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Senator brings diversity to the forefront

October 26, 2006

Student Senate is the voice of the students at UW-River Falls, and senators have the opportunity to address issues, including diversity.

As diversity issues director, Senator Ashley Olson said she wants senators to be available to bring up issues that are important. Olson is also a member of the Diversity Issues Committee (DIC), which allows her to bring reports from DIC meetings to Senate.

Olson said her role is to work with diversity organizations on campus and meet with individuals to work and focus on the issues that affect them.

A current concern is retention of first-year students.

“The goal is to see what makes students stay on campus,” she said.

The committee wants students to attend DIC meetings for the open forum, Olson said. The meetings are every Friday at 11 a.m. in the Regents Room of the Student Center.

Attendance at the forum will give the committee an idea of how to keep diverse students on campus, she said.

“We are always available via e-mail for major things that come up that need to be addressed right away, but we want to hold an open forum where we can talk about issues that students see as important issues on campus,” Olson said.

The committee is now extending ideas and information to the Faculty Senate Multi-cultural Advisory Committee, which is working on strategic plan goal No. 10, Olson said.

“As part of Student Senate, senators have to sit on a Faculty Senate committee,” she said.

Goal No. 10 is part of the strategic planning of UWRF, said Blake Fry, dean of student development and campus diversity, and chair of the planning workshops.

Strategic planning includes a set of 10 goals that prioritize different aspects of the campus, Fry said, and the goals should be met within 10 years.

The aspects of goal No. 10, dubbed “Foster a Culture of Diversity,” is to “build a supportive community that embraces our differences and builds understanding across barriers of race, national origin, religion, socio-economic status, culture, gender, sexual orientation and disability,” according to the Strategic Planning Web site.

The goals also address the Growth Agenda, Fry said. The agenda aims to get the campus to grow in student population, but if students are leaving UWRF the campus is not going to increase.

A survey has shown that a significantly high number of first-year students at UWRF are not satisfied with their experience compared to their peers across the country, Fry said.

“Overall rates are not improving,” he said. “Some things we have looked at in the past are not connecting; we need to try new strategies.”

A focus group will be conducted by the committee, Fry said, pairing it with a pencil survey that will be administered in spring semester. The idea for a group came from students in the committee.

“I try to stay away from the focus groups,” he said. “I couldn’t be more happy to have students doing that.”

Olson said the committee has been brainstorming many different ways to make the campus a better place for diversity, reaching out to offer workshops.

“One thing we thought was important is to retain the under-represented students on campus,” she said.

The goals and ideas are a proactive initiative, Olson said.

Depending on the situation, Student Senate can take a stance to support students, President Joe Eggers said.

“We stand behind our students,” he said. “Regardless of the issue, diversity or not, the Student Senate will want to look at and address it.”