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Author-researcher tackles diversity project

February 9, 2016

An IUPUI professor will play a leading role in the advancement of diversity and inclusion initiatives at Missouri State University.

Last month, Missouri State President Clifton M. "Clif" Smart announced plans to engage Lori Patton Davis, associate professor of higher education and student affairs in the School of Education, as a consultant for that university's diversity efforts. Those efforts include the expansion of the Multicultural Resource Center on the university's main campus, which is located in Springfield, Mo., and has a student population of about 18,500 undergraduates.

Lori Patton Davis

IUPUI faculty member Lori Patton Davis of the School of Education is renowned for her expertise in the field of cultural centers in the United States. She has been chosen by Missouri State University to help a major diversity initiative on that campus.

The expansion of the resource center and diversity programs, along with Patton Davis' appointment, were discussed in a public statement issued Dec. 1 by Smart and Steve Hoven, chair of the MSU Board of Governors, reaffirming the commitment of the board and the administration to diversity and inclusion.

"The expansion of the MRC is very exciting, but this is just a first step in the next continuum," the statement reads. "The university wants to better understand what we are doing well and where there are opportunities for improvement. To facilitate these discussions, Missouri State has engaged Lori Patton Davis, an expert in creating cultural centers in predominantly white institutions, to assist us in the planning, development and expansion of multicultural programs and the MRC."

About 81 percent of the Missouri State University-Springfield undergraduate student body is white, 4 percent is black, 3.3 percent is Hispanic and 1.4 percent is Asian/Pacific Islander, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

Patton Davis, considered the most well-known researcher and scholar in the area of culture centers, is scheduled to visit Missouri State Feb. 18 to begin conversations with campus faculty, alumni and students.

"In my initial discussions, I hope to gain a sense of the campus racial climate and how it's experienced by students, staff, faculty and administrators," Patton Davis said. "I'm also hoping to gain a sense of the institution's level of commitment toward addressing the concerns raised. In addition to learning about persistent issues, I want to explore what successful initiatives the institution has in place."

Her initial plans include a review of the MSU diversity plan and job descriptions for positions related to the resource center, said Patton Davis, who is looking forward to speaking with students and learning about their experiences and what they need to be successful at the institution.

"I am hopeful my recommendations will lend much to improving the campus and student experiences," the professor said. "I'm also looking forward to playing a critical role in moving MSU forward as an institution that espouses and enacts diversity initiatives."

Patton Davis' research agenda focuses on African Americans in higher education, the effects of race and racism on college campuses, and the influence of campus environments on student experiences.

"Race scholars such as Dr. Patton Davis and others know that racism and hence its structures become 'normalized' into everyday life," said Robin Hughes, interim executive associate dean of the School of Education. "This normalization of racism deeply and gravely impacts students' psychological well-being. It is critical that leaders understand the psychological brutality of racism and the psychosocial toll on students, administrators, faculty and the institution."

Patton Davis wrote the first dissertation focusing on culture centers, "From Protest to Progress: An Examination of the Relevance, Relationships and Roles of Black Culture Centers." She is the editor of the 2010 book "Campus Culture Centers in Higher Education," which highlights various types of racial/ethnic specific culture centers in higher education, their continued relevance, and implications for their existence in relation to student retention and success.

"Lori's work on Black Culture Centers is particularly important to current discourse centered about race, space and place," Hughes said. "Her work impacts movement toward dispositional change, institutional policy and, more specifically, institutional structures that impede student success. It is also firmly grounded within the discourse about institutionalized racism and other 'isms' that we, collectively, seem to fear, yet we must all address." 

Patton Davis recently was the keynote speaker at the inaugural Central Black Student Union Conference held at the University of Illinois. The conference was a meeting of various black student unions and associations from Illinois universities. The event included discussions on how the groups could collaborate "to make our universities more warm and inviting."

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