COLUMBIA — MU will require all students, faculty and staff to take diversity and inclusion training. For students starting at MU in the spring semester, the training will begin in January. For current students, faculty and staff, the timeline is uncertain.
The training program is in response to instances of people using racist slurs on or near campus over the past month, Chancellor R. Bowen Loftin announced in a statement to the MU community Thursday morning.
The program will teach students about racism concerns at MU, inform them of diverse organizations and resources on campus and emphasize the role of inclusion at the university, the chancellor’s message said.
Students who do not successfully complete this training will not be eligible to enroll in classes.
The administration also will consider making the training mandatory for current students, but the chancellor said the pilot program involving the incoming class in January will be evaluated before it is required of other students.
All faculty and staff will be required to undergo training "as soon as possible" — though no timeline has been set — to address both conscious and unconscious discrimination toward others on campus, the statement said.
Logistics of the training, such as how it will be administered and funded, are still being discussed, Loftin said at a brief news conference Thursday.
Loftin is looking for faculty members who might help design the training, Faculty Council chairman Ben Trachtenberg said at a council meeting Thursday afternoon.
"There's no simple answer to this kind of issue," Loftin said. "What I've said many times here is changing people's hearts is very difficult and very challenging. You do it one step at a time, you do it multiple ways."
Loftin had at least two private meetings with students and faculty Wednesday morning, after he returned from an international trip. One was with with the Rev. Carl Kenney, an adjunct journalism faculty member and a columnist for the Columbia Missourian, and Craig Roberts, a plant sciences professor at MU and a member of the Faculty Council committee on race relations. Another meeting was with student members of the Legion of Black Collegians (LBC), who were recently the targets of racist slurs.
The training program is a step in a larger evaluation of the climate of racism on campus. The administration has been discussing race relations at MU with faculty and students over the past year. The Faculty Council created a committee on race relations last spring, which has since been discussing initiatives to combat racism on campus.
But the university has been the site of highly publicized incidents in the past month — including racist slurs directed at Missouri Students Association President Payton Head last month, and then again at students involved with LBC early Monday morning — and angry students have protested, condemning both campus racism and the administration’s response.
“I think the activities over the past couple of weeks made it very clear that we can no longer wait on the Faculty Council to come up with a recommendation,” Kenney said. “I think that the chancellor exerted strong leadership in coming up with a decision that may not be popular among some of the faculty, but was able to really address the critical concerns.”
But not everyone is celebrating the chancellor’s announcement.
“This is a step in the right direction, but it is not enough,” Jonathan Butler, a graduate student and former president of the International Association of Students in Economics and Commercial Sciences chapter at MU, wrote in a letter to Loftin on Thursday.
Butler characterized the chancellor’s announcement as a knee-jerk reaction to recent incidents on campus, rather than a thought-out decision with a strategic plan.
“You’re telling me that in less than three months, you’re going to pull quality, impactful, diversity training and inclusion programming out of thin air?” Butler said in an interview.
He also challenged the assumption that the chancellor and the administration are making decisions on their own. Rather, Butler credits reformative action to years of activists and protesters at MU.
“If you look at the LBC demands from 1969, they ask for this same exact thing, for diversity training and recruiting faculty of color,” Butler said. “It’s zero percent administration, 100 percent years and years and years of people of color and underrepresented people actually fighting for this.”
Head, the MSA president, said he had no comment at this time.
This is not the first time that the university has considered mandatory diversity education. In a 2011 vote, the general faculty rejected an initiative to require a cultural competency course for all undergraduate students. The faculty rejected it for multiple reasons, including it being too vague and lacking a way to measure success, according to a report from the Faculty Council's then-committee on diversity enhancement.
But even with the decision to implement mandatory diversity training, the current race relations committee will continue to examine more initiatives to tackle racism on campus.
“The Chancellor’s approach complements the long-term work our Faculty Council Race Relations committee began earlier this year,” committee chairman Berkley Hudson wrote in a statement Thursday. “Our 12 members are developing strategies specifically aimed at assisting faculty.”
One of those strategies is to require a cultural competency requirement within the university curriculum, including a possible semester-long class students would take for credit.
If the new curriculum is implemented, it would be in addition to the required diversity training, said Angela Speck, director of astronomy at MU, who is leading the effort to create this curriculum. However, the curriculum may take up to four years to develop and implement on campus.
The Faculty Council Committee on Race Relations did not meet with the chancellor this week, Hudson said in an email; the committee last spoke with the chancellor in August. It is scheduled to meet Friday with Provost Garnett Stokes.
Earlier in the week, Loftin announced a few other decisions regarding campus diversity, including the creation of a new position, vice chancellor for inclusion, diversity and equity. Although the responsibilities of this position are not yet clear, this role is likely to have more authority than that of the university’s current chief diversity officer, a position held by Noor Azizan-Gardner. She could not be immediately reached for comment Thursday.
The new vice chancellor probably will have the “ability to make stronger statements around how to manage issues around diversity than we have before,” Kenney said, based on discussions with Loftin.
In addition, those in charge of hiring faculty and staff will be required to undergo diversity training, and the administration will conduct a campus climate survey to examine issues of race on campus.
The university already has a four-week online course that faculty and staff may elect to take called “Diversity 101.”
Although much discussion about race has occurred on the Columbia campus, University of Missouri System President Tim Wolfe is directing all four campuses to share ideas concerning their own campus diversity policies, UM system spokesman John Fougere said.
Several campuses across the United States have a form of diversity training incorporated through mandatory Title IX training. Not all colleges have training specifically for diversity and inclusion, though.
The University of Oklahoma has a program similar to the one announced at MU, requiring all incoming first-year students to complete diversity training. Officials from the university did not return a call Thursday for comment about how the training is going.
Supervising editor is Elizabeth Brixey.