MU’s interim chief diversity officer emphasized the importance of campus buy-in and equitable policy in her pitch for the permanent position Monday.

NaTashua R. Davis, interim vice chancellor for inclusion, diversity and equity at MU, was the second of three finalists to virtually interview for the role. Kevin McDonald departed in July 2019 for a similar position at the University of Virginia.

In her virtual presentation to the campus community, “Buy-in: Moving Beyond Mission,” Davis addressed MU’s current Inclusion Excellence framework, faculty recruitment and retention, and student access and success. In a Q&A with search committee co-chairs Pat Okker, dean of the College of Arts and Science, and professor emeritus Michael Middleton, Davis defined her plan for a progressive, equitable department.

“Equity is more than just creating opportunities and interventions and programs,” Davis said. “We need to employ strategies to eradicate and break down barriers that are impeding particularly our students of color but also low-income students from accessing education.”

Davis highlighted her experiences at MU, which date back to 2002. She earned her doctorate in educational leadership and policy analysis from the university in 2012 and has held several roles involving underrepresented and first-generation students, recently as executive director of MU’s Accessibility and Leadership Development Unit.

She was appointed interim vice chancellor in August 2019 and has retained her duties as executive director.

As a spring semester forced online by COVID-19 comes to a close and MU’s operations largely remain remote, Davis encouraged critical evaluation of virtual learning’s accessibility.

“Are (virtual classrooms) set up in a way where they’re allowing all of our students, irrespective of how they learn, to engage and participate in the classroom?” she asked.

The pandemic’s impact on international students also drew Davis’ attention. In the midst of MU’s virtual transition, she said international students were some of the first to hear from her and her department.

“Are they feeling safe? Are they feeling connected? We have to engage with (international students) and make sure they are being taken care of,” Davis said.

Davis’ priorities of understanding and outreach extended to the Office of Civil Rights & Title IX, which will operate differently under new federal guidelines issued by U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos. Although Davis said she had not had the opportunity to read the new guidelines in full, she is aware of their “significant impact and effect” and encouraged further education and programing informing students of the office’s function and process.

The search committee’s first finalist, Arkansas State University vice chancellor for diversity and community engagement Maurice Gipson, interviewed last Tuesday. The final virtual candidate forum is 9 to 10 a.m. Wednesday.

  • Galen Bacharier is a reporter and assistant city editor at the Missourian. He has previously reported on state government and higher education. Reach him at galenbacharier@gmail.com or on Twitter @galenbacharier.

  • Elizabeth Brixey is a city editor at the Columbia Missourian. She oversees coverage of education. She can be reached at (573) 882-2632 and brixeye@missouri.edu.

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