As more universities continue to prioritize creating a welcoming environment for all, Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) roles have become increasingly important. For Michael T. Snowden, Vice President of Inclusion and Diversity at Northwestern State University, his extensive experience in Student Affairs and DEI has helped him make significant strides in advancing cultural competency on campus, promoting freedom of speech, and creating a sense of belonging for all students.
He discusses his journey with Charles Sin, Co-host of The Interview, addressing how he came into student affairs, the challenges of advancing cultural competency on campus, and his top tip for engaging students on DEI topics.
I am Vice President of Inclusion and Diversity at Northwestern State University in Natchitoches, Louisiana. I knew during my undergraduate degree that I wanted to do student affairs. I thought I could be a presence on campus, and graduated with a bachelor's degree in business administration with an emphasis on human resource management.
I worked for a summer as a conference assistant in housing at the University of Southern Mississippi. A position opened up for me to be a Resident Assistant. That was the start of my student affairs, DEI journey. This led to a doctorate program, and then I got my first job in Multicultural Affairs at the University of Minnesota Morris. That primed me to be Director of Multicultural Affairs at Armstrong Atlantic State University in Savannah, Georgia, where I was for twelve years. From there, I went into student advocacy which elevated me to the Chief Diversity Officer position at McNeese State University in Lake Charles, Louisiana.
One thing we did is work with a company called PreventZone. They have modules of information, one designed for hazing, another for Title IX, and a DEI module. We put that module into our University 1000 orientation course so students can get that information in their first year here.
Then we have our Northwest Inclusive Coaching Seminar Series, which we've expanded from being for faculty to offering it to our students too. The plan is that in freshman year, they will get that training in the module. Then, they can transition to the next courses, including microaggressions, intersectionality, size and body, mental health, and accessibility.
When I speak about freedom of speech on campus, I always refer to a quote by Rick Warren, which states that our culture has accepted two huge lies: the first is that if you disagree with someone's lifestyle, you must fear or hate them. The second is that to love someone means you agree with everything they believe or do. Warren declares that both lies are nonsense; you don't have to compromise convictions to be compassionate. I think of this as a rallying cry for people, letting them know that if we have these types of discussions where opinions are respected even when they aren’t agreeable, we can agree to disagree civilly.
One of the most recent things is deciding to name it after someone inspiring. This week we will have a naming ceremony for one of our alumni. The center will go from being the Center for Inclusion and Diversity to the Gail Metoyer Jones Center for Inclusion and Diversity. I believe having a named space for a person of color will help, one, bring pride to the institution, and two, let the students know that there is a safe haven on campus. Finally, I hope it will allow them to be connected to the center on a personal level because a lot of people know Mrs. Jones.
We have also introduced times when people come to that center to get familiar with coming to the center as a place where they can go and relax. We have a couple of computers and resources that they may need to do presentations or work on class projects.
the most active engagement is on social media; Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, and other quick connection apps. The least is probably around standing programs; even at an institution where students are supposed to be thinking about discovery and finding out more information, getting them to engage in programming is a little bit different.
I think we have to be more intentional about having students lead in this space because they have the quickest connection to other students. Then there is offering extra credit for students who engage in important topics like DEI, either as standalone extra credit or woven into an assignment, those are, to me, the best ways to connect the students because they realize not attending has some type of effect on them. Or if they attend, they can get two to three points that can go on a lower score or assignment.
Make sure you get a personal connection with them throughout the year. That could be a session in the orientation process, through teaching one of the university orientation courses, or through talking to students. This can be anything, like going to the cafeteria and sitting down with some students that you may not know, introducing yourself asking how you can help. Any time you have an opportunity to include students and get them involved, I think that's the quickest way to be impactful in that space.