University Opportunity Centers will have room for diversity, rep says

KELOLAND.com Original

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — South Dakota’s six public universities have until January 1 to establish a plan that fits the State Board of Regents’ Opportunity For All” directive. They are scheduled to present updates at the Oct. 6 and 7 BOR meetings.

One piece of the mandate is to create Opportunity Centers.

Opportunity Centers are the umbrella under which diversity offices or multicultural offices could still exist, said Nate Lukkes, general counsel for the BOR.

Lukkes said Opportunity Centers would be “one-stop shops for all students…”

“We want to catch all the students that need help and get them to the right place,” Lukkes said.

Diversity centers were the topic of an Oct. 3, 2019, panel presentation to the BOR and were a topic of discussion in several exchanges from July 2, 2018 and Oct. 22, 2019, between several legislators and the BOR officials.

Diversity, or multi-cultural offices or diversity committees focus on assisting students of color, of the LGBTQ+ community, and similar. The entities may provide study space, academic counseling, social activities as well as campus activities to educate and celebrate diversity. Those descriptions are based on multiple campus websites.

Campuses also have TRIO offices that provide services to first-generation and income-eligible students. For example, South Dakota State University offers two TRIO programs that support first-generation and income-eligible students in college access, preparation and success, according to its website.

Students of color and first-generation students, for example, have lower graduation rates than whites.

The six-year graduation rate for black students is 40% and 39% for American Indian/Alaska Native students while the rate is 70% for whites, according to National Center for Education Statistics.

About 54% of first-generation college students graduate in six years, according to the Center for First Generation Student Success. 50% in six years.

Lukkes said offices or centers that work with diversity on campuses may have different names and different structures. The work those entities do is not inconsistent with the BOR’s Opportunity For All message released in August, Lukkes said.

The BOR would not characterize diversity offices as failing, Lukkes said. Also, in general about issues such as Critical Race Theory (CRT) and related, Lukkes did not say specifically if the BOR heard from students served by diversity offices or campus staff and administration that there was concern about CRT on campus and concerns about needing to rework diversity offices.

Lukkes said he wanted to be careful not to overstate. “We hear from students and parents and community members on a whole host of issues,” Lukkes said. Diversity offices, CRT and similar are just some of the issues on which the BOR hears comments.

There is a desire to take a “fresh look” at those entities to make sure they are not stagnating, Lukkes said.

The Opportunity For All mandate is in response to a May 24 directive from Gov. Kristi Noem and with strong interest from at least several legislators.

The Opportunity Centers are under the Opportunity For All’s four tenets of: (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.

Lukkes said he couldn’t specifically say how an event such as the Roma Festival, organized under the multicultural office at Northern States University would fit under Opportunity For All. This year’s Roma Festival included an art exhibit featuring Roma art and history, according to the NSU website.

KELOLAND News contacted NSU and USD about their diversity and multicultural offices and how they could be impacted by Opportunity For All and if any students served by the offices or any staff or administration were contacted for input before the August mandate was released by the BOR.

“USD is still determining how best to meet the charge of the board, and will present its draft proposal to the board at its October meeting,” Michelle Cwach, the assistant vice president of marketing communications and university relations at USD, said in an email.

“Campus leadership has engaged some units and members of the campus community in preparing for the implementation of Opportunity for All,” Justin Fraase of NSU said in an email to KELOLAND News “(NSU’s new president) President Schnoor will present plans at upcoming forums where campus leadership will seek input and feedback from faculty, staff and students.”

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