Group discusses challenges of increasing diversity at MU

Friday, November 2, 2007 | 5:52 p.m. CDT; updated 4:01 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

COLUMBIA — A group of diversity officers for the University of Missouri System met Friday to discuss the challenges of increasing the number of underrepresented minorities on the system’s campuses.

Roger Worthington, chief diversity officer at MU, said threats to a diverse campus include systemic oppression of minorities, political influences, and legislative, judicial and executive actions.

“There are emerging national trends among major institutions to increase spending on diversity recruitment of students and faculty; to devote more resources to promote a positive campus climate for diversity; and to elevate chief diversity officers to cabinet level positions,” Worthington said. “At the same time, significant resistance to the goals and values of diversity continue to surface.”

Among those threats, Worthington said, is a November 2008 ballot initiative by Ward Connerly, founder and chairman of the Missouri Civil Rights Initiative, that would ask voters to ban government-sponsored race and gender preferences in the state. If the initiative succeeded, scholarships offered to racially underrepresented students could be challenged.

Worthington said institutional commitment is a major factor in whether or not universities achieve their diversity and inclusion goals. He said administrative leadership was at the heart of an institution’s commitment, along with diversity in hiring, the curriculum, financial aid and the campus environment.

Between 2002 and 2006 the number of first-time black students at MU increased by 20 percent; the total enrollment of all minorities increased by 18.5 percent during that period.

Worthington was a leader of a campus climate study at MU between 2001 and 2005 that surveyed more than 3,000 students, faculty, staff and administrators. More than 80 percent reported that they did not think campus leaders fostered diversity; 80 percent said they thought the curriculum did not adequately recognize the contributions of different groups of people.

The study led to recommendations for improving the campus climate, including the expansion of religious studies, black studies and women’s and gender studies and requiring all campus units to establish their own diversity mission statements.

“Inclusion and excellence are two very important words for campus diversity,” Worthington said. “Thinking about cultural differences are essential to inclusive excellence.”

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