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President discusses diversity, building common understanding on NIU Insider

November 19, 2015
NIU President Doug Baker speaks Wednesday to residence hall community advisers.

NIU President Doug Baker addresses NIU residence hall community advisers at the start of the fall semester.

In the wake of recent events at the University of Missouri and other college campuses around the country, NIU President Doug Baker discussed the university’s commitment to inclusion and diversity, and the importance of creating an environment of mutual respect during his most recent edition of the NIU Insider podcast.

“The diversity that makes us rich with insights and perspectives can also lead to misunderstanding and conflict,” said Baker during his biweekly appearance in the podcast series.  “How we deal with that conflict will determine the strength of our learning environment and the intellectual vitality of our university community.”

President Baker highlighted action taken by the university earlier in the semester when a student posted on social media a photograph that showed a self-portrait in black face and included a racially-insensitive caption that was offensive to both majority and minority members of the university community.

Baker said the university has worked with the student who is truly remorseful and had been unware of the implications of the act.  The incident, which occurred before Halloween, provided an opportunity to develop a broader educational campaign focused on the theme “Conscientious Costumes” to emphasize that racial or other types of stereotyping, even in holiday costume, can be hurtful and offensive.  “Our goal as a university is to prepare students for life and careers in a diverse society where cultural competence will be key to their success,” Baker said.

President Baker mentioned that he and several university administrators recently met with the Black Student Union to discuss the black-face incident and broader issues of inclusion and climate on the NIU campus.

As result of conversations with the BSU and other campus groups, the president has asked chief diversity officer Vernese Edghill-Walden to work with university and community members to develop a dialog series to be launched early in the spring semester to share perspectives on these difficult issues and build a sense of common understanding that will strengthen the foundation for positive change.

President Baker’s NIU Insider podcast can be heard in its entirety via the media player below.

Previous editions of the NIU Insider podcast are posted at http://www.niu.edu/president/insider/index.shtml and are also available on iTunes.