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Diversity Office holds little-known resource for students, organizations

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Written by Camille Barnett, October 11 Issue of  The Vermilion

Despite its two-person staff and limited resources, the University of Louisiana at Lafayette’s Office of Diversity tries to uphold its mission statement to provide an understanding of the importance of accepting diversity on campus.

“The diversity office does what it can with the limited amount of resources and funding provided to them,” said Danielle Edwards, president of the UL Lafayette NAACP chapter. “They do the best they can with what they have.”

She said she feels the office “catches a lot of the slack that they shouldn’t catch” because many are misinformed on the office’s purpose.

She explained Taniecea Arceneaux Mallery, Ph.D., director of equity, diversity and community engagement for the office of diversity, is meant to be an adviser to the faculty and the president’s’ office, not necessarily the diversity office for students, which she said, a lot of students are not aware of. She said she feels the misunderstanding stretches Mallery and Cheryl Bryant, the office’s administrative assistant and the only other faculty member in the office, thin.

“Last fall we had 17,614 students enrolled in this school. Aside from the 11,000 plus white students, that leaves 7,000 minority students,” Edwards stated. “And that’s how many students two people are supposed to serve? That’s not practical.”

Though as Edwards said, the office’s mission statement does not specifically state anything about being a go-to student resource, some leaders of minority campus organizations said the office has served as a helpful resource for them and they find comfort knowing such a resource exists and is available.

Sydney Walker, founder and erstwhile president of the Black Student Union (BSU) said Mallery assisted with starting her organization. Walker said when she first set out to start BSU, she wanted it to serve as a governing body for all black student organizations on campus, but was told that wasn’t possible.

She said she went to Ruben Henderson, assistant director of Student Engagement and Leadership, with the idea of her organization and he suggested she visit Mallery in the office of diversity, an office she said she was unaware existed at the time.

From there, Mallery helped with the initial conversations necessary in forming the organization. She helped “round out the edges,” replan the organization’s structure and referred Walker to other people for continued assistance.

“It was another administrator to have in our corner in addition to Ruben,” Walker said. “Another black faculty member behind us as we went up through the process.”

Stephanie Green, president of Gamma Rho Lambda — UL Lafayette’s LGBT+ sorority — and Daniel Richard, president of Giving Love, Acceptance, Safety and Support, said they have not yet felt the necessity to seek assistance from the office of diversity, but both agree the office’s existence is important to the university.

“It’s important to have those resources on campus that we can go to, students, staff or faculty,” Green said.

Richard added, however, he appreciates Mallery’s evident presence and support thus far. He said the office offered help to his organization with its Drag Show last year. The office posted information on the university website to advertise along with additional information about GLASS.

He also mentioned Mallery served as a judge for the drag show in the past.

“It was really big that the person in charge of the office of diversity came to judge the drag show,” he said. “That just shows that they actually do care about the events we have going on.”

Richard added the office of diversity is important at UL Lafayette especially because the university prides and promotes its cultural diversity.

“I know that’s a huge thing that draws people into the university. That’s a big reason I came here,” he said, “and I think it’s very important to show they have a specific office devoted to promoting that.”

Though Mallery is absent on maternity leave, Bryant said the office ensures services are still available with the assistance of other campus administrators.

She said she redirects those needing assistance through the office to Patricia Cottonham, vice president for student affairs, for instances regarding speaking on behalf of the university; Joanna Davis-McElligatt, Ph.D., associate professor of ethnic studies, for lectures or conversations at events or student organization meetings; and Henderson for training sessions.

“I think all of us think differently and act differently and having diversity and inclusion allows us to be in an environment where we can embrace and accept one another,” Henderson said.

The office of diversity includes Project Alliance Linking Leaders In Education and Services, an optional workshop offered to faculty and students that strives to encourage acceptance of the LGBT community at UL Lafayette.

The Black Faculty and Staff Association, headed by Henderson, was founded through the diversity office. Students and faculty are able to join through a membership application on the diversity office’s website. The next meeting will be Oct. 14.

Henderson said the meetings usually fall on Wednesdays at 12:30 p.m., but added he hopes to change them to Fridays after classes in hopes that faculty members will have completed university obligations by then, abling more to attend.

“We do a really good job with recruiting staff and staff retention, but we are trying to be be more attractive to faculty members as well,” he said.

The office also houses the the Christiana Smith Alumni Chapter, an organization named after the first African American graduate from then-University of Southwestern Louisiana. Henderson, vice president of events of the chapter, said every year during homecoming, they host a “Sweet Sounds of Sharing” event, where past members of the UL Lafayette community are honored.

Each year, there is also a “trailblazer” honored. This year’s trailblazer is Ray P. Authement, Ph.D., the previous University president who Henderson said was an advocate and supporter for African American students on campus.

The event will be Nov. 18 at 8:30 p.m. Tickets are $20 in advance and $30 at the door and can be purchased online. Current UL Lafayette students can purchase $10 tickets at the door with a valid school ID. All proceeds go to the Christiana Smith endowed scholarship fund.

Named after the first African American man to earn a doctoral degree, the James Jackson community of scholars is a diversity initiative for underrepresented minority graduate students at UL Lafayette.

The initiative, geared toward students of color, first-generation college students, disabled students, international students and LGBT students, was created to help minority graduate students make connections with each other — something McElligatt described as one of the hardest things to do as a graduate student at a university this size.

Henderson said because everything done within the office is not always advertised, some tend to think not much is being done at all.

“Sometimes you don’t necessarily hear everything that goes on, but there’s a lot that actually does go on behind the scenes,” he said.