Campus Leaders Strive for Diversity and Inclusivity


Photo by Trevor Martin

Students gather to discuss issues and concerns with University of Central Missouri President Roger Best after the State of the University Address on Sept. 16 at the W.C. Morris Science Building Nahm Auditorium.

  Senior music technology major Alia Peoples said she has been able to find her place within a predominantly white organization but acknowledges the cultural difficulties she faces in a predominately white school.

  “When I first came to UCM, it was intimidating like anything, but I started to get involved because I knew I wouldn’t have a good experience unless I got involved,” Peoples said. “It was hard because I came from a high school where it was predominately white and Hispanic students. I am used to having that environment around me, I am glad I found my people, but it is an adjustment.”  

  Many students are challenged by finding their community during their college experiece. According to the Fact Book for Spring 2021, enrollment by ethnic origin of the University of Central Missouri is 74.8 percent white and 6.5 percent is Black. 

  The issues that Black students face on UCM’s campus cannot be addressed without the involvement of the university’s leadership.

  Lover Chancler, director of the Center for Multiculturalism and Inclusivity, has worked closely with Black students for years. The center provides a place where people of all backgrounds can come to find their space and support. The center also helps connect these students to different resources, organizations and Student Support Services.

  Students who may feel excluded or have an issue can find support on campus. Chancler urged students to visit the center located in the Elliott Student Union.

  “I say, students, find your community,” Chancler said. “We are here to support our students and find them a space. The center is where you can find your community.”

  For many years, Black students have found a community together on campus. 

  “Historically, overall, the experience I hear from Black alumni was that their time here was memorable,” Chancler said. “There are several women who are UCM alumni in the ‘80s and ‘90s. Many of them talk about how they felt included and had a community.”

  However, Chancler added there’s been a shift in feedback in the last couple of years, saying students now feel like they don’t have the same community that others did in the past. 

  “I don’t know if it’s a change in the fact that the majority feel this way or if those that are disheartened are now speaking up,” Chancler said. 

  There have been incidents during 2021 and many students are calling for action. 

  On April 13, graduate student Dominique Hampton’s comment about the Student Government Association election was removed from an Instagram post by an SGA social media committee member.   

  Hampton explained his comment was intended to hold SGA accountable for diversity and inclusivity.  

  After the comment was deleted, Hampton shared the information with other Black students across campus. 

  “They were outraged because SGA claims to be the voice of the students,” Hampton said.

  Then, on April 22, the Association of Black Collegians student organization hosted a town hall on campus to express frustration over issues Black students face and attempted to hold the Student Government Association accountable for silencing Black voices.

  Chancler stated that the center is supporting the Association of Black Collegians and their student groups to strive for equity.

  “We are working with them to see if there is a way we can get representation,” Chancler said. “We are in the beginning stages of figuring out what that is.”  

  During the town hall, former SGA president Justin Cobb apologized to the audience, and explained how SGA would strive for the incident to not happen again.

  “Due to the kind of awkward bicameral system of SGA, there actually was about eight people who had access to the account,” Cobb said. “The reasons that were given to me to delete the comment were insufficient for me.”

  Shari Bax, vice president of student experience and engagement and SGA adviser, discussed how the administration played a role when the incident with SGA took place.

  “Because it was SGA social media and SGA students were managing it, the administration wasn’t going to step in and take action,” Bax said. “We were going to advise them. Beth Rutt and I helped SGA officers create that agreement, but ultimately, those decisions were on the students.”

  Since then, some students say they desire more progress.

  Current SGA President Cade Tremain discussed the SGA social media incident and what has happened since.

  “We in no way support the decision of that student, and that person is no longer a part of SGA,” Tremain said. “We have put precautions in place where our social media chair is required to sign a contract with instructions on what they can and can’t monitor.”

  UCM President Roger Best said he supported the decision of allowing students in leadership positions to learn to make decisions.

  “With SGA, we want to see the leadership of those organizations be a part of the solutions rather than us telling them what to do,” Best said. “We have advisers, we meet with SGA to help to guide and mentor them.”

  In regard to what SGA has done beyond social media barriers to make the organization more diverse and inclusive, Tremain said the organization has four Black students who are directly involved in their committees and 14 students who represent as resident student organization members, who attend SGA on behalf of other organizations.

  Tremain further addressed SGA’s progress toward inclusivity and said they aren’t finished making changes.    

  “We have an inclusivity committee where every person has to meet with RSOs who have to meet with an organization that falls under culture and identity, governance, religious or special interests. This is done to keep these organizations that may not be represented directly in SGA in the loop,” Tremain said.   

  Hampton explained he feels frustrated with the university and wants more momentum throughout student organizations.

  “Organizations like SGA believe that simply partnering with another organization is the solution, but it is not when minority students say they don’t feel included,” Hampton said. “It’s because we lack funding, or when we do events, the only people that attend are people of color.  The organizations can try to partner and try to do collabs and say that we are diverse and inclusive, but until you bring Black students into those spaces as graduate assistants, board members and leaders, we are not diverse or equitable.”  

  On Sept. 16, there was an incident in which a racial slur was written on the free speech wall displayed by the American Democracy Project. Since this issue, students have continued to speak out and ask for change.

  Colby Crowder, president of the Association of Black Collegians, has had the unique experience of being involved with both ABC and SGA. He said he was one of the first students to see the racial slur. 

  “One student was particularly upset and crying,” Crowder said. 

  After the incident with the racial slur, some Black students sat in during the President’s State of the University Address. After the address, the students spoke with Best.

  Tylan Carter, sophomore digital media production major, was one student who approached Best.

  “It was important to be heard and talk to President Best,” Carter said. “It is heartbreaking to hear stories from people who look like me go through systemic racism.”

  Graduate student Brandon Cannon has been on campus for eight years, and he said he has spoken with Best and previous University President Chuck Ambrose about how diversity and inclusion have been addressed over the years.

  Cannon mentioned that his experience with predominantly white groups at the university hasn’t always been negative but acknowledges there are issues.

  “I feel like I individually have been treated fairly by the administration, but there are some things that we see other organizations do on campus that the Black organizations have difficulty doing, so it’s more of an organization issue,” Cannon said.

  Peoples said she doesn’t feel the issue of not being approached by white groups and students on campus is racially motivated.

  “I feel like it’s not a racist thing,” Peoples said. “People feel a cultural difference not to approach me, so I feel the need to stick out or code switch at times. I feel like, as a Black person, you have to do that in general because our culture isn’t the norm. It shouldn’t be that way.”


Michael Lewis contributed to story