Office advocates for multicultural students at U

by Jason Juno

IThis is the first story in a four-day series about diversity on campus. Tuesday’s story will focus on diversity in the faculty.

In 1969, minority students at the University were frustrated about the level of racism on campus.

They also wanted a place to go for multicultural services. So, students took over the administration building, Morrill Hall, said Avelino Mills-Novoa, Office for Multicultural and Academic Affairs associate vice president.

The University’s response was to create a program – eventually the Martin Luther King Jr. Program – to support progress for minority students across campus, Mills-Novoa said.

Today, the University has the Office for Multicultural and Academic Affairs. The office is comparable to what similarly sized universities’ offices have for multicultural affairs, both in the Big Ten and nationally.

The percentage of minority students at the University is similar to The Ohio State University, greater than the University of Wisconsin-Madison but less than the University of Texas at Austin, based on the respective universities’ statistics.

“We support, advocate for the population that has historically been marginalized or disenfranchised,” Mills-Novoa said.

That includes women, people with disabilities and minority students, he said.

The office’s goals include improving access for multicultural students, leading improvement and change, improving retention and success, engaging the public and building community.

The office would like to enhance its services through a new multicultural center. The center would bring together all University of Minnesota communities, Mills-Novoa said. It would have a tutor, advising office and computers, he said.

The proposed new center would happen in three to five years if the office receives funding.

Diversity at universities

A diverse university is one that reflects the world, Mills-Novoa said. There is diversity of values, experiences and people, he said.

“Discussions on diversity are richer and deeper if the people involved are from different cultures and world areas,” he said.

Other Big Ten schools also have offices similar to the University of Minnesota’s office.

The University of Michigan’s Office of Institutional Equity’s goal is to make the campus free of discrimination and harassment, said Anthony Walesby, the office’s assistant provost and senior director.

It provides training to help people appreciate and understand other people. The University of Michigan has the Office of Institutional Equity, because minorities bring rich experiences to the university, Walesby said.

Mills-Novoa said the University of Michigan does a good job having a diverse student body, with many of those students coming from out of state. He also said the University of Texas does two things better than the University of Minnesota to foster diversity.

The University of Texas allows undocumented students, sometimes called illegal aliens, to pay in-state tuition. And there is a center in Texas to bring all the education systems of the state together, Mills-Novoa said.

Being in the northern region of the country means diversity just takes longer to get here, Mills-Novoa said. Diversity is in other parts of Minnesota and not just the Twin Cities, he said.

Thomas Poole, associate vice provost for educational equity at Penn State, said life at a university is about intellectual growth. It is also learning about the world in a society becoming more multicultural and more multiracial, he said.

“Corporations are multicultural; corporations want people that are skilled in cross-cultural communication,” he said.

His office’s goal is to “foster diversity experiences” and have a multicultural student body and workforce. The number of multicultural students attending Penn State has increased, although not with huge leaps, every year for the last 10 years, Poole said.

The number of minority students attending the University of Minnesota has increased by almost 3 percent in the last 10 years, based on Office for Multicultural and Academic Affairs statistics. Minority students now make up close to 14 percent of the University of Minnesota’s student population.

Between 2017 and 2020, 33 percent of Minnesota high schoolers will be minorities, Mills-Novoa said.

“The world’s becoming very diverse, a multicultural place,” he said. “It’s not that we have a choice, it’s happening. The question is how do we accommodate that diversity.”

The University of Minnesota’s plan to eliminate General College could hurt that accommodation, he said. Forty percent of minorities at the University of Minnesota come through the college, Mills-Novoa said. Officials involved in the planning process have six to 12 months to figure out how to not lose that diversity, he said.

Mills-Novoa, who is from Cuba, started in General College and said it transformed his life.

Diversity at the University of Minnesota

Sophomore Eddie Mairura, who is black, said he thinks minority students are underrepresented in some colleges, such as the College of Biological Sciences, in which he is enrolled.

He said diversity is low at the University of Minnesota, considering it has so many students.

Diversity is good for varying opinions, he said. But the amount of diversity will not affect his learning, Mairura said.

Certain colleges within the University of Minnesota are not as diverse as others, Mills-Novoa said. The effect is twofold: Diverse students struggle, and other students do not gain the experiences diversity brings, he said.

“I think (the University of Minnesota) can do a lot better,” he said.

For example, fall 2004 numbers show less than 7 percent of students in the College of Architecture and Landscape Architecture reported to be minorities. More than 3 percent are international students in the department.

Alec Sands is a first-year architecture student. He said his classes are not very diverse, and he would learn more if there were more minority students in his classes.

“(Diversity on campus) exposes you to different viewpoints on things, and it makes the classes feel more rounded,” he said.