Nonprofit organization recognizes UNA for diversity

Watoto Memphis Performing Art Academy perform dances inspired by gospel music and the music of W.C. Handy at the 2016 Culture Fest. Culture Fest is one of the initiatives of the Office of Diversity and Institutional Equity. 

The nonprofit organization Minority Access, Inc., presented UNA with an award Sept. 15 for the school’s commitment to diversity and inclusion.

The school will receive formal recognition for efforts to make the campus diverse at the 17th Annual National Role Models Conference in Washington, DC, Sept. 30 – Oct.2. Office of Diversity and Institutional Equity Director Joan Williams will accept the award.

Because of the work people on campus put in, the award comes as no surprise, Williams said.

“The sheer fact that UNA has a strategic diversity plan speaks volumes particularly because it’s approved by the board of trustees,” Williams said.

Students can find the five year strategic plan on the UNA website.

One of the five aspirations of UNA is to promote diversity, according to UNA’s Strategic Plan.

“If you look at our campus and policies that we have in place, I think we’re succeeding,” Williams said. “Initiatives like Diversity Education Week and the Diversity Student Ambassador Program is what made UNA stand out.”

Williams created the DSA three years ago to promote diversity and inclusion on campus and in the community.

“For (DSA), we concentrate on being a respectful university, and as far as UNA goes, I do believe we implement that,” said Kijana Mitchell, president of DSA. “But there’s always room for more education. There’s no such thing as being too educated on an issue, and that’s why Diversity Student Ambassadors are here.”

For students interested in joining Diversity Student Ambassadors, applications will be available in early October, Williams said. However, there are other ways students can help with diversity.

“I think that the national landscape right now has brought a lot of attention to the bias, stereotype, profiling, and civil rights for everyone and (to the) idea that we need to be inclusive,” she said. “It is imperative that we have dialogue, not debate, so we can work together and then the bigger goal is achieved. We need to have more dialogue.”

UNA students are embracing this idea, said freshman Soufiane Jalal.

“It was easy for me to make friends here,” Jalal said. “I used to be in Germany, and it was totally different. I couldn’t make friends there. Here, it’s another culture, another mentality, much more open-minded. It’s a better place for me.”

Jalal said students welcome him with open arms.

Williams said with students taking these steps, UNA is becoming more diverse every day.

“Diversity is not the Office of Diversity’s job, it’s everybody’s job to do it,” she said. “No matter what your job is on this campus, you’re important to the success of our university being inclusive. I think it would suit well for future students and potential employees to see us in Northern Alabama as a shining light, inclusive and innovative. We’re not the followers, we’re the leaders.”