FARGO — A group created to improve diversity, equity and inclusion at North Dakota State University has wrapped up its work, but that doesn't mean NDSU is stopping its efforts to improve culture on campus, one task force member said.
The Crisis Response Task Force officially disbanded after completing its final report, which was made public Wednesday, Sept. 15. The report that was sent to the NDSU President's Council on Diversity, Inclusion and Respect included accomplishments made since the task force was created in December, as well as ongoing efforts and recommendations for changes in the future.
"The President’s Council on Diversity, Inclusion and Respect and other entities on campus will sustain and build upon these important efforts to foster an environment where everyone feels a sense of belonging, respect, and justice here at NDSU," Provost Margaret Fitzgerald said in a statement.
President Dean Bresciani announced he would create a task force after a Snapchat group titled with racial slur posted remarks that included, "We're not racist, we just prefer white people."
In a separate incident, a video was posted of NDSU students reenacting the death of George Floyd.
The two incidents prompted more than 1,000 people to march around campus on Dec. 4 while calling for the administration to change its policies on how it handles racism and hate speech on campus. That same day, Bresciani announced his intentions to create a task force.
The changes at NDSU did not happen all at once, but rather over a period of time, said Larry Napoleon, an NDSU education professor who was part of the task force. There were many moving parts, he said.
One change included a notification process to inform students about incidents through email alerts. The school created a website that lists complaints that have been filed and the results of the investigations.
"I think the approach to even having that done is indication of the willingness for administration to say, 'We acknowledge what's happening, and we want to make sure we address it in a way that is not swept under the rug,'" Napoleon said.
It also clarified language in the school's code of conduct to improve how NDSU responds to biased-motivated speech and behavior.
Other moves included creating a website dedicated to diversity and inclusion; training for faculty, students and staff; the creation of a diversity, equity and diversity commissioner for student government; and campaigns directed at preventing hate speech.
Probably the most successful shift has been in how faculty and administration listen to students who are impacted by bias-motivated behaviors and actions, he said.
"We really sat down as a group and listened in an authentic way to students," he said. "There was not much we really moved on until we really sat down and listened to students."
Oftentimes, leadership will make decisions for a group without listening to the people impacted by the issues, Napoleon said, adding he was happy that there was a concerted effort to listen to students' input.
Though he said he couldn't speak for the students, he noted students told him they appreciated the sincerity and urgency with which the task force listened to concerns.
"They were actually a part of what was happening," he said. "They had a real voice in what was going to happen."
The task force recommended to continue efforts to improve inclusion and several changes to be made in the future. That included establishing a diversity and inclusion advocates and allies program, policy on harassment and bullying being presented on syllabi, creating more diversity and inclusion classes and strategizing how to communicate to the public about creating a more welcoming and inclusive community.
There is still more work to be done, Napoleon said. The issues NDSU faces have longstanding historical roots in the U.S., and the goal is to change the cultural norms at the university, he said.
In short, the process was being culturally proactive instead of incident reactive, he said.
"NDSU does not exist in a silo," he said. "This is not the kind of thing where you put some policy in place and you walk off and it's done. It's work that lives and breathes because the problem lives and breathes."