Professional students call for increased support of equity and diversity

Professional Student Government wants to see more training and more diverse representation.

Kait Ecker

The Professional Student Government passed a resolution Tuesday asking the University of Minnesota to strengthen its support of diversity, equity and inclusion in professional schools.

It asks for comprehensive diversity plans from the professional schools with defined diversity-related goals and an evaluation of demographics within each school. Also included in the resolution’s recommendations is a coordinated effort between professional schools and the Office for Equity and Diversity to have diversity programming in each school’s orientation. The resolution was shaped by research, conversations with students, a PSG survey and discussions with administrators.

PSG President Alanna Pawlowski said she has seen professional schools make efforts to be more inclusive, but it’s not enough.

“There are differences in what professional schools offer in terms of support for having a diverse student body,” she said.

The professional schools vary not only in the amount of diversity and equity programming offered, but also in the length and content of their orientations, Pawlowski said. Most schools don’t cover diversity and equity in their orientations. Having such programming or training included in orientation would reach all incoming students and set a tone for their time at the University, she said.

“I would like to eventually stop hearing from students that they don’t feel welcome in their program,” Pawlowski said. “I want an environment that is conducive for all students to learn.”

Ian Taylor Jr., a law student graduating this spring and a member of the Black Law Students Association, said he was concerned the BLSA wasn’t formally consulted in the creation of the resolution.

“If you want to create something you know that’s going to have an impact on communities, working with communities from the very beginning is pretty important,” Taylor Jr. said.

Taylor Jr. also said he does not feel welcome at the Law School.

“I face an implicit message that I am not welcomed at the law school,” Taylor Jr. said. “There are little to no students of my background. I’m the only black male in my class of about 157, so there are no students of my background to enrich the student experience.”

He said the resolution will bring organization and intelligence to achieving diversity goals, and he was surprised these goals weren’t more centralized before.

While programming can be helpful, Taylor Jr. said, he doesn’t think it’s enough.

“I think it’s cute to have diversity training, but diversity training is a poor substitute for diverse representation,” he said.

The OED, which offers training and education, has been working with PSG to address increasing diversity and equity training opportunities for professional students.

“In OED’s consideration of educational initiatives, most critical is programming that addresses urgent needs facing students, especially issues that make it hard for students to feel a sense of belonging, including barriers to thriving personally and professionally,” Michael Goh, the vice president of the OED, said in a written statement to the Minnesota Daily.

Pawlowski said more work needs to be done beyond the resolution, but she hopes this is a feasible starting point.

“I’m not the only one who’s having these challenges. And black students are not the only ones who are having these challenges,” Taylor Jr. said. “I’m not the only one who’s feeling like this.”