November 2007

The University of Montana Western (UMW) has been taking active steps to increase the diversity of its faculty, staff, and students, as well as awareness of diversity issues.  Objective 5 of the campus Strategic Plan is to “Increase diversity to enrich the intellectual experience at the university.”  There are five action items in that objective and progress on each of those action items is reported annually.  All of these action items have been given the highest priority.

The first action item is “Increase enrollment and retention of a more diverse student body.”  For a number of years The University of Montana Western has been offering its Elementary Education program at Salish-Kootenai College (SKC) in close collaboration with SKC.  This has provided Western faculty and staff an opportunity to work closely with SKC students, faculty and staff.  On-campus students have benefited by the cooperation of SKC and surrounding public schools in providing field experiences in schools with a high percentage of American Indian students.  Montana Western faculty and staff have worked closely with SKC as it has developed its own Elementary Education program, modeled largely on the successful program at UMW.  A UMW faculty member is currently on leave from UMW assisting SKC with the development and implementation of its assessment program for its education programs.  While this means that UMW will no longer be offering its program at SKC, the two campuses have agreed to cooperate in the future to provide the respective campuses with diverse opportunities.

There are a large number of Polynesian students on campus.  These students have formed a Polynesian Culture Club that has attracted a number of students who are learning and practicing Polynesian dance, music, and other aspects of Polynesian Culture.  The club has been performing dance and music across the state to appreciative audiences who are learning more about these other cultures.  Last spring the club held a luau, attended by several hundred people that included traditional dance, music, and food.  They are currently planning a second annual luau for this spring as well as multiple engagements across the state.

The admissions staff makes regular visits to high schools and tribal colleges with high enrollments of minority students.  Athletic coaches are also active in recruiting minority students.  Coaches, as well as faculty and staff, give attention to the special needs of minority students to increase their success and retention.  A number of these students are enrolled in Western’s Student Support Services program where they receive additional counseling and other forms of support.

The second action item is to “Increase the diversity of faculty and staff.”  Western has actively recruited diverse faculty and staff and has increased its faculty diversity by adding a minority faculty member and its coaching diversity by adding an additional native Hawaiian coach.  Western has also recently hired an Assistant Provost who is originally from Northern Ireland, proving cultural diversity to the campus.

The move to block scheduling has opened up increased opportunities for class travel helping Montana Western to achieve action item 3, “Increase travel and study opportunities for students and faculty.”  Faculty members have organized student study trips to China, Hawaii, England, France, Ireland, Mexico and Italy, with more in the planning stages.  During spring semester 2007 a faculty member spent a month observing and photographing the environmental and economic issues in China and Tibet. The new assistant provost has experience at setting up service learning trips in a number of diverse settings including Africa, Central America, and Northern Ireland and will be a good resource for faculty and students wishing to plan such experiences.

Western faculty members have enthusiastically embraced the Indian Education for All Act satisfying action item 4 “Participate in the MUS program for Montana’s Indian Education for All Act.”  All faculty attended a workshop on incorporating Indian Education into their classes presented by Julie Cajune, a UMW graduate and member of the Salish tribe.  There are eight general education courses that now have a substantial American Indian content and all Education Department students are required to take a multicultural education course that includes substantial American Indian content as well as a field experience in an American Indian setting.  Faculty members incorporate American Indian content wherever feasible.

Action Item 5 is to “Promote an increased understanding of gender, ethnicity and multiculturalism across the curriculum.”  Western faculty members have identified a total of 21general education courses that satisfy this diversity requirement.  There are also many upper division courses that satisfy this action item.

Montana Western also has a Multicultural Committee with a budget that has assisted with bringing in speakers from diverse cultures to campus.  Last year this included a reading by American Indian author Debra Magpie Earling.  A UMW faculty member also used Constitution Day as an opportunity to lead a discussion on how the U.S. and Montana Constitutions, and their interpretation, have affected the sovereignty of American Indian tribes.