SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — As January comes to a close, all six public universities in South Dakota are now in compliance with the “Opportunity for All” directive from the Board of Regents (BOR).
The directive, which was announced last August, provided a framework of four tenets for the universities to follow by a January 1 deadline. Those four tenets are (1) offering opportunity for all students; (2) proudly supporting the United States of America; (3) safeguarding the rich tradition of American universities; and (4) offering curriculum based upon widely held and accepted knowledge and thought.
The directive included that all universities offer Opportunity Centers on campus as a “one-stop shop for all students.” In the fall when the mandate was introduced, the Board of Regents faced backlash from some students who worried about the status of diversity centers on campus. In an October 4 interview with KELOLAND News, Nate Lukkes with the Board of Regents said there would still be room for diversity but the centers on campus may have different names and structures.
Students express frustration and disappointment
Students at the University of South Dakota (USD) say the introduction of the Opportunity Center on campus has been frustrating and painful.
Rachel Overstreet is a sophomore at USD and the president of the Tiospaye Student Council, a club that supports Native American students on campus while providing outreach, education and cultural events for the USD community. For Overstreet, the former Center for Diversity and Community on USD’s campus was a factor in her decision to attend the university.
“When I first ever looked at USD, the Center for Diversity and Community was pointed out to me on a tour and was something I was really excited about,” Overstreet said.
A spokesperson with the university said they are still in the process of hiring a director for the Office of Multicultural Affairs and for the Opportunity Center. According to the plan sent to the Board of Regents, a variety of student-centered offices will now utilize the space to provide the services formerly provided by the Center for Diversity and Community. The space that used to be the Center for Diversity and Community will now be used as a “collaborative space” for students while the Opportunity Center will be located across the hall.
Right now, Overstreet says the collaborative space is no different than other spaces for studying or meeting among students, with conference spaces available to reserve and quiet hang-out spots.
Prior to the Board of Regents directive, Overstreet says the Center for Diversity and Community functioned as a centralized office space for the multicultural clubs on campus. The African Student Association, Asian American Student Association, Cultural Wellness Coalition, International Club, Latino-Hispanic Organization, Union of African-American Students, and USD Spectrum all had a home base in the center. The new Opportunity Center will be a more generalized space to connect students to all resources on campus.
“At the Opportunity Center, we’ll guide you to the student support service you or your student needs to navigate life at USD,” the Opportunity Center page reads on USD’s website.
Overstreet told KELOLAND News that she has noticed a significant decrease in traffic to the new Opportunity Center. “It’s not necessarily fulfilling a need that wasn’t present on campus,” she said.
For third-year student Addison Miller, the Opportunity Center has changed the meaning behind what the space used to be. “The feeling of community and home has been taken away from it,” Miller said.
Miller said as a white student, he found the center to be impactful and a space for many students to use, no matter their background or identity.
Miller is the President of Young Democrats of South Dakota and is currently running for president of the Student Government Association at USD. In his role on student government, Miller said that the organizations that were in the Center for Diversity and Community received “large” status when it came to funding. That was because of the influence and impact the clubs had on student life, Miller said.
Due to the new directive, those organizations no longer hold the space in the Center for Diversity and Community they once did. In listening sessions with students in the fall of 2021, the Board of Regents told students that they could not allow some organizations to have offices, while others did not.
For Tiospaye Student Council members, they continue to operate out of the Native American Cultural Center, but no longer feel like they have a space to connect with the various multicultural clubs on campus, according to Overstreet. She said she is unsure of where other organizations ended up.
“It was wonderful to be able to meet people who maybe have similar struggles that I’m going through, but also different lived experiences,” Overstreet said.
During the sessions with the Board of Regents, Miller said he’s never seen the Muenster University Center so full.
“People were energized, they were hurt, and they were thrown off by this campus that had promised to protect them, built them a community for years and then ripped it out of their hands,” Miller said. “It wasn’t just people of color; it wasn’t just LGBT communities… Everyone was hurting.”
Now, Miller worries how those clubs will function without the center and the community that students of all backgrounds built in that space.
Board of Regents focused on success of all students
According to Nate Lukkes, general counsel for the Board of Regents, the BOR has been in conversation with the universities as they get these programs implemented. That includes flexibility with the board as universities find what is suitable for their campus, as long as it remains consistent with the charge from the Board of Regents, Lukkes said in an email to KELOLAND News on January 24.
As the semester progresses, Lukkes says they are measuring the success of the centers by how the individual needs of all students are being met.
“There is no doubt we will continue to learn and improve as the implementation of the opportunity centers moves forward,” Lukkes said. “Part of that process will include the solicitation and sharing of feedback, lessons learned and best practices across the system.”
Universities adhere to Board of Regents directive
On campuses across the state, the charge from the BOR is being put into place in a variety of ways to better accommodate the diverse needs of students.
At South Dakota State University (SDSU), the Wintrode Student Success and Opportunity Center has been established to follow the directive from the Board of Regents. An implementation team with a staff member from the office of Multicultural Affairs, School of American and Global Studies, TRIO program, Center for the Enhancement of Teaching and Learning and student representative will meet throughout the spring semester to consult on how to implement changes that best support students on campus. That includes a Student Success Network that will meet monthly to host training programs and help students get connected to services on campus.
“The Wintrode Student Success and Opportunity Center opens possibilities for greater collaboration between people and programs that impact student success at SDSU,” director Jody Owen said in a statement.
Northern State University has created a virtual Opportunity Center that directs students to all resources they might need on campus. The center consists of the Academic Affairs Offices, Student Affairs Offices and the virtual Opportunity Center, all of which report directly to the provost or Dean of Students. NSU also created the Center for Public History and Civic Engagement in the Williams Library, which provides programming and speakers to promote “historic and civic literacy and engagement.”
At Black Hills State University, the center will temporarily be located in the Office of Academic Affairs once renovations to the E.Y. Berry Learning Center are complete. The center is an umbrella for a variety of offices including disability services, Chiesman Committee for Civic Engagement, Student Support Services/TRIO and a number of existing academic resources.
South Dakota Mines will utilize a virtual presence through this webpage for the Opportunity for All directive. According to a plan sent to the Board of Regents, the university will rework the charter of the existing Inclusion Committee to fit with the new Opportunity for All center. No student-run organizations will fall under the umbrella of the new center.
The former Center for Diversity and Community at the University of South Dakota will be a collaborative space for students to connect. That space will now include the Office of Multicultural Affairs and will have a rotation of services such as Disability Services, Veterans Services, and more. The Opportunity Center will be located across the hall and will function as “a central connecting point for student success resources, centralize student leadership development opportunities and ensure campus discussion and dialogue is intentional, robust and varied.” The plan sent to the Board of Regents states that several offices under the Student Services branch, including the Office of Multicultural Affairs, will provide students with similar resources that the Center for Diversity and Community provided.
Dakota State University will create a physical space with the Trojan Zone Welcome Center to assist current students, per the directive. The space will be rearranged to allow committees, clubs and organizations to collaborate together. In addition to the space, DSU will create a virtual student union that will consist of several offices to provide opportunity for all students.
You can read all of the plans being implemented under the Opportunity for All directive here.