Striving for diversity and inclusion

Racial relations and inclusion issues have captured national headlines in recent months. From events in Ferguson, Missouri to the protests at the University of Missouri over racial inequality have spurred even more conversations nationwide. South Dakota State University officials have worked to increase diversity on campus and to make everyone feel welcome. Everyone has an opinion on how SDSU is doing with these issues. In that spirit, we talked to eight students and faculty on campus about their experiences at SDSU.

KySean Gregory

Major: Advertising

Hometown: Windsor, Virginia

With his style, colored hair and facial piercing, KySean Gregory stands out on the South Dakota State University campus.

“My personality overwhelms a lot of people before they overwhelm me,” Gregory said.

Gregory, a native of Virginia, said he decided to attend SDSU largely due to the inexpensive tuition as the nation grapples with skyrocketing tuition.  

“I picked SDSU because it was inexpensive for my parents’ pockets,” Gregory said. ”SDSU has done a pretty good job at giving me a well-rounded education.”

Gregory, who refers to himself as the only “openly gay black student at the university,” said he has not faced any homophobia or racism in his three years on campus.

“I have never felt excluded because I’m black and gay,” Gregory said.

Gregory, who was adopted by a white family, said he always felt comfortable around white people.

“I didn’t experience a cultural shock at all by coming to a predominantly white university,” Gregory said. 

He attends the Gay Straight Alliance and the Black Student Alliance meetings weekly. Gregory is a member of the Pride of Dakotas Marching Band and the University Program Council.

“I never had any inhospitality towards me during my time at SDSU,” Gregory said. “The school is inclusive.”

The rising senior plans to become a marketing coordinator or an arts director after he graduates from SDSU next year.

Tevin King

Major: Entrepreneurial Studies

Hometown: Chicago, Illinois

The first time freshman Tevin King heard of South Dakota State University was after a preparatory school coach had informed him that SDSU was interested in recruiting him.

After some research he decided to go to Brookings and play basketball for the Jackrabbits and coach Nagy. However, Brookings is not the type of city that King grew up in or learned to play the game in.

“At times it was kind of tough because of the violence and the adversity factors,” King said. “You gain more of a mature feel and more experience at a young age in Chicago, which I thought was good for me.”

King played basketball for Providence St. Mel High School located in East Garfield Park, where there were 500 murders in 2012 alone, according to the FBI.

“People were grimy and they got into you, which made you tougher on and off the court,” King said. “At a young age you couldn’t even step on the court if you weren’t ready to catch an elbow at the park.”

After four years of basketball at Providence St. Mel, King went to play a year of basketball at St. John’s Northwestern Military Academy, an all-male college preparatory and leadership development school located in Delafield, Wisconsin.

“It was a great and humbling experience for me,” King said. “We did similar things as the military core and there were a lot of sweat and tears that went into it.”

After a year at St. John’s, King decided on SDSU and was a solid backup guard for seniors George Marshall, Deondre Parks and Jake Bittle. Next season, King is likely to start at point guard for the Jackrabbits.

Adair Chase

Major: Consumer Affairs

Hometown: Volga, South Dakota

Growing up only seven miles away from the university in Volga, South Dakota, Adair Chase always knew she’d eventually attend South Dakota State. 

Chase is a senior at SDSU majoring in consumer affairs, but she’s also a member of the 114th Fighter Wing-Air Guard Unit in South Dakota. 

She spends her time in the Veterans Resource Center, more commonly known as the VRC.

“There were people in my classes that I didn’t know were in the service until I met them in the VRC,” Chase said in regards to inclusion on campus. “We also are in connection with the staff of VRC, they send out emails about different opportunities on campus.”

Having this space allows all of the service members to connect, Chase said. She has seen more non-traditional students using this space, which gives them something to talk about.

Chase said that change could start with allowing more student organizations to come together.

“If you walk in The Union you have SA, BSA, the VRC, the Hobo Day Committee and Collegian,” Chase said. “I feel that we all need to be in our own building. I know the funding isn’t there, but that is how you get people together and to work together.”

As far as diversity goes, Chase thinks that SDSU does a fair job, but can always improve. She said the vast diversity on campus allows for more learning experiences for all students.

“Diversity makes SDSU what SDSU is,” she said. “We have a variety of different majors, race and backgrounds. It helps bring different situations to the table.”

Alejandro Sanchez

Major: Nutrition & Dietetics

Hometown: Plano, Texas

Alejandro Sanchez, a junior nutrition and dietetics major, is one of the fastest 800-meter runners in school history at South Dakota State. Originally from Plano, Texas, Sanchez transferred to SDSU from Southwest Minnesota State in the fall of 2015.

Sanchez, who transferred to become part of SDSU’s Track and Field team, knew that SDSU would have a primarily white student body, similar to what he experienced at SMSU, but he sees a correlation between local population and the diversity on campus.

“Considering the small number of Hispanics in South Dakota, it’s no surprise there isn’t much diversity here,” Sanchez said. “They do try putting on events here and there and have diversity clubs, but it’s still very slim considering I come from a huge Hispanic area in Texas.”

Though Sanchez believes SDSU does seem to do a decent job of promoting different clubs and activities for more cultural diversity, particularly in light of the small Hispanic population in the area, he sees room for growth in both the particulars of how the school is run and in events held.

“I would offer more diversity scholarships and recruit Hispanic professors to teach here and help/participate with bringing out weekly Hispanic events that are open to the public, “ Sanchez said. “Athletics are also huge here, so I would find a way to put some Hispanic culture in these games, maybe during half time. A Hispanic radio station or two would be nice to see as well.”

Amanda John

Major: Political Science & Sociology

Amanda John has always been very passionate about diversity issues. 

John came to South Dakota last year to further her education. From her perspective, South Dakota State University is making good strides to promote diversity but there are areas that need improvement.

 “The diversity programs are very helpful,” John said. “They need to make more efforts getting people to attend them.”

 However, John realizes that people can “lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink.” In other words, people who don’t want to open themselves up to diversity conversations, won’t—and no one can force them to.

 “I would definitely ask that people be more open-minded,” John said. “If you’re going to believe something, you should believe it despite what anyone else says. If you can’t open yourself to a little bit of [discussion] here and there, you aren’t really building and growing in that belief, are you?”

 One stride that John wishes SDSU would take is to require the Students’ Association to attend more minority events.

 “You want the people who represent you to fully understand you,” John said. “The Senate should be way more involved than they are now.”

 “A lot of white people don’t fully understand the basic problems of minorities,” John said. An example is getting her hair done in this area. Very few people know how to style African American hair, John said. The salons that can are very expensive.

 “Personally, sometimes it feels that I am at a constant disadvantage,” John said.

Even so, John likes Brookings. Inclusivity is something that can be improved everywhere, including Texas, the state she calls home when in America.

 “I think ignorance is something you find everywhere,” John said. “We’re all ignorant about something…It’s always a learning experience. Isn’t that partly what we’re here in college for—to immerse in different cultures?”

Andy Rausch

Major: Animal Science

Hometown: Hoven, South Dakota

South Dakota and graduating from a class of eight students, Andy Rausch’s experience on SDSU’s campus has been different than most.

 “Brookings is obviously a lot more diverse,” Rausch said. “In Hoven, every business is either agriculture or it relies directly on agriculture.”

 In Rausch’s opinion, diversity is extremely important to not only SDSU, but the human race as a whole.

 “If we were all alike, how boring would the world be?” he said. “In the Midwest, it’s easy to get stuck in our ways and close ourselves off from worlds of opportunities.”

 When it comes to the campus culture, Rausch feels included in his college. He says that for the most part, the students in the College of Agriculture and Biological Sciences are students who come from small towns and have similar interests.

 “To feel included, I kind of think we just need to include ourselves,” Rausch said. “It’s college, not preschool.”

 When speaking about diversity issues on campus, Rausch relies on his religion to handle issues.

 “A person is a person. We’re all equal,” Rausch said. “Just because we don’t see eye to eye on all of the issues doesn’t mean I love them any less. 

Tristen FlyingHorse 

Major: Entrepreneurial Studies

Hometown: McLaughlin, South Dakota

Tristen FlyingHorse came to South Dakota State University from a small high school where he knew everyone and almost everyone was the same race.

 He was struck by how different the university environment was compared to what he was used to at his high school.

 “I try to push myself to go to these other events and try to diversify myself essentially and meet other people from other backgrounds, other places,” said FlyingHorse, from McLaughlin, South Dakota on the Standing Rock Indian Reservation.

 He is involved in organizations related to his American Indian culture, including American Indian Student Association (AISA) and American Indian Science and Engineering Society (AISES). He is the vice president of AISA and an ex officio on the Students’ Association for AISES.

 It wasn’t always this way for him, FlyingHorse said. When he first came to college, he said that he barely spoke to people. He would say “hi,” but not have a conversation. But his time at the American Indian Education Cultural Center has changed that for him.

 “It makes me feel more welcomed that they’re really trying to bring us out of our shells because a lot of people are really shy and timid when they come here,” he said. 

The AIECC pushed him to meet new people and be more involved. FlyingHorse said his experience is different because he has light skin and doesn’t “look” Native American, but his name shows his culture.

 “I know some people can be racist but I don’t have to deal with that because I am light skinned, essentially,” he said. “I didn’t think some things like that were happening until I heard people’s personal stories … going to [the diversity summit] helped me to see that it is still there.”

Nathan Ziegler

Director of ESL at SDSU

Nathan Ziegler is the director of the English Second Language (ESL) Program at South Dakota State University, which allows him to work with students who come from multiple types of backgrounds.

“Having people from diverse backgrounds really benefits our school,” Ziegler said. “It is also important for our community because it helps us grow.”

As the campus works on improving diversity through awareness and clubs, Ziegler said he feels there is another part that is helping improve this aspect. 

“A lot of people on campus are really pushing towards embracing diversity,” Ziegler said. “These different offices that are being put together are aiming for that inclusivity.”

Ziegler said that a way for SDSU to improve its outlook on diversity is by having better collaboration from the students. Even though there are clubs and offices, students aren’t taking enough advantage of these different opportunities to express their opinion or even listening to someone else’s opinion.

SDSU is working on hiring a chief diversity officer, which Ziegler said could bolster the engagement with students and voicing their opinions. The chief diversity officer will bring the value of bringing in students from different backgrounds and broadening the diversity at our school.

“There is always room for improvement,” Ziegler said. “We never want to plateau, but I feel that we are moving in the right direction.”