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Diversity council looks outside UND for best practices

It has been two months since two racially charged photos involving UND students were posted on social media, and the UND Diversity Advisory Council currently is looking at how to make the campus a more welcoming environment.

The council has been tasked by UND President Mark Kennedy to provide a recommendation for improving the campus climate on issues of diversity and inclusion.

Part of that effort is to take a look at the best practices of other universities when issues such as these arise and see if some of those ideas could be brought to UND. Those best practices could include all first-year students reading the same book or the campus taking part in a service projects, said Sandra Mitchell, associate vice president for diversity and inclusion, who chairs the council.

"We're looking at things institutions have used that are effective," Mitchell said, "then hopefully bring those here."

The 13-member council, composed of students, faculty, staff and community members, was formed in October to take a closer look at diversity issues on campus. The committee first will look at existing practices at UND and how those compare with the best practices in higher education. Based on that, the group will provide a list of recommendations for consideration at UND.

A recommendation is due to Kennedy by Dec. 15.

Mitchell said the council is looking at three specific topics related to diversity and inclusion—the best practices throughout higher education, curriculum and co-curricular activities related to diversity.

The hope is that this committee will help further discussion and lead the campus when these issues arise at UND, Mitchell said.

"One of the things we struggle with is how do we help people understand the complexities of diversity," Mitchell said. "It's not achieved through superficial things but how do you do things that have both breadth and depth? Because that's where the change will take place. Many schools throughout the country have councils similar to this one, which are a governing body that reports to the university president."

Plans to form this committee were announced after two racially charged photos involving UND students were posted on social media. Those posts sparked national attention and a rally on UND's campus asking for a zero-tolerance policy toward such behavior.

Citing free speech, a UND investigation into the two photos found neither incident violated the UND Code of Student Life.

When announcing the council in September, Kennedy told the Herald he is fully committed to creating a campus where everyone feels safe and welcomed.

"This is very important to me and the campus, and we're looking forward to making sure that UND is the first choice of those who are looking to build a wonderful and exciting career in North Dakota and across the country," he said.

This council is important in order to provide leadership to the entire university, Mitchell said. After the Dec. 15 deadline, the group will continue to meet to give the stakeholders a voice in the decision-making process on issues of diversity and inclusion.

"A huge part of our task is being able to speak for our colleagues and be that voice around diversity on campus so that it's not me who's saying this, but a representative body of our peers who are supporting and encouraging this," Mitchell said.

Wade Rupard

Wade Rupard is a reporter for The Grand Forks Herald. Rupard is a 2014 graduate of the Missouri School of Journalism and is originally from Normal, Ill. 

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