The University of Minnesota Crookston Student Success Center has had to make adjustments to their offerings due to the current environment we live in with the COVID-19 pandemic. But while their offerings have occurred in both in-person and virtual environments, the factor that hasn’t changed is a commitment to inclusion to support all students at UMN Crookston .
The Student Success Center is focused on the holistic development of the UMN Crookston students as they navigate their collegiate experiences. They want to make sure students, whether they are online or on-campus, have resources available to enhance their experiences as Golden Eagles. In addition, the Student Success Center is focused on diversity, inclusion, and belonging and they have continued to focus on programming to promote these ideas.
One major way the Student Success Center has engaged with students this semester is through a series entitled “Conversations about Race over Coffee”. The multicultural education programming has centered on starting conversations and getting people to listen to other individual’s stories and hear their opinions.
“With programming like this, we’d like students to consciously listen to other perspectives,” said Interim SSC Assistant Director, Josh Parrill. “Let’s start listening to each other and seek to understand where other people might be coming from. You are always going to have opposing opinions on differing issues. I get frustrated with the world we are living in where it has to be the political debate of yelling at each other. We can find common ground and common values in a lot of things. Instead we seem to focus on the things we don’t agree on. Let’s listen to each other.”
Thus far, “Conversations about Race over Coffee” discussions have centered on Native American Heritage Month and Hispanic Heritage Month, with additional events planned in the Spring with Black History Month.
“The first event focused on Hispanic culture as part of Hispanic Awareness Month,” Parrill stated. “The program talked a lot about immigration from Central America and how that affects U.S. foreign policy. The student turnout was really good. This was one of our first in-person programs and we hosted it in the Evergreen classroom. We had a couple of open seats but for the most part the Evergreen classroom was filled to maximum capacity using COVID-19 restrictions. We concurrently hosted a Zoom session that was well attended. There were conversations and questions that happened afterwards. Denise Greene assumed the role of leading multicultural programming this year. She was very excited about some of the conversations that happened online as part of the event.”
The Student Success Center also focuses on inclusion through the UMC 1200: Introduction to Student Life course. Through the course they have focused on helping to make new students feel comfortable through peer mentorship, encouraging involvement in student clubs and activities, and discussing diversity and inclusion. The peer mentorship component is undergoing a pilot program in the course this semester.
“Seven of the 10 classes have a peer mentor that is included in the class,” Parrill said. “The intention is that if a student has general questions about campus as a whole that talking to a peer might be a little bit more comfortable. We added peer mentors to help first year students feel more comfortable asking questions as they come into this course or campus as a whole. This course has been difficult in our COVID-19 world, but there are assignments within this course about getting out and getting involved with events that are going on. One of the expectations is that they would go to a multicultural event. Whether that be something that pertains to the international programming that is happening on campus or some of our multicultural education programming that is occurring on campus or other things that faculty may be bringing on to campus to just learn more about people that may have a little bit different upbringing than yourself.”
The Student Success Center is also focused on helping students to understand the University’s land grant mission. As UMN Crookston was established as a Land Grant University, it is important to make education accessible to everyone within the state. “We try to get the students to think critically about what positive things we are doing and what we can improve upon doing to make that mission happen.”
The SSC has been placing even more of emphasis on supporting first-generation college students. The University received a grant a couple of years ago to start the program and have continued to focus on growing it.
“We provide a few programs each year to celebrate the fact that these students navigated a college system when their parents never had that opportunity, which is a big deal,” Parrill stated. “We want to give those students a sense of community, but also giving them a sense of support. Maybe some of their family might not have some of the information that they are looking for or might not know where to find the information. We want to support those students in any way that we can.”
An important continuing emphasis this year has also been on whether to offer programming online or in-person. Parrill places an importance on while the term “social distancing” has been used universally, it has been important to emphasize to students that while they should be physically distanced, social connections are still important to make.
“I think it is important to emphasize physical distancing yourself from others but not to cut yourself off socially,” Parrill said. “We still need to make those social connections. The term we have been using throughout the pandemic is social distancing, but does that subliminally give people the idea that we shouldn’t be connecting with people? I think those connections are especially with mental health and knowing that I am not going through this alone. There are many other people experiencing what I am experiencing. Everyone is going to have their individual experience but there are going to be some commonalities where we can support one.”
The Student Success Center continues to focus on connecting with online students. This has been a previous focus but it was amped up in March with the move to online classes through the end of the spring semester.
“Kelsey Torgerson and I have been a part of creating an online tutoring program and giving our online students an opportunity to connect with our campus. When COVID hit, it was nice that we already had a system in place to provide virtual tutoring. Moving to online tutoring wasn’t very difficult for us. We felt like we had a pretty good feel on finding ways to connect with students virtually. Kelsey was asked to give several presentations that were sent out nationally to learning center professional associations on how to continue to offer tutoring in a virtual environment. As COVID-19 hit, we felt like we were in good shape having the technology in place to still support students. Applying it to the entire student body as opposed to just the online student body has worked seamlessly. As students transitioned back to campus this fall, we’ve been able to use both face-to-face and virtual tutoring. I knew there are students that are looking to have that physical connection. We have had some times where it does make sense to meet face-to-face. Yes we keep our distance but we are able to connect in a social way.”
Parrill and the Student Success Center are excited about the offerings they have had this year to encourage inclusion among students. While he is happy with the progress they have made, he continues to encourage students to find a way to get involved, whether it is through the Student Success Center or other platforms.
“While we feel like we are making strides but we would love for more students to get involved,” Parrill stated. “It is great to have student voices when we do multicultural education programs, but it is also good to hear online student voices and hear them get involved. We want students to feel like no matter what your identity, the Student Success Center is one place where you can get involved if you would like to get involved and you would like to get connected. There are a lot of other places on campus that can get you connected. There is always more room for students to connect."