Diversity Academy returns for second year



Wren Murphy, Diversity and Inclusion Reporter

The Diversity Academy aims to raise awareness of issues affecting South Dakota State students, faculty and staff in its second year of the program.

Students, faculty, staff and members of the community attend sessions to receive a Certificate of Cultural Competency. Going to five or more sessions gets someone a certificate.

“The focus is to show broad diversity and inclusion,” said Nadine Gjerde, the Americans with Disabilities Act Coordinator. “And to get more information to people on campus.”

Each of the Diversity Academy’s eight sessions is 10:30 a.m. to noon on Friday, Jan. 25 in Morrill Hall room 104. The first session is called “Understanding Diversity.” The academy will bring in several presenters from outside SDSU, including diversity consultant Stan Pearson, chief diversity officer Donna Brown of Minnesota State University and Michael Grewe of LGBTQIA Student Services at Augsburg University.

The Diversity Academy started last spring semester under the former director of the Office of Diversity, Inclusion, Equity and Access, Nathan Ziegler. The current interim director of the office, Kas Williams, hopes the changes she has made to the Diversity Academy will benefit people who attend.

“He [Ziegler] had 16 workshops, and I thought that was a lot,” Williams said. “So this year I decided to focus in on those areas that need attention.”

These areas concern LGBT+ and Native American issues, supporting underrepresented staff and faculty and disability and accessibility.

“The purpose of the academy is making the invisible visible,” Williams said. “We have so many unheard students on campus and the Diversity Academy is a way to make them heard.”

Native American and accessibility topics are getting a spotlight because of the Wokini Initiative and the new ADA coordinator, Nadine Gjerde.

“There are so many great things going on and we need to be excited about it,” Williams said.

LGBT+ issues are important to the Diversity Academy because Williams wants SDSU to be a role model for other universities.

“I want us to be so advanced in the LGBT+ area that other schools look at SDSU to follow what we’re doing,” she said.

Williams wants to focus on underrepresented faculty and staff because she believes last year’s Campus Climate Survey indicates some faculty and staff do not feel supported.

“For underrepresented people to come to South Dakota is a challenge in and of itself,” Williams said. “They love their work, but we have to find a better way to support them while they’re here.”

The university-wide strategic plan Imagine 2023 has five core values, one of which is diversity. The strategic plan codified SDSU’s commitment to diversity, and Gjerde, the ADA coordinator, hopes the academy will help the plan advance.

Jordan Hilbert, the retention adviser for TRIO Student Support Services, is going to attend sessions this year despite earning his Certificate of Cultural Competency last year.

“They did a good job of not judging people who weren’t very experienced,” Hilbert said. “It was very welcoming, and I didn’t feel like an outsider. They really cared about the growth of everyone in knowledge and diversity.”

Hilbert advises everyone to come even if they feel nervous.

“I took something away that I learned or hadn’t heard of,” Hilbert said. “So many meaningful conversations take place and I think they’re exciting and necessary.”

Williams hopes that the Diversity Academy helps SDSU become inclusive over the next few years.

“At SDSU, we have some of the best people to support our students,” she said. “We are our best practice. We just need to get moving, and that’s why we have the Diversity Academy.”