By Temo Olvera / Managing Editor
Missouri Valley College’s director of diversity and inclusion, Tamika Drake, is resuming an initiative to address problems at an institution that has only had a director of diversity and inclusion for .75 percent of its existence. Valley was founded in 1889. Drake has been the director of diversity and inclusion for a year.
Vice President of Academic Affairs Elizabeth Bellamy and the initiative’s liaison and social psychology professor Jen Livengood are working with Drake to collect data and create avenues for diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging.
Faculty and staff discussed English Second Language fees, accessibility, cultural sensitivity, and centralized distribution at an open forum held Thursday, Oct. 6.
Livengood said the forums are for anyone interested in diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging at Valley.
Director of student success Gabi Morales started the discussion on ESL fees. Before non-native English speakers can take EN130, a general education requirement, they must take an English proficiency test. Those who score as advanced pay a $500 fee for their English as a Second Language course. Those who score as intermediate pay a $1,000 fee.
“I know other classes have fees, but they’re not five hundred or a thousand dollars,” Morales said. “It doesn’t seem fair, especially with how many international students we have on campus.”
Morales said she, Bellamy, and English as a second language professors Lana O’Hara and Will Allendorfer have met to find out why these fees exist. Allendorfer said they might consider removing the fee or making it a flat fee to be more equitable.
Honors program director Brian Nolan said he wants the college to emphasize intercultural interaction and create spaces for students to learn about and share their cultures.
“We have a lot of diversity in that there are bodies on the campus from many different locations,” Nolan said.
Allendorfer said the conversation pairs club has been achieving this by pairing native English speakers with non-native English speakers. This shifted the conversion to how organizations at Valley communicate.
“There’s so many individuals and groups doing things we don’t know anything about,” Drake said.
Drake said the office of student affairs should act as a hub for organizations. She said having a centralized dissemination process will help avoid time conflicts, increase collaboration, and make institutional marketing strategies available to campus organizations. She praised the improvements made to the app at a student government association meeting and said organizations should be checking the calendar when planning events.
Nolan also said the culture of intimidation towards sexual minorities needs to change.
“It’s not happening all the time,” Nolan said. “But if it’s happening at all, I don’t like that.”
Nolan and Livengood gave examples of excited students transferring because they felt alienated. Even after starting groups and creating momentum in their circles, they left because they didn’t have the institutional support behind them, said Livengood.
“There’s stuff out there bubbling just beneath the surface,” said Nolan.
Drake said having three student hours in an accessible location might increase accessibility, especially for the offices in Baity.
“I don’t even know how we get away with having classes and offices up there,” O’Hara said.
The learning center, computer lab, and art room sit on the top floor of Baity.
“The equipment I use weighs as much as a Toyota Corolla,” said graphic design professor Phil Gresham. “I can’t move that one thousand pound press downstairs. But is the supplemental work I provide going to be the same?”
O’Hara said offering some student hours in an accessible location means those students get less time than others.
“The conversation is what want to have,“ Livengood said.
Livengood said they can’t fix everything, but these forums are meant to gather data and find out what is important to Missouri Valley College.
“We are a little behind,” Livengood said.
The initiative has looked at other colleges with dedicated offices and programs for diversity and inclusion. Livengood said she wants to emulate what other institutions are doing and be specific to Valley.
“We have to start somewhere,” Drake said.
The innovation is supposed to allow students to feel like they have a place at Missouri Valley, Drake said, adding that retainment will improve if students feel comfortable in both their micro-communities and the larger community that surrounds them. There are two steps to achieving the initiative’s goal. The first is collecting data about what people want. The second is creating avenues to celebrate diversity.