At the Jan. 25 Board of Trustee meeting, President Minda Nelson testified to remind the board of the equity issues currently facing Minnesota State students and to urge them to begin a plan to address these issues.

President Nelson called for a campus-based and a system-based approach to equity, and said that a guiding plan needed to come from the system office. “While some campuses have the resources to thrive on their own, others need more help than a small campus department can provide.”

The Board of Trustee Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion committee recently met and came to the conclusion that system-wide benchmarks and strategies need to be identified in the areas of equity. President Nelson reminded the Board of the letter MSCSA sent to the committee in September outlining four proposals to begin addressing equity in Minnesota State. It was suggested that by including students in these discussions, the equity benchmarks would be widespread and encompassing of all stakeholders.

President Nelson’s testimony concluded that while work is being done in the Minnesota State system on equity, a plan is still missing. She stated, “We want to partner in addressing these issues, but that requires engagement from the Board and the new chancellor.”

Below you can read President Nelson’s full testimony at the January Board of Trustee meeting.

The sound of silence.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “In the End, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”

That is what has made the last 12 weeks so hard for us as student leaders, to hear the silence of the governing board of the Minnesota State system on one of the most pressing issues on our college campuses – the opportunity gap facing so many of our students.

At the September retreat, Board members asked for suggestions on what you as a board could do to address the issues of equity on our campuses. We took that question seriously, and developed a response on some realistic ideas that could be addressed by the board, in a letter to the Chair of the Diversity Equity and Inclusion committee dated October 14. A few weeks later we testified at the October Board meeting with Students United outlining our ideas and concerns around the lack of progress on campus climate issues and the opportunity gap. After the meeting all we heard was silence.

At the November Board meeting, Students United Chair Joe Wolf testified again on these issues. His testimony was met with silence.

The IFO sent a letter on November 30 to Trustee Anaya and Chair Vekich in support of our letter. The response to that was silence.

Then on December 8th, we sent a follow-up email to Chair Anaya requesting a meeting to discuss these issues with her. Again only to be met with silence.

Finally, on January 9th we received a response to our concerns from Chair Vekich. The letter’s first paragraph said that the system is committed to equity because we have a committee to address that. A committee does not demonstrate a commitment. Especially when that committee has only met 14 times during the last 35 meetings of the Board of Trustees in the last 3 years. And during those meetings action was only taken a couple of times.

The letter failed to address our underlying concern and our point that the Minnesota State system does not have a strategy to address the opportunity gap. In March of last year, the College Board issued a report on how to best achieve diversity and inclusion goals. One of the key findings is that, 
A growing body of research confirms the importance of alignment based on mission across programs, functions, and offices to create the greatest potential for achieving diversity goals. Research confirms that a more holistic approach to diversity strategies – developing a mission that includes the benefits of diversity, implementing strategies to foster interactions between students, and assessing strategies for impact and effectiveness – can help institutions achieve the benefits they seek.

The problem is that 54 different strategies to address equity is not going to work. The research has shown that. We need both a campus-based and a system-based approach on equity. While some campuses have the resources to thrive on their own, others need more than the help that a small system department can provide. We need a guiding plan from the system.

We felt optimistic by the discussion from the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion committee yesterday that system-wide benchmarks and strategies need to be identified; and that idea was outlined in our first letter to the committee. Now is the time for the board to come together to develop those benchmarks and bring key stakeholders like students to the table to develop them.

Students of color on our campuses are tired of being ignored. The struggles that they go through on a daily basis are likely unimaginable to many people in this room. The smallest of these is the self-doubt that they face, wondering whether they really belong because there is no real support system for these students on our campuses.

We agree that work is being done in this area, some of it very positive like the increase in diversity of campus presidents and the human resources practices. Yet, the system still lacks a strategy.

We want to be a partner in addressing these issues, but that requires engagement from the Board and the new Chancellor. Our students will no longer accept silence from this board and will continue to speak out about inaction.

In September 2016, MSCSA sent a letter to the Board of Trustees outlining four proposals that were necessary first steps to address the equity challenges facing Minnesota State students. The four proposals included:

  1. Require that a new System Diversity, Equity and Inclusion plan be created within 12 months.
  2. Double the size of the Equity and Inclusion Office in the system.
  3. Bring an equity lens to the Board of Trustees.
  4. Create benchmarks and timelines to develop more culturally competent curriculum.

The letter concluded by saying “While we cannot get ahead of the next chancellor, these issues cannot wait for that chancellor. What we propose will help lay a solid foundation of information that will propel the next chancellor forward.”