BEMIDJI—BSU leaders officially opened the school’s new Center for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion at a small ceremony Thursday.
The center, university staff said, will be a hub and for civic engagement, leadership and international and multicultural understanding. The opening is part of a multi-day celebration of civil rights icon Martin Luther King, Jr. On Monday, Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, a “Day of Service” is scheduled, where BSU students will perform service projects at various community agencies, such as the Boys and Girls Club of the Bemidji Area and the Bemidji Community Food Shelf. There also will be a Friday night screening of “Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.: An Historical Perspective” in the university’s American Indian Resource Center.
The center sits in Hobson Memorial Union, near the student senate’s offices. It’s the brainchild of Student Senate President Eshfaq Ullah, Senate Public Relations Chair Kale Hennek and recent graduate Allison Pasiuk. BSU was the only Minnesota State school that didn’t already have one, Ullah said. So, more than a year ago, the trio envisioned a consolidated space for students there to talk about the issues that being non-white or non-straight can raise and host programming or activities that celebrate or promote their cultures or identities.
The university hired Brian Xiong to head the new center in December, and his first day was Monday. Xiong said the center will promote diversity and make sure the campus is welcoming to all students, particularly students of color and LGBTQA students. That means recruiting and retaining students of color, promoting diversity-minded programs and helping staff with diversity training.
“We know that the U.S. population is increasing and the majority will become the minority and minority will become the majority in the next 20 years,” Xiong said. “And we need to prepare for that…Oftentimes, we talk about what we need to prepare student to college. But is the university prepared for the students?”
Establishing the center, BSU President Faith Hensrud said, will build momentum for the university’s broader strategic plan, which aims to attract hundreds more students and staff of color there by 2023, among other goals.
After cutting the ribbon at the center itself, BSU students and staff headed upstairs to the school’s Beaux Arts Ballroom for readings by the members of the Boys and Girls Club of the Bemidji Area, a performance by the university choir and a reflection on King’s life by Interim Dean of Students Jesse Grant.