UND’s diversity and inclusion task force has submitted its “top 10” priority list to UND leadership, including creating a vice president of diversity, equity and inclusion, as well as breathing life back into the university’s American Indian studies program.

Though the task force has submitted its priorities, the work is far from over.

The 48-page report, released Tuesday, Dec. 1, provides specific recommendations for university leadership to consider with the potential to make for a more inclusive campus.

“This will require time, it will require resources, it will require a long-term focus to pull this off,” UND President Andrew Armacost said. “This is not an effort to make quick change that doesn't endure, but rather, both quick and long-term change, that does endure.”

The 27-member task force, which included students, faculty, staff and community members of various racial, gender, sexual and regional backgrounds, was put together this summer following the death of George Floyd. A majority of the task force’s work occurred in the past two to three months.

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The task force laid out more than 30 recommendations in its report, but also presented a top 10 list of recommendations to university leadership. The list includes:

  • Create a vice president of diversity, equity and inclusion position

  • Create a division specifically for campuswide diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives

  • Develop a strong statement regarding diversity, equity and inclusion -- with action and enforcement

  • Develop a protocol to identify and report issues of bias and discrimination on campus

  • Create a standing committee to contribute and advise on issues related to diversity, equity and inclusion

  • Review and revise curriculum that infuse diversity throughout the curriculum

  • Provide adequate staffing and resources for culturally specific support services, such as American Indian Services, Black Cultural Centers, Multicultural Centers, LGBTQ Centers, Women & Gender Centers on campus

  • Create area studies programs with resources, such as Indigenous/Native American Studies, Black Studies, Latinx studies, Women/Gender Studies and Sexuality Studies.

  • Create effective structures for faculty, staff and student recruitment, retention, outreach and accountability initiatives inclusive of hiring practices.

  • UND should breathe life back into the American Indian Studies Department by hiring American Indian scholars

While the recommendations have been boiled down to a series of pages, that doesn't mean the task force on everything, Cara Halgren, vice president for student affairs and one of the co-chairs of the task force, said.

“There were times when there was tension in the group, but not tension in a bad way, tension in terms of wanting to try to come to an understanding of what people were sharing and what people were saying,” she said.

Halgren said having task force members still being able to remain engaged, even through those moments of tension, was really “where the good work was going to happen.”

Tension does not always have to be adversarial, Tamba-Kuii Bailey, assistant professor of counseling psychology and the other co-chair of the task force, said. It can sometimes be a matter of bringing a different perspective. Tension can help formulate ideas as a collective, rather than just from one person’s perspective.

“Tension has to occur for movement to take place,” Bailey said, speaking of the writings and work of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. “John Lewis talked about good trouble, I think good tension, I think is really important.”

Tamba-Kuii Bailey gave the keynote address at a Martin Luther King Jr. Day event in 2018 at the Gorecki Alumni Center on the UND campus. Photo by Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald
Tamba-Kuii Bailey gave the keynote address at a Martin Luther King Jr. Day event in 2018 at the Gorecki Alumni Center on the UND campus. Photo by Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald

The task force met nearly every week throughout the semester. In some cases, members would meet in subcommittees twice a week or even twice a day to continue having conversations.

Bailey said the 10 priorities presented will help lay a foundation for further work.

Halgren said one of the most important aspects has been the process the task force has gone through to make up these recommendations.

“People talk about that it's been a good process,” she said. “People feel heard. They feel listened to. They feel like they've had an opportunity to have meaningful conversations with others about ideas that are important to them.”

Cara Halgren
Cara Halgren

The university has done some work on diversity in recent years including writing a land acknowledgement statement recognizing UND’s physical position on ancestral homelands of regional American Indian tribes, adding a doctorate degree in indigenous health, establishing the nation’s first collegiate chapter of the National Gay Pilots Association and recently launching an Organization of Black Aerospace Professionals chapter.

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But there is still work to be done, according to university leaders.

The task force is only the third such UND body in seven years that’s been created and has issued a report directed at improving diversity and inclusion. This most recent task force strongly urged that UND fully commit, this time, to a cultural shift on campus, while carefully considering its recommendations, as well as those of two previous task forces, as a means of moving closer to diversity, equity and inclusion goals.

Armacost said all of the task force recommendations will be fully vetted through more conversations with university stakeholders, on and off campus. He said there is no timeline on when the changes will be implemented, but noted that the work “will begin immediately.”

“A college campus must be a place where we have tough conversations to build a sense of understanding of why we think the way we do and why others think the way they do,” he said. “Such conversations will go a long way in helping us make UND the kind of welcoming place for all that we want it to be.”

While one day there will be large gatherings and larger conversations about diversity, equity and inclusion on campus, Bailey said some of the most important conversations will come in the in-between moments.

“I think it is the in-between informal moments that have to occur,” Bailey said. “I think it occurs in the classroom, it occurs in staff and faculty senate, it will occur in email conversations. It's in those informal spaces in those kind of smaller moments that can really accumulate to longer or larger experiences. I think that's really important.”