The second departure of a MU social justice center leader in a week has called attention to discontent over MU’s decision to restructure four identity-based centers on campus.

Eli Kean, former coordinator of the LGBTQ Resource Center, announced Thursday a decision not to return to MU.

Kean, who uses they/them pronouns, joined Donald D. Gilliam, a key staff member at the Gaines/Oldham Black Culture Center, who also announced last week that he would resign at the end of the month.

Included in the restructuring at MU are the Gaines/Oldham Black Culture Center, the LGBTQ Resource Center, the Women’s Center and the Multicultural Center.

The two departing staff members criticized the lack of communication and a perception that MU was resistant to learning from existing senior leadership within the Division of Inclusion, Diversity and Equity.

MU spokesperson Christian Basi said the restructuring was based on a months-long listening tour. Maurice Gipson, vice chancellor for IDE, met with members of his division. Kean said they were never aware of any listening tour and cited concerns that senior members of the department were not listening to staff.

Word that the social justice centers would be restructured came to light after an April 15 meeting between the center coordinators and B. Sherrance Russell, assistant vice chancellor for Student Diversity Initiatives.

Basi said a key goal of the new structure is academic success, and the social justice centers are just one aspect of the university undergoing reorganization.

He said that, as of last year, fewer than half of the Black male population on campus had graduated within six years, compared to a six-year graduation rate of 70% for white men. He said the new structure is meant to remedy this kind of disparity.

Basi also said the new structure is meant to prevent the centers from existing in a vacuum and to encourage programs that are applicable to students who hold multiple identities.

Kean agreed there was room for more coordination across the centers but is concerned about students not having mentors who share their own experiences.

The new structure aligns new positions into two categories: race and ethnicity, and gender and sexuality. Vice Chancellor Maurice Gipson said this would allow for a more intersectional approach.

Four of the seven new positions will oversee the centers in two teams — two positions will supervise the Women’s Center and LGBTQ Resource Center together and the other two will supervise the Multicultural Center and the Gaines/Oldham Black Culture Center. The other three positions will consist of student success coaches that rotate throughout the centers and work individually with students. The centers also hope to extend their hours into the evening.

“The staff chosen to be in these roles are specifically put in those roles to be dedicated to students,” Basi said. “The more we cross-communicate with each other, the better we believe we will be able to serve our students.”

After news about the restructuring reached social media, students protested on campus April 19 and 29. Many said they were protesting on behalf of the coordinators and objected to their positions being cut.

“Our students deserve so much better than this,” Kean tweeted Thursday. “Their college careers, sense of belonging, and MU’s ability to retain BIPOC & LGBTQ students will be negatively impacted by this unnecessary & cruel ‘restructure’.”

Under the former structure, each center was allotted at least one full-time staff member. That individual had a range of responsibilities that included overseeing student organizations, planning large-scale events and ensuring those who entered their center were warmly welcomed.

Kean and Gilliam both cited concerns about the possibility of students not having staff members who share their identities.

“The staff should be attuned to what the students need and they should be completely 100% dedicated to students, not having to split their attention between two entirely different centers,” Kean said.

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  • Molly Hart is an assistant city editor at the Missourian. She has previously reported on state government. She can be reached at mhart@mail.missouri.edu.

  • Summer 2021 general assignment reporter studying journalism and political science. Can be reached at jamhcv@umsystem.edu or in the newsroom at (573) 882-5700. You can also find me on Twitter @joyamazur.

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