Minnesota colleges promised to help fight systemic racism and do more to support Black students after George Floyd died under the knee of a Minneapolis police officer in May.
The University of Minnesota severed some ties with the Minneapolis Police Department and announced an external review of its campus police force. The Minnesota State college system launched a sweeping review of its law enforcement training programs. Private colleges created scholarship funds for students of color and vowed to diversify their teaching ranks.
Six months later, that work to advance racial equity and social justice on Minnesota campuses is still underway. Some schools have acted swiftly, hiring diverse faculty and counselors and constructing new campus spaces. Other institutions are in the midst of systemic reviews that could extend well into next year, frustrating students and activists who had hoped for more immediate change.
"Colleges and universities are the places that espouse to do this better than anyone else. … That's why it's so much of an insult to injury when [they] don't deliver," said Charles H.F. Davis III, an assistant professor at the University of Michigan's Center for the Study of Higher and Postsecondary Education.
In the southern Minnesota city of St. Peter, Gustavus Adolphus College is quickly making progress on some of its racial justice priorities. The private liberal arts college recently broke ground on a $350,000 expansion of its Center for Inclusive Excellence, the home of the school's diversity and inclusion work and a popular gathering space for students of color. The center will more than quadruple in size to support student programs, services and gatherings, said Tom Flunker, the center's director.
Gustavus has also hired two new mental health counselors to support students of color, tapped an external firm to review its hiring practices and is developing anti-racism training for all students and faculty.
The review of the college's hiring practices has yielded some findings: Preferring that staff and administrative job candidates have a master's degree, for example, often results in a mostly white applicant pool. Administrators said they may ditch such requirements in favor of more specifically describing desired skills and abilities in job postings.
Macalester College in St. Paul is prioritizing equity in its admissions and spending. The private college recently established a scholarship fund to better recruit and support minority students, and it permanently axed SAT and ACT testing requirements to become more accessible.
The school is encouraging employees to seek out female-owned and minority-owned businesses when they need to buy supplies. Macalester also has offered to reimburse students if they are fined for participating in civil disobedience, a move that was met with "angry calls, e-mails and even a threat of violence," President Suzanne Rivera said.
"We can continue to improve and we will continue to work on these social justice initiatives," Rivera said. "This is a marathon and not a sprint."
The University of Minnesota and Minnesota State won't be able to point to the results of their law enforcement reviews until next year.
An external report on the U Police Department may be finished by the end of this year, but administrators will be consulting with faculty and students about potential actions into next semester, U President Joan Gabel said. Gabel is also working on a new building-renaming policy and is in talks with faculty about potentially requiring undergraduate students to take a course on racial justice.
"I think that getting it right is more important than going fast," Gabel said of the campus police review.
Amy Ma, the U's undergraduate student body president, is skeptical of both the review and the pledge to sever some ties with Minneapolis police, which limited collaboration to joint patrols and investigations. Students are growing frustrated with how long the review is taking, she said.
Ma pointed to protests on Interstate 94 last month when hundreds of people — including some students — were arrested. University police were called to assist, though a U spokeswoman said they did not make any arrests.
"Students are frustrated with some of the initiatives we've seen so far. … They do feel symbolic but not something that maybe changes the culture of policing on our campus," Ma said.
A Minnesota State task force has been meeting through the fall to review the 22 professional peace officer education programs offered across the system; Minnesota State colleges educate approximately 80% of state police officers. The group will provide recommendations to the board of trustees this spring on how to better educate aspiring officers on cultural competence, systemic racism and social justice issues.
Minnesota State University, Mankato recently finished a review of its own law enforcement programs and sent recommendations to the president, all of which have been accepted. Most of the proposed curriculum changes, from public service requirements to courses on identifying personal bias and understanding the lived experiences of diverse groups, will take effect next fall, said Henry Morris, the university's vice president of diversity and inclusion.
"We're not changing the world," Morris said. "But you've got to take the first step somewhere. We felt that this curriculum change … was our way of being part of the solution."
Priscilla Mayowa, president of the statewide community college student association LeadMN, said the system task force is "doing more talking than action." She would like to see it move more urgently to finish its review. Leaders of Students United, which represents students at Minnesota State's seven universities, have expressed similar feelings.
"Six months after the murder of George Floyd, students find themselves disheartened more often than we want," Students United state chairman Jonathan McNicholes said in a statement. "We have offered many recommendations and initiatives, some quite baseline, that would more strongly embody our values of inclusion, equity and diversity."
Davis, the University of Michigan professor, said it remains unclear if colleges' "bureaucratic," long-term reviews will produce any major change.
"When they want to change, we see things happen fairly quickly," he said.
Ryan Faircloth • 612-673-4234