Missouri State University is leading regional efforts in promoting the values of diversity, equity and inclusion.
Through these efforts, Missouri State can increase access, success and equity among students, faculty and staff from diverse backgrounds. The university can also help develop the cultural consciousness needed to negotiate cross cultural differences.
These are goals of MSU’s current 2016-2021 Long Range Plan (LRP).
Several MSU divisions, organizations, programs and community partners collaborate to promote these values on campus and within the greater Springfield community.
H Wes Pratt, chief diversity officer, shares details of their combined efforts.
Supporting a diverse student body
The student-orientated efforts that increase access, success and equity at the university include:
Student African American Brotherhood (SAAB)
MSU established a local affiliate chapter of the Student African American Brotherhood (SAAB), also referred to as Brother-to-Brother (B2B), in 2014.
The chapter started with a unique design that will be the model for SAAB’s efforts statewide. Initially, the B2B chapter had not only members from MSU, but also from Ozarks Technical Community College (OTC), Drury University (DU) and Evangel University (EU).
“Given the demographics of the area, the Springfield chapter of SAAB took a more multicultural approach to membership,” Pratt said. “The chapter includes students of African, Latino, Asian and white descent, among other heritages represented by international student members.”
The national office of SAAB relocated to Springfield earlier this year, with the help of MSU and the Community Foundation of the Ozarks (CFO), among other supporters.
Currently, SAAB is also developing an Alumni Council in Springfield. The council will consist of members of SAAB as ambassadors from diverse backgrounds locally and nationally.
Council members will engage with businesses from the public and private sectors, as well as nonprofit organizations. They too will increase partnerships with regional and statewide public-school organizations.
“The Springfield Public Schools system has been criticized in the past for lacking diversity, but those involved are making a concerted effort to establish greater cultural consciousness,” Pratt said. “With SAAB, MSU can help the school district increase educational opportunities available to students of color.”
The Diversity Talent Hub Program
The Diversity Talent Hub Program connects MSU students and others from diverse backgrounds in the community with local employers.
Such local companies along with financial institutions in the area helped start the program at the university.
“The program extends career opportunities available to students from diverse backgrounds in Springfield,” Pratt said. “This can encourage them to stay in the local area after completing their studies.”
The National Black Graduate Students Association
The National Black Graduate Students Association (NBGSA) established a chapter at MSU in 2016. The chapter strives to establish the university as a place where students of color can feel safe.
To accomplish this mission, members look to develop relationships within communities of color.
This is a necessary step to fostering true inclusion, Pratt shares.
“In these challenges times, students of color may feel intimidated by and uncomfortable in a predominantly white region like Springfield,” Pratt said. “This makes it critically important that we work to create a more welcoming environment for those from diverse backgrounds.”
NBGSA offers students of color the opportunity to participate in national and international conferences. The chapter also provides the resources needed to support efforts to engage in the local community.
These efforts include:
- Programs on financial literacy and social justice.
- Voter drives.
- Presentations from community leaders of color.
- Food drives.
Historically Black colleges and universities partnerships
MSU will partner with numerous historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) both locally and nationally.
While such partnerships are still in development, they will offer HBCUs students access to MSU’s unique accelerated graduate degree options.
“These partnerships will serve to create greater opportunities to support students’ learning and success,” Hart said.
Enhancing campus and community leadership
Additional efforts serve to enhance the leadership faculty and other community members can offer:
Bear Bridge Mentoring Program
The Bear Bridge Mentoring Program, developed this fall, builds connections among diverse junior and senior faculty. It uses one-on-mentoring, workshops, panels and social community events.
These activities strengthen faculty members’ professional development during the tenure track process. They also allow faculty to connect further with others in their department and across disciplines.
These connections lead to greater cultural consciousness among faculty. Such consciousness is key to shaping successful interactions with a diverse student body.
“Students respond best to professors who share their heritage or at least have the cultural awareness needed to understand it,” Pratt said.
“The program strengthens a sense of community and inclusion at our university,” Martinez said. “It also draws from mentors who have proven their commitment to our public affairs pillars of ethical leadership, cultural competence and community engagement.”
Facing Racism Institute
The university’s Facing Racism Institute serves as the leading program locally for uncovering racism and understanding its impact on individuals and the workplace.
MSU partners with the Springfield Area Chamber of Commerce, local public entities and area non-profit organizations to enhance professionals’ understanding of racism.
Participants learn the history and impact of racism as well as how to lessen its effects.
Collaborating with public entities locally and regionally allows the university to ensure those of diverse backgrounds receive contracting, procurement and construction opportunities.
The Public Entities Diversity Workgroup addresses concerns of unequal access to these opportunities.
They increase support for historically underrepresented businesses owned and operated by:
- Minority individuals.
- Disabled individuals.
- Other small and emerging local businesses.
Reaching a broader definition of diversity and inclusion
Through the combined efforts of these organizations, programs and community partnerships, the university embraces a broader concept of diversity as one that includes us all.
“Missouri State’s definition, captured in its current LRP, defines the value of inclusion and diversity as encompassing more than race,” Pratt said. “It also includes national origin, gender, gender identity, disabilities, those with varied learning practices and those from both rural and urban areas.”
Increasing cultural consciousness begins with developing awareness, knowledge and skills.
This can help create a more welcoming environment at the university in which all feel valued and respected. It can also connect all to the higher education experience, which ensures greater student success.
“It’s critically important that we come together to increase cultural consciousness and awareness of one another,” Pratt said. “Becoming more knowledgeable in these ways allows our community to be the best it can be.”