UND accused of apathy toward diversity for consolidating multicultural centers

A University of North Dakota doctoral student is berating the school for consolidating its diversity centers into a central location, saying it reveals apathy toward diversity efforts.

Jacqueline Hoffarth, a doctoral student in the Department of Teaching and Learning at UND, condemned the move in an op-ed for The North Forks Herald Wednesday, asserting that the decision “demonstrates a lack of common sense” and will “hurt” students.

In 2014, UND made the decision to relocate several of its multicultural offices due to a lack of space and structural problems. Among the affected departments are the International Center, the Multicultural Student Services, and the Women’s Center, which will now operate under a single umbrella from within the Memorial Union.

While the decision was made roughly two years ago, the implementation of the centralized diversity center only began this summer once adequate space became available.

Vice President of University & Public Affairs Peter Johnson told Campus Reform that the move to a more centralized location is simply due to the age of the current buildings and the expansion of the university, and is actually meant as a convenience for students by relocating all diversity resources to the center of campus, as opposed to the continuous inconvenience of the current system.

“These buildings had quite a bit of age on them and are becoming increasingly difficult to maintain,” Johnson told Campus Reform. “It just makes more sense to centralize some of these units where they can get better access as opposed to how it is now.”

According to Hoffarth, however, conglomerating all the centers dealing with diversity into one collective group will have a negative impact on the effectiveness of these organizations, because they do not have identical missions.

“It cannot be assumed that these centers are all the same simply because they fall into some ‘diversity’ category,” Hoffarth writes. “To assume such a thing not only demonstrates a lack of common sense, but also ignores years of higher-education research.”

Previously, UND diversity centers were each housed in separate university-owned houses both on and off campus, and Hoffarth claims that the consolidation proves that these diversity centers are not of great importance to administrators.

“These moves are conveniently occurring while the larger student population is not on campus,” Hoffarth argues, saying, “it appears that the campus administration is more concerned with telling minority students what they need instead of asking them.”

Hoffarth suggests that moving UND’s diversity centers into one location will create an inconvenience for students because they will now have to walk through other diversity centers in the building, which could potentially cause them to feel uncomfortable reaching out to diversity oriented organizations, and even dissuade them from visiting the offices all together.

“We cannot afford to create additional barriers and/or limit support options for these students,” Hoffarth writes. “The problems will still exist, students will just avoid reaching out.”

When asked about the specific harm and inconvenience she believes the centralized diversity offices will have on UND students, Hoffarth told Campus Reform somewhat cryptically that “without truly understanding research in higher education and on best practice for victims of violence, it can be difficult to understand the work that is done within the Women's Center and the other Diversity centers on campus.”

According to Hoffarth, the administration’s lack of student and staff outreach in regards to this particular move sends a message that “diversity is only valued so far.” She believes both students and diversity professionals should have been consulted before making the decision to combine the diversity centers

“It is not enough to say that diversity is important,” Hoffarth writes. “It is not enough to call upon their expertise in times of campus climate concerns. The administration needs to behave in ways that reflect that it is sincerely concerned with these students' needs.”

Hoffarth concludes with a direct appeal to the UND administration, urging them “to include students in decisions regarding a new diversity and inclusion space,” and warning that “without student and staff input, they are sending a message that diversity is only valued so far that [sic] it can advance institutional image.”

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