The University of Missouri, which this week removed a student from its Columbia campus for shouting the N word and other racial slurs at a black student group practicing for homecoming, announced Thursday that, as of January, all entering freshmen will be required to undergo diversity training.
The training, to be conducted online, eventually will be mandatory for all faculty, staff and other students.
“As you know, a few individuals have tried to harass and intimidate our students using racial slurs over the past few weeks …,” MU Chancellor R. Bowen Loftin wrote Thursday in an online letter. “As a community, we must live by our values of Respect, Responsibility, Discovery and Excellence.”
In a previous post he wrote that racism “and all prejudice is heinous, insidious and damaging to Mizzou. It hurts students’ education and experience, including their mental health and academic achievement. That is why all of us must commit to changing the culture at this university.”
It’s happened again! … It’s enough. Let’s stop this. Let’s end racism and hatred at Mizzou.
R. Bowen Loftin, MU chancellor
University spokesman Christian Basi said Loftin was out of town when members of the Legion of Black Collegians Royalty Court were accosted by an inebriated student who began shouting racial slurs at members of the group. The incident occurred early Sunday morning, shortly after midnight, when members of the Legion of Black Collegians were practicing for homecoming.
Notified of the incident, Loftin recorded an angry video from his hotel room, condemning the actions.
“It’s happened again! … It’s enough. Let’s stop this,” Loftin said in the recording. “Let’s end racism and hatred at Mizzou.”
The event came less than a month after Missouri Students Association President Payton Head, who is black, was similarly verbally assaulted on campus, prompting an impassioned response on Facebook describing his experience and calling on his classmates to fight injustice.
“I just want to say how extremely hurt and disappointed I am,” he wrote in mid-September. “Last night as I walking through campus, some guys riding on the back of a pickup truck decided that it would be okay to continuously scream NIGGER at me. I really just want to know why my simple existence is such a threat to society. For those of you who wonder why I’m always talking about the importance of inclusion and respect, it’s because I’ve experienced moments like this multiple times at THIS university, making me not feel included here.”
He continued with a plea.
“Educate yourselves and others,” he wrote. “Hold your family, friends, fraternity brothers and sorority sisters accountable. And if this post made you feel uncomfortable, GOOD! That means I’m doing my job. It’s time to wake up Mizzou.”
For some students, it is not clear how effective online training will be.
Katie Grunik, a senior from St. Louis, said she believed many students could benefit from some real education about living on a diverse campus. But she feared that too many would treat an online course as merely another formality.
“I do think it’s important that people be aware,” Grunik said. But to make a real difference, she said, will probably take something more than an online course. “I don’t think it’s really going to do anything.”
Others welcomed the training as a way for the university to begin taking action.
Annabel Ames, a sophomore from Detroit, said the recent racist incidents showed that something needed to be done.
“I think it’s definitely a good first step, but it shouldn’t be the endpoint,” Ames said. “Racism is actually very prevalent on our campus.”
MU is not the first school to call for mandatory diversity training.
Earlier this year, the University of Oklahoma instituted mandatory diversity training for all students on its campus and for incoming freshmen.
The training ordered in Oklahoma came after the university found itself in the national spotlight following an incident involving members of one of OU’s fraternities. Video surfaced online showing members of the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity singing a racist chant.
Several years earlier, the University of Delaware suspended its diversity training program after hearing complaints from students about the way the courses were conducted. Some students thought they were being accused of racism, while some minority and LGBT students felt roughly treated or pressured to “out” themselves.
In the end, university officials decided the program was well-intentioned but not executed properly. Experts pointed to a lack of uniform training.
But in the years since then, interest in such efforts has only grown.
Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton, Fla., has developed several diversity training programs. The campus is one of the most diverse in the nation, with 53 percent of students coming from a minority background.
The training is not mandatory for all students, but beginning this year it will be for student employees, said Andrea Oliver, an associate vice president at FAU.
Oliver said she did not recommend online training. At FAU, all of the training is done in person.
“Our goal is that the student walk away with at least one or two ‘Aha!’ moments,” Oliver said. “You need direct personal interaction in order to be really successful.”
At the University of Missouri, Basi said that the university already had been working to create new diversity training when the weekend incident occurred.
The training first will be mandated for new students coming in January to MU. That experience, Basi said, will allow the university to assess what adjustments the program might require in time for the 6,200 or so freshmen who will enroll in the fall of 2016.
“Eventually, every student will be trained,” Basi said. A separate program is being developed for faculty and staff.
In August, MU reacted to the fomenting national issue of sexual assault on college campuses by requiring all 2015 incoming freshmen to take online sexual discrimination training.
The Star’s Ian Cummings and Mará Rose Williams contributed to this report.