Exponent Explains: Diversity Awareness Office

Established in the late 90s, the MSU Diversity Awareness Office (DAO) has worked to create a more inclusive environment for students, faculty and staff and to raise awareness about diversities represented on campus. Ariel Donohue, program coordinator at the DAO, explained the office is tasked with “providing support services and increasing awareness of our community members and the diversity in our community through program events and cosponsorships.”

The DAO offers a variety of programs and services. Possibly the most visible one is “Safe Zone.” That program seeks to educate students and staff about LGBTQ issues and promote acceptance. Rainbow triangle stickers appear in classrooms and offices across campus, denoting the space safe for all sexual orientations and gender identities.

Also well-known is Sustained Dialogue, a student organization housed under the DAO that, according to their website, aims to “promote holistic understanding by bridging gaps between traditionally opposing groups.” The group meets regularly to discuss issues of identity and social justice.

The DAO also provides Expanding Horizons, an ongoing mentoring program for first-year Native American students. Students are paired with faculty or staff mentors who assist the freshmen in navigating the campus and community.

The DAO has seen rapid expansion over the last few years, Donohue said. “People have kind of been coming out of the woodwork saying ‘we need support for this underrepresented minority group.’” Just last year, the sole staff position of the DAO, that of project coordinator, became full-time. This has allowed the DAO to provide “more programming, more events, more visibility and ultimately to create a more inclusive environment,” said Donohue. The DAO is also supported by five students who work part-time to manage the programs the DAO provides.

[pullquote align=”right”]The Diversity Awareness Office coordinates the Safe Zone program, Sustained Dialogue, Expanding Horizons and other programs aimed at promoting diversity on campus.[/pullquote]

Apart from programming, the DAO also provides training, such as Safe Zone training, to numerous student groups and departments, from ResLife to the Office of the President. Additionally, the DAO has helped to develop the so-called Bias Incident Reporting System, which rolled out this fall and allows anyone in the university to report incidents of unfair bias.

Ultimately, Donohue just wants people to know “we’re here and at the doors are open.” She invites anyone to come up to the DAO office on the third floor of the SUB to talk.