Survey highlights diversity, needs of CFANS students

CFANS partnered with different groups to increase diversity.

Survey highlights diversity, needs of CFANS students

Rachel Raveling

Five years after the initiation of a diversity plan on the St. Paul campus to meet the growing needs of its population, the campus is still searching for ways to improve life and services for students of color, women and other groups.

The College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource SciencesâÄô Committee of Diversity and Inclusion first created a diversity plan to respond to the University of MinnesotaâÄôs and communityâÄôs increasing diversity, Karl Lorenz, director of diversity initiatives in CFANS, said.

Ten years ago the majority of students in CFANS came from rural environments, Lorenz said.

Since then there has been a shift in where students are coming from. About 60 percent of students come to CFANS from urban areas, he said. In addition, students are increasingly female and heterogeneous.

âÄúWe need to meet that challenge,âÄù Lorenz said.

He said the college needs to change how it works and how it relates to many of its students.

In 2006 the plan included a âÄúclimate surveyâÄù in CFANS. It was used to evaluate how well students were being supported by the college and its student resources.

A second survey will start this month but will not be limited to CFANS. Instead the entire St. Paul campus will be surveyed for the first time. It will measure what new issues have developed and which existing issues the campus still needs to address.

Emily Ehlinger, who works in student services and diversity on the St. Paul campus, said the survey informed CFANS that, in 2006, students from the gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and ally community âÄî and in a smaller percentage, veterans âÄî felt unsupported.

The climate around the GLBTA community feels different on St. Paul campus, GLBTA programs office director Ross Neely  said. He said there is a greater sense of isolation and a lot of classesâÄô curriculums do not reflect the GLBTA culture. Minneapolis has more resources and events on a regular basis.

âÄúI think we could do more to increase inclusion,âÄù Neely said, adding his office could also do more in St. Paul.

As a result of the 2006 survey, the St. Paul campus GLBTA Advisory Group was created to provide initiatives and events for the community on the St. Paul campus. Ehlinger also acts as a member of the advisory group.

 âÄúBecause weâÄôre on St. Paul campus, we give that more focus and we want our students and faculty to feel supported and feel like they have proper resources,âÄù Ehlinger said.

The group partners with other colleges and groups in St. Paul to learn the needs of unsupported students and address their issues.

âÄúThe events and partnerships have definitely created more dialogue and conversation about issues on campus,âÄù Ehlinger said.

Lorenz said that the diversity initiative has been helpful in other areas, too.

A reward system was put into place. It encouraged instructors to reach out to diverse communities, some of which were awarded $1,000 in professional grants to use over three years. An award for inclusion is given to instructors who take it upon themselves to build diversity.

CFANS has also decided to incorporate social meetings for female students and faculty to share a space for discussion, Lorenz said. Despite stereotypes, in fall 2010 more than 55 percent of CFANS students were female.

The meetings are new to the college this fall and encourage women on campus to talk about what it means to be a female practicing science as well as the environment.

As part of the plan, the diversity and inclusion office offers programming to address issues. In mid-October, an event will be held to bring attention to the intersection between race and ethnicity and sexual and gender identity. Another similar event planned for November may focus on GLBTA individuals in corporate environments, but the topic has not been officially decided yet.

Increasingly, these initiatives are used to recruit students to the University, raise numbers of students of color and create a more representative population. Lorenz said these reasons are only a small percentage of why the college has become involved in diversifying.

They are trying to encourage students to incorporate their cultural differences into their education. It is also important for teachers to incorporate other cultures and learning styles into the class. Interdisciplinary learning is required in the collegeâÄôs new curriculum, like studying Chinese medicine alongside Western medicine, he said.

âÄúThe world is becoming a more diverse place and now we need to teach students to live in that diverse climate,âÄù he said.