Connecting with students face to face is key to understanding their experiences, especially underrepresented minority students, a finalist for the job of MU's chief diversity officer said Tuesday.

Maurice Gipson, vice chancellor for diversity and community engagement at Arkansas State University in Jonesboro, was the first of three finalists to interview with the campus community, albeit virtually.

Gipson shared his background in education and the "innate understanding" his experience as a first-generation college student has given him. Describing himself as "very student-centric," Gipson said that once a week, between 11:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m., he sat in Arkansas State's student union to talk with students about their experiences.

"I'm telling you, I have learned more about the student experience, and just in that amount of time, than ... in my entire career," he said.

Gipson titled his presentation "Going from Good to Great."

"(MU is) doing phenomenal things, but to me, it's a continuum," he said. "So you're always trying to attain the status of greatness."

Gipson said he was proud of his ability to develop and implement a strategic plan at Arkansas State to address issues such as increasing recruitment and retention of minority faculty and students. 

He said he created the Office of Diversity at Arkansas State. Originally, he said, it consisted only of him and an administrative assistant.

"We were diversity. We were the entire operation," he said. "And now we have over 60 individuals."

Pat Okker, dean of the College of Arts and Science and co-chair of the search committee, asked Gipson how he would interact with people suspicious of systemic racism.

Gipson said he begin by asking, "How would you feel if you were the only person that looked like you in this room and everyone else looked ... a different way?"

Then, he said he would ask, "How would you be successful?" Gipson continued, saying research has shown that people are more comfortable, typically, if they can identify with someone else when they're working.

"Not everyone is going to commit to these ideals" of caring about diversity, equity and inclusion, Gipson said later. "We cannot continue to focus on the one when the 99 are ready to move forward."

The next forums are from 9 to 10 a.m. Monday and from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. Wednesday. The finalists' names will not be released until a day or two before their forums, MU spokesperson Christian Basi said Monday.

Kevin McDonald left the position of vice chancellor of inclusion, diversity and equity last summer to take a similar post at the University of Virginia.

  • Education reporter, spring 2020, studying investigative journalism and sociology. Reach me at jessica.blake@mail.missouri.edu, or in the newsroom at 882-5700.

  • 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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