“Diversity is vitally important to Montana State University (MSU),” as reported by President Waded Cruzado of Montana State University in a recent letter. Though this is a quality quote from such a valuable source, it seems MSU’s actions have been overshadowed by such one-liners. Cruzado claims the university is devoted to increasing diversity and provides an exciting statistic of the highest enrollment of Native students ever. As part of the University’s Strategic Plan in 2012, in order to “diversify the student body,” they planned to increase the Native American student enrollment to 800 by 2019. While recruitment seems to be a focus for the university with minority students; retention, graduation and placement are left for these students to navigate themselves. The current funding system for Native American Recruitment and Retention Grants are all competitive soft money, limited to $20 thousand per project. In 2014, MSU had eight programs funded that focused on supporting Native American students, yet in 2016 only three of the original eight were funded. Montana State University and Cruzado want to increase the Native student population but have yet to introduce a stratified working plan that supports and retains those students.
In the spring semester of 2016, the American Indian Council (AIC) of MSU funded, organized and hosted the 41st Annual AIC Powwow. This Powwow is notably the largest diversity and cultural event hosted at Montana State University. Historically, the AIC was permitted to sell Indian Tacos to patrons; a major fundraising avenue for the student organization, but now are restricted to selling the tacos through the concessions provided by MSU. This gives the AIC only a portion of the profits made by the sales of the tacos and has made it increasingly difficult to fund the Powwow. Despite having policy that makes it more difficult for MSU students to organize and gain enough revenue to continue, every year the announcement of Powwow is featured on the main page of the MSU website. In order for MSU to support diversity, there needs to be more collaboration with its diverse students instead of more lip service.
Montana State University cannot say they support diversity when their plans, policies and actions show the opposite. MSU and Cruzado can no longer expect to decrease financial support for the largest student minority group while, at the same time, expect to significantly increase enrollment. MSU can no longer expect to benefit from student organized events without giving some form of sponsorship or lateral leadership. It’s time for Montana State University to show its students how much “vitally important diversity” means to them when it’s no longer at the expense of students.