The Northwest Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion is working to redefine its mission and purpose to be more inclusive.
Director of Diversity and Inclusion Justin Mallett said DEI is establishing what it should look like to create a new foundation.
“I think that (the mission) has been lost in translation across campus, and right now, what we are doing is bringing that back to the forefront,” Mallett said. “Once that is established, then I think the institution can then take steps to figure out what the overall infrastructure is going to be.”
After DEI re-establishes its mission, it will look to see where the need for possible new positions is.
DEI has four filled positions, one position being interim vice president. The DEI equity coordinator position has been vacant since Gabrielle Fields left Jan. 31.
“Once we redefine our mission, redefine some terms, create a foundation, then we can focus on how many people we need in positions and different things like that,” Mallett said.
The original setup of DEI included diversity, accessibility and Title XI and Title VI. Mallett said Title IX and Title VI are being handled by the University's legal representative Husch Blackwell.
Mallett hosted a presentation April 8 with faculty, staff and the Maryville community. Mallett’s goal was to “eliminate the old” process of DEI.
“We don’t want to use the term student of color anymore because of the way it is portrayed here on this campus,” Mallett said. “What we want everyone to start using is underrepresented.”
In the presentation, Mallett also addressed why underrepresented students often don’t feel welcome in the community. Mallett said Northwest does a good job promoting the success of underrepresented students but needs to work on including underrepresented students.
“I think, as an institution, we have to do a better job of exposing our underrepresented students to things that they may not be accustomed to seeing or they may not be accustomed to taking part in,” Mallett said.
When Mallett was in college, he and his roommate took trips to each others hometowns to experience each other's cultural background.
“I learned a lot,” Mallett said. “Cross-cultural learning can happen; we just have to be willing to want it to happen.”
Librarian Carolyn Johnson attended the presentation because she is the Community Connections group leader.
“I think it was really great because he was defining the difference moving from diversity on campus to inclusion, which means more of everyone belongs,” Johnson said. “We’re all just here to learn, try and respect each other.”
Mallett said the main thing he wanted people to take away from the presentation is that DEI does more than just working with underrepresented students. Its main goal is to encourage cross-cultural learning.
“It is not the job of underrepresented students to help majority students understand the cultural things of a certain ethnic group or a certain identity,” Mallett said. “We put on programs throughout the year to allow our students to learn. We want students to feel comfortable enough to let their guard down to attend the programming.”