the committee of at least 20 members — which will conduct its business through e-mail — will hear the concerns of MSA and assess the current values statement. Eventually, the committee will have a recommendation for the chancellor.
George, interim UM system president from 1996 to 1997, said the core values are important for MU because “an institution ought to stand for something” and must articulate what those values are. George said the selection process is valuable because it “gets people thinking about what the university ought to be about.”
George said this time around, the committee has a narrower task because the values statement has been written. Now, it’s just a matter of deciding whether the statement should be modified to take into account the concerns of MSA, he said.
Diversity is mentioned in the original values statement, in which each value is spelled out. Diversity is in the paragraph describing respect, but Kara Heppermann, vice president of MSA, said most students have not read the paragraph. The statement is typically found in offices around campus and in residence halls. Heppermann said specifically adding diversity will, if nothing else, “show the average student that the administration does care about diversity.”
Pablo Mendoza, director of the office of multicultural affairs at MU, said the students who are working on the initiative are trying to make what is implied more direct. He said this change would send a more straightforward message.
“People will see the university saying straight out that they care about diversity,” he said.
Mendoza also said this change would help with recruitment, including that of faculty and staff.
Heppermann said the events of last semester, particularly the column written in MU Student News, made MSA realize that more needed to be done.
“Adding (the value) is the first step to improve the atmosphere for acceptance of diversity,” she said.
Jesse Berrios, chairman of Four Front, one of the larger minority organizations on campus, said this possible change would be more than just writing on a plaque. He said the university would be making a commitment to diversity by putting it in writing. Berrios said the addition of diversity would be a symbol to which students could point when helping the university work toward diversity.
Berrios said the MU Student News column was a culmination of offenses against the minority community. He said minority students often feel isolated from major events on campus and over the years have created a solid minority community. He said that even though the administration says diversity is valued, “that doesn’t trickle down into anything concrete.”
He said that because most of the campus had heard about the column, the momentum created a perfect time to start the initiative.
“If we let it sit, the entire campus will forget about it,” he said.
Berrios said he hoped this would be a way to heal from previous events and change the mentality of the university because the value of diversity would be clearly stated.
Heppermann said that this addition will also help students.
“The more types of people you are exposed to, the better experience you have,” she said. “This is an important first step (to improving diversity).”