Brenda Allen makes a point during inclusion and diversity dialogue at Auraria Library

The Minority Affairs Committee (MAC) led a wide-ranging discussion about underrepresented students and the issues they face — including financial aid, academic support, campus climate and integration — during a gathering at Auraria Library.

The lunchtime session was part of MAC’s “Inclusion Dialogues: Concerns and Inquiries,” which began with faculty/staff and student focus groups last year. Last week’s meeting was a follow-up to the University of Colorado Denver Faculty Assembly initiative, sharing focus group feedback with about 50 administrators, faculty and staff representing various student services and academic areas across campus.

“What we found from (the focus groups) was that financial aid is an issue for all students, but it certainly can be a concern for minority students,” said Doug Krause, a MAC member and clinical assistant professor in the College of Arts & Media. “The other things were just a sense of engagement and communication. Those are the themes … we presented (today).”

Brenda Allen, PhD, associate vice chancellor for diversity and inclusion, said the Office of Diversity and Inclusion, which serves as a clearinghouse for diversity information, is working on an in-depth inventory of the university’s variety of programs, resources, courses and curricula related to diversity issues. Allen, who has been in the CU System for more than 20 years, most recently as a professor in the Department of Communication, moved into her new position last August.

She noted that other initiatives are under way, including the development of a resources manual for faculty and students, spearheaded by Associate Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs Raul Cardenas, PhD, as well as efforts by Educational Opportunity Programs to enhance the experience of underrepresented students. “The staff there are very thoughtful about bridging the student experience on campus and their educational experience with the whole student, and understanding some of those cultural needs,” Allen said.

In 2012, the underrepresented freshmen student population at increased to 47 percent on the Denver Campus. The university’s strategic objectives include recruiting underrepresented students from Denver public high schools and retaining them through degree completion.

Khushnur Dadabhoy, director of the Office of Student Life, said communication between faculty and student affairs sometimes lacks because “we are all working in our silos.” She added, “We all do a lot of things, but, unfortunately, we don’t have a very effective way of communicating with each other … It’s on us to keep the communication up.”

One attendee suggested that the administration could create a template that outlines how each department is expected to meet various standards in order to fulfill student retention objectives. Such a template could “establish some kind of common ground across the university … perhaps with some kind of reward to departments that adhere,” he said.

David Clubb, senior director of international admissions and services, agreed that a structure, with authority to move a campuswide initiative through, is necessary. “We can create student organizations or offices for every single diverse group and that may have very little impact, in fact, on the quality of life of all those diverse students,” he said. “Whereas, an intervention at a higher level of organization might.”

Other topics discussed included giving faculty tools to work with various student populations, how to define underrepresented students, and how to address financial aid and engagement issues.

Allen said more dialogue is needed on the topic of diversity and inclusion and expects a focused action plan will emerge from the discussions. Krause agreed, saying MAC will move forward from the latest discussion with positive actions and initiatives.

The executive summary of MAC’s focus group discussions can be viewed here.

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