Working for diversity and inclusion on campus

Sheldon Hatlen, Staff Writer

For those looking to return to the university for this upcoming semester, there are opportunities to seek and engage with some of the departments the campus has to offer. The Diversity and Inclusion Department is one that is always looking to provide students the path for the best college experience.

Sandra Mitchell, the Associate Vice President of Diversity and Inclusion, has over a decades worth of knowledge and experience to assist students with becoming more diverse and inclusive. Mitchell believes there needs to be a basic understanding of the community one enters when entering a new stage in one’s life, such as attending college.

“I would like students to understand that they are walking into a diverse community,” Mitchell said, “That diversity is not just about race, but about all the things that make people different. I think it’s important for students to understand that when you get to a college, no matter what the campus is, that’s the community you’re now a part of.”

Mitchell feels the university has made great strides in its mission to create a more diverse campus, as well as strengthen an inclusive work and learning environment.

However, even though Mitchell recognizes these accomplishments, she believes there’s always room to improve.

“I think there’s always a lot more work to do and to increase people’s understanding,” Mitchell said. “I think we’re further along, in a lot of ways, than we were a couple of years ago. With things like Essential Studies and what the other centers are doing, I think those help us get further and further along. But because this work is never static, there will always be more work to be done.”

Always looking to broaden the department’s audience, Mitchell, along with her colleagues, are discussing ideas about future activities and events they can organize for students in the upcoming year.

Mitchell wasn’t able to go into great detail because it’s still in the planning phase. Regardless, she’s quite excited about getting more students involved with engaging events and activities.

“I’m hoping we’ll be doing some real high impact activities,” Mitchell said. To really spread the message that these activities are open to all students. I’ve seen that people often assume these activities are very serious, stuffy and emotional. Now, the topic is serious and needs to be addressed, however, that can be balanced through fun engaging and interactive activities. But students have to make the effort to go.”

Optimistic for the future, Mitchell believes that with the right direction, the university has the capability to be the standard when it comes to diversity and inclusion within the next five to 10 years.

“I think, if handled well, we have the potential to meet the president’s goal of being the premier flagship institution of the upper midwest,” Mitchell said. “One of the ways of being the premier is that you can be the best at everything. I think that we have consistently been noted for our work with the American Indian students and yet, we don’t always get the recognition for that. I would like students to leave the university believing they were exposed to a lot of ideas and different people that changed the way they look at the world.”

Recently, some questionable activity involving race have been occurring at St. Olaf College in Minnesota. These activities have resulted in the boycotting of classes, due to the fact that students of color feel unsafe on their campus grounds.

Despite its unfavorable nature, Mitchell recognizes that it’s nothing college campuses haven’t experience before and that UND, as well as other universities, can learn from their mistake.

“It’s unfortunate, but it’s nothing new,” Mitchell said. “I don’t want us to be St. Olaf or University of Minnesota. I think UND has the potential to be better than that, but to do that we really need to understand what diversity means and that’s a cultural shift. It’s not just about the words you put on paper, but also changing how people view diversity and inclusion.”

Because of incidents like the one at St. Olaf, Mitchell feels that schools need a program such as UND’s now more than ever so that universities are actively providing effective methods to resolving and/or eliminating these issues.

“I believe it’s important to have a central place that focuses on diversity at a higher level,” Mitchell said. “So it’s good to have oversight of the management of the centers on campus. I think positions like mine have to allow the flexibility to work with all parts of the university. We need to be proactive rather than reactive, which is what we’ve been seeing in places like St. Olaf.”

Sheldon Hatlen is a staff writer for The Dakota Student. He can be reached at [email protected]