LeadMN as Students United: Student Diversity Task Force Retreat

File_002.jpeg

It’s a rare occurrence to be in a room full of people who are all passionate about the same thing. As a student leader, I’ve enjoyed the opportunities I’ve had to work with faculty, staff, and administration. I value their experience, wisdom, and expertise. However, my favorite group to work with is students. There’s a unique energy and eagerness within the student spirit that I love.

This group of students was no different, filling the room with zest and motivation. I was particularly excited to have a chance to collaborate with students from the Minnesota State colleges. Something I’ve always cherished about Student United’s delegates assemblies is the chance to work closely with students from all seven state universities. This was the first time I was able to expand my reach and work with students across the entire system.

 
Photo of those who attended the retreat

Photo of those who attended the retreat

 

Led by Minnesota State’s Interim Chief Diversity Officer, Nickyia Cogshell, Interim Assistant Chief Diversity Officer Josey Landrieu and the Office of Equity and Inclusion Executive Assistant, Sonya Castillo, in addition to St. Cloud State University’s Debra Leigh, the day-long retreat had a packed schedule. After brief introductions and a team building activity, we delved into topics and discussions about diversity within the system and how we should tackle these issues as a group.

We reflected on the following seven issues:

  1. Not providing curriculum and resources to develop the transnational education needed to become “global citizens.”
  2. Not critically examining how we impact the local geographic, social, and cultural communities.
  3. Preparing students for the world of work in a way that is white, homogenous and meritocratic.
  4. Treating international students as budget enhancing commodities.
  5. Claiming to want diverse faculty but continue with hiring practices that allow departments to hire those who “fit.”
  6. Not inviting and involving internal and external community input in the development of the system’s missions and plans for equity and inclusion.
  7. Having plans that speak of “transformational change,” but in reality often include onetime events, celebrations of the status quo, and a collection of “feel good” statistics to manage the system’s reputation.

Every student was eager to have critical conversations about each of these issues. Throughout the duration, students shared stories of their personal experiences with these issues on their campuses. It was nice to listen and relate to some of their personal experiences. In addition, it was interesting to compare and contrast the experiences of university students and college students.

What I learned was that when it comes to diversity, we’re not as different as some may assume. For example, the colleges in the Twin-Cities area are in a region that is vastly more diverse than the demographics that make up most of the cities the universities are in. For that reason, their student populations tend to be more diverse and have a higher percentage of students of color. However, they still have an overwhelming number of white faculty, staff, and administration members.

 
Minnesota State university students who attended the retreat

Minnesota State university students who attended the retreat

 

We ended the retreat by evaluating the task force’s work thus far and deciding how we’d like to move forward. To do this, we completed S.W.O.T. analysis of the group and the system, evaluating the strengths, weakness, opportunities, and threats. The process reinvigorated our purpose and provided the fuel necessary to have a successful and productive academic year, as well as provide valuable feedback and suggestion to system employees.

Other than being surrounded by people who are equally as passionate about diversity and higher education as I am, the opportunity to meet some of the LeadMN staff and incoming and outgoing cabinet members was extremely valuable. One of my favorite takeaways is the coining of a new phrase: “Lead MN as Students United.” This saying isn’t merely a combination of the organizations’ names, but is a promise moving forward to work together for the betterment of the students at each of the seven universities and 30 colleges across the state.

Lexi Byler