MGA Expands Diversity Programming And Conversations

Author: Alexandria Brooks
Posted: Tuesday, June 8, 2021 12:00 AM
Categories: Faculty/Staff | Pressroom | School of Arts and Letters | Students

Macon, GA

During spring semester 2021, the Office of Student Life gave MGA students, staff, and faculty opportunities to formally pledge to listen to the stories of others, treat all people with dignity and respect, and commit to fostering an inclusive learning environment.

In response to the wave of social movements and protests that followed the violent deaths of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd in 2020, Middle Georgia State University (MGA) placed a renewed emphasis on diversity, inclusion, and equity related programs at the institution.

Jenia Bacote, MGA’s director of Diversity, Inclusion, & Equity/Title IX coordinator, is part of that effort.

Created in 2016, the office coordinates efforts that support MGA’s values and commitment to educate and create awareness about diversity, inclusion, and equity across the University’s campuses. There are several initiatives in place through which the office supports these efforts, which include training, programs on specific topics, and special events.

“From day one, my primary role has been to build up this office into a long-term, sustainable unit,” Bacote said. “Since I am an office of one, a pivotal role I have is to develop relationships for collaboration across the campuses.” Bacote also assists on several committees and serves on the cabinet of Dr. Christopher Blake, MGA president, to advise and consult on issues of diversity.

Bacote said the president is actively involved in the office’s long-term initiative for more inclusive and diverse programming. Last summer, in addition to making himself available for candid conversations with students, faculty, and staff, he assigned Bacote to his cabinet and advocated for additional programming.

In the months since, Bacote’s office and other MGA departments and divisions have planned and offered a full slate of programming to support diversity and inclusion and help members of the campus community have what can be hard conversation.

The Office of Diversity began collaborating with various offices, departments, and student organizations to implement programs, workshops, and events, including the “Are You IN? Inclusive Conversations Series," where students candidly discuss their campus experiences at MGA, and the “Inclusive Introductions Diversity Speaker Series” that brings guest speakers to help train, educate, and inform MGA’s campus community.

The “Collective Action Series,” the brainchild of the School of Arts and Letters (SOAL), is one of several ongoing initiatives created to foster diversity and build community. Among other events, the series features monthly book club discussions and “A BOLD Dialogue” panels, which offer candid discussion about experiences with racial inequality and injustices.

Dr. Mary Wearn, School of Arts & Letters dean, praised her SOAL team for imagining and implementing a “fruitful pathway” for education and development among members of the MGA community. She hopes the series will continue to “spark discussion, open minds, and foster healthy relations on our campuses and beyond.”

The University’s programming initiative also includes the Office of Student Life.

“A conversation we had to have was, ‘Are we doing enough?’” said Devereaux Lindsey, Student Life coordinator on the Macon Campus. “’Are we just checking boxes to say we support diversity in our students, or are we actually looking at real events, and seeing how we can incorporate them into programming?’”

After the high-profile events of last summer, Lindsey said she found a renewed purpose, realizing she had a greater role than she thought in helping to make a difference. “What goes on in the classroom is one piece of higher education,” Lindsey said, “but the other piece-what goes on outside the classroom -is where I have the ability to make a student, or group of students, feel valued and seen.”

Lindsey is gratified to see the higher profile that diversity and inclusion programming now has at MGA. “Representation matters,” she said, noting the diversity of Student Life staff and administrators. “Students want to see campus staff that look like them. It helps them feel valued and seen.”

Lindsey said students have responded positively to the broadening of programming that emphasizes diversity. She gave the example of a student who, with the help of a faculty member, encouraged her classmates in one of her courses to participate in the Office of Student Life’s “Inclusion Pledge “event during Black History Month. At the event, students and some employees shared personal experiences about diversity and took pledges committing to help foster a more inclusive environment.

“Sometimes people just need small reminders to think of others’ experiences,” Lindsey said, “just small nudges to remember that ‘Hey, this person is different from me and not only is that okay, but it should also be celebrated.’”

She said students are encouraged to keep the conversation going and to share their interest and ideas to broaden inclusive programming in the future. In fact, at a recent student-run Campus Activities Board meeting, the Office of Student Life got suggestions on how to better support the LGBTQIA community.

“We are a place of higher learning,” said Lindsey, “and what better way to extend that practice than to incorporate diversity into our programming by simply listening to our students and being responsive to what is happening in the world.”

Bacote said Middle Georgia State’s expansion of diversity initiatives will continue.

“Ultimately, the entire campus community has to engage and participate in these efforts in times of both social rest and social unrest,” she said. “The work of diversity, inclusion, and equity never stops, and it is certainly not the work of just one office. It’s the work of the University as a whole.”


A version of this article was originally published in the spring 2021 issue of MGA Today.