Making Strides: BVU’s New Focus on Diversity and Inclusion


Allie Hartman

Jordyn Daggs-Olson, Assistant News Editor

On Monday, Feb. 11, students, faculty, staff, and community members gathered in the Siebens Forum for the grand opening of the Center for Diversity and Inclusion. The Center for Diversity and Inclusion houses the Office of Multicultural Engagement and Office of Campus Spiritual Life. This is a new office for Buena Vista University and was established in the plans of the forum renovation. 

At the grand opening, President Merchant revealed the five-year plan for the Center for Diversity and Inclusion: to develop and maintain a campus climate and culture in which embracing diversity and inclusion is a core value enacted by all members of the BVU community; to recruit, retain, and develop a diverse BVU community of students and of faculty, staff, and administration; to develop a culture of accountability and collaboration around diversity initiatives, practices, and policies; and to engage University alumni, donors, and other community partners and stakeholders in achieving diversity and inclusion goals.  

President Merchant went on to explain the importance of the plan’s goals. 

“We are actually outwardly demonstrating our commitment to diversity and inclusion by saying, ‘this is going to be a part of our programming, this will be part of curricular and co-curricular activities, this is part of our efforts to drive a more diverse student body, our efforts to drive our hiring practices for staff, faculty, and administration, to get a more diverse representation,’” Merchant said. “It really is a resource for all students, all faculty, and all community members of Storm Lake. It is a place for people to go and to learn and to be open to new ways of thinking, for better understanding and better tolerance.” 

Director of Multicultural Engagement Ebony King commented on her passion for creating this new space for students.   

“It was a dream to have a center like this years ago, and we are excited to not only say that diversity and inclusion is a core value here at BVU, but it is actualized in a physical space,” says King. “[The Center for Diversity and Inclusion] is the student-hub for cultural awareness and spiritual life activities, and in regards to cultural awareness, it is about students learning about their personal identity and then also learning about other students as well. It is a place that you not only learn about yourself, but you also learn more about yourself by learning about others.” 

She explains the importance of learning about diversity among people in college. “When you are in college, I think you focus on individualism a lot, but when you go out and get your degree and your own job, you are working nine times out of ten in a team… When you are interacting with people that are different than you, you are getting their perspectives, their story, you are gathering more information so that we can come together to solve a problem,” said King.  

King says that it was perfect timing for the grand opening for the Center for Diversity and Inclusion and wants to encourage students to attend upcoming events that have been planned by the different multicultural groups on campus. Beyond highlighting Black History Month, King is excited to organize events that students are passionate about and celebrating all heritages. King also adds that in addition to the Office of Multicultural Engagement, there was an emphasis on the importance of housing the Office of Campus Spiritual Life in this new space because it will give more of an opportunity to blend diversity.

“They wanted to put Spiritual Life here to crack open the door, so that people, be it of a Muslim faith, a Hindu faith, a Buddhist faith, had a place where they could come as well, so that they’re not discriminated against on this campus,” explains Ken Meissner, university chaplain. “You do not have to believe the same thing, but you can understand the people and why they have the values they have. How are we going to sit at the same table if we do not take a risk to get to know one another? We are all at a different development in our lives and we have to come to the table to understand and listen why people believe what they believe.”*

In addition to the grand opening of the Center for Diversity and Inclusion, BVU has been selected by the Council of Independent Colleges (CIC) to participate in the 2019 Diversity and Civility Liberal Arts Institute. According to an email sent to the BV campus, BVU is one of 25 independent colleges and universities across the country that were selected for this prestigious honor. The annual Institute is designed to assist faculty members and academic and student affairs administrators in addressing issues of conflict, activism, and inclusion on college campuses across the United States.  

The CIC institutions will come together in June in Atlanta, Georgia, to explore significant trends, engage both classic and cutting-edge scholarship, and ultimately develop realistic plans to aid their institutions in strengthening diversity and civility on campus. Vice President of Academic Affairs Dr. Brian Lenzmeier and King will be the administrator and student affair staff representatives for BVU, respectively.  

“We looked at the Institute and thought it would be great for BVU to be a part of and for us to get some knowledge that would help BVU with diversity and civility,” King says. “We are lifelong learners, and so, to go to this Institute to have more understanding, more research about social justice, and to have strategies in dealing with those things, we felt like it was important to put in the proposal and see what happens. And we were so excited that BVU was selected.”  

Drs. Gwen Hart and Bethany Larson will additionally represent BVU faculty at the Institution.  As part of BVU’s Bias response team, theatre professor Bethany Larson is eager to bring back strategies from the Diversity and Civility Liberal Arts Institute to strategically put into action on the Storm Lake campus.  

“We are in a place and in a time when the interactions between people of whatever kind of background, whether it is a racial characteristic, it’s an ethnicity, a nationality issue; our world is becoming more and more connected to each other, and BV is located in one of the most diverse communities, and not just in Iowa,” explains Larson.  

She further elaborated on the importance of BVU incorporating new strategies regarding diversity, civility, and inclusivity.  

“As an institution of higher learning, we have an obligation to seek to build a better community, a better society,” says Larson. “We are all about students improving and bettering themselves through knowledge, through experiences, and we need to advance on this particular front as well. Not just go to class, learn your content for your classes, but how can we make a more just world for everyone? Regardless of their background, regardless of skin color, regardless of gender identity or sexual preference or whatever. It’s really important that we tackle these issues and the reasons why this a strongly felt need is because we’ve had situations where we did not quite wrestle with it in a way that supported everyone.”  

As the world continues to grow more connected, it is becoming increasingly imperative for people to embrace diversity and be willing to have conversations with those that are different than us. There is a hope that people are not only tolerant but also seek to learn and be open-minded about the world around them. The grand opening of the Center for Diversity and Inclusion, along with the five-year plan and Diversity and Civility Liberal Arts Institute, represent BV’s first steps forward with diversity and inclusion as core institutional values. 


*Feb. 22 — A previous version of this article quoted Ebony King for this statement.  It was corrected to Ken Meissner as the speaker of this statement.