FARGO — North Dakota State University announced Thursday, July 30, a list of efforts to improve inclusion and promote diversity on campus.
The efforts include drafting a statement acknowledging that the school sits on land once occupied by Native Americans, recognizing Indigenous Peoples Day instead of Columbus Day, and creating a president’s council on diversity.
President Dean Bresciani laid out these actions in a letter to the campus. He wrote that NDSU intends to form a President’s Council for Diversity, Inclusion and Respect to improve the campus for "historically underserved populations and to operationalize the diversity and inclusion goal of the strategic plan."
“These steps are only the beginning of making NDSU a better, more welcoming place,” Bresciani wrote. “With these initiatives, we are setting up both a process and a commitment to continuously improve so that we can help NDSU and our country better live up to their ideals.”
The announcement comes after more than 200 faculty and staff signed an open letter this month asking the university to take action to improve diversity and inclusion on campus. Some of the changes requested by staff and faculty were in Bresciani's letter.
It's unclear if the open letter played a role in Bresciani's decision. There are other advocates who have been pushing for more diversity and inclusion on campus, said Lisa Arnold, an associate English professor who helped organize the open letter.
Those involved didn't get a heads up about Bresciani's announcement, but they were happy, she said.
"It's a really strong statement by our president," she said. "We just want to build on the sentiments and the message from the president today."
In his letter, Bresciani expressed his support for drafting a land acknowledgment statement saying the school sits on land once cared for by Native Americans. Previously, the school declined to say whether it would support or oppose a similar statement drafted by what it called a small group of faculty, staff and students.
Bresciani thanked that small group in his Thursday letter, adding that he will appoint a committee with some of the original authors to finalize a statement.
“I would like this work to be completed as swiftly as possible,” he wrote.
The University of North Dakota and the North Dakota State College of Science approved their own acknowledgement statements this year.
After a year’s worth of work, the university almost has completed a strategic plan that, in part, focuses on diversity, inclusion and respect, Bresciani wrote.
Bresciani wrote that “systemic racism exists in our country" and the nation has never “fully grappled with” or resolved racial disparities and discrimination. The U.S. has the opportunity to improve, he noted.
“Together, we can help ensure that our campus is a more diverse, inclusive and welcoming place to all historically disadvantaged groups,” he wrote.
Bresciani also announced plans to relocate Grandmother Earth's Gift of Life Garden, which “honors and connects the campus to Indigenous cultures and lifeways,” Bresciani wrote. The garden was moved to make way for the Sugihara Hall project, a science building that will replace Dunbar Hall.
Potential sites for the garden include the west side of campus, Bresciani wrote.
Along with changing Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples Day, NDSU may recognize other days with cultural significance, such as Juneteenth, a June 19 holiday that celebrates the freedom of black Americans from slavery.
Other additions include creating a resource room for Indigenous students and holding “an extensive series of conversations about racism, diversity and inclusion on campus and throughout the state." Dates for the conversations have not yet been finalized.