On this sunny Tuesday, Algerian Hart arrives around 8:15 a.m. at his office in Missouri State University’s Carrington Hall to prepare for the day as interim chief diversity officer and assistant to the president.
It’s a trying time for his profession, as the Missouri House of Representatives less than two weeks earlier approved a budget that would block state funding for diversity, equity and inclusion efforts at public colleges and universities. [Editor’s note: Just before press time, the Senate Appropriations Committee removed the anti-diversity, equity and inclusion language from its version of the budget.]
Hart appears to take the news in stride, though preparations are being discussed in case of funding changes from Jefferson City.
“It’s checkers in the beginning, but now it’s chess,” he says, noting President Clif Smart “and team got in front of it.”
Hart’s office has posters of civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. and former Presidents Barack Obama and John F. Kennedy. Another featured on the wall lists the Nguzo Saba, the seven principles of the African American cultural celebration Kwanzaa: Umoja for unity, Kujichagulia for self-determination, Ujima for collective work and responsibility, Ujamaa for cooperative economics, Nia for purpose, Kuumba for creativity and Imani for faith.
To Hart, the issues surrounding his profession and differences of opinion in society are relatively simple. It comes down to finding commonality to break down ignorance and unconscious biases.
“There’s so many types of commonality,” he says. “Lack of conversation is a problem.”
At MSU, Hart and his team are working to “quiet the noise” and “create a common space of communication,” he says. Hart, who previously was a professor and associate dean of the Graduate College, took on the interim chief diversity officer role in August last year.
Those efforts might look like conflict resolution or inviting more people to the table to deconstruct barriers before they exist. And he sees the work as larger than MSU or academia.
“Missouri State University is reflective of Springfield,” Hart says.
At 9 a.m., Hart has a faculty candidate interview with Ryan Gordon, who is interested in working in kinesiology at MSU.
“How’s it going so far?” Hart asks, grabbing a notebook from his desk. “Talk to me a little bit about your first impressions. What are some of your thoughts in wanting to engage?”
It’s part of a full day of interviews for Gordon, who Hart says would be “a rockstar hire.”
At 10:30 a.m., Hart heads down a floor in Carrington to meet with Smart for a one on one.
Smart greets him with a smile and takes a seat on a chair in front of his desk, while Hart chooses a spot on the sofa.
They’re discussing DEI strategies, particularly in light of the debate at the Missouri Capitol.
“What’s your team’s thoughts on the Facing Racism training?” Smart asks, referring to the MSU program centered on racism, its history and ways to mitigate it.
Hart responds, “I think it is valuable.”
He discusses his office’s work introducing what he calls “culturally centric” workshops at the university.
“This is created according to the data that colleges have. Now, we have our own training,” Hart says. “The timing is really good in how we’re dealing with Jeff City.”
Hart takes a portion of the meeting with Smart privately.
As he walks out of the office around 11:43 a.m., Smart calls after him, “A lot more to come.”
After a quick stop in his office, Hart takes the stairs down to the bottom floor, exits and walks toward the nearby Plaster Student Union for lunch.
It’s more stairs at the PSU, as he heads to the top floor. He stops a few times to catch up with colleagues – such as Plaster Student Union Director Terry Weber and MSU Dean of Students Andrea Weber – to swap stories and smiles across the handrails.
He reaches his destination at the Union Club, a faculty and staff restaurant that overlooks the northeast side of campus, including the well-known Bronze Bear statue. Students stroll by below, and a food delivery robot is seen carrying out its mission near a roadway.
From the buffet-style lineup, Hart gets a helping of salad, and the entree today is cashew chicken and fried rice.
He shares a brief conversation with Rhonda Stanton, an associate professor in the English Department. They hadn’t seen each other in a bit, and she wanted to say hi.
While eating lunch, Hart says his role in the campus community often involves conversations with co-workers, whether that’s informal or part of his work in mitigating conflicts. Hart says his office is always open, though an email is just as good as an in-person ask.
After lunch, Hart quickly follows up with a former graduate assistant who is pursuing new career ideas in the diversity, equity and inclusion field. The former students seeks guidance and feedback from Hart.
Around 2 p.m., Hart has a planning meeting for the upcoming Collaborative Diversity Conference. This includes a Zoom conversation with Amy Blansit, CEO of the Drew Lewis Foundation, who is slated to present the keynote speech at the conference’s Inclusive Excellence Fund Gala on April 28.
“It was a neat call because Amy is currently in Spain,” he says afterward.
After wrapping up some work in the office, including planning for a meeting with the DEI Roundtable, a group of industry leaders who are slated to meet soon at MSU, Hart prepares to leave for the day just after 4 p.m.
A meeting on professionalism statements and strategies is canceled at the last minute, giving Hart plenty of time to head to his son Rowen’s baseball game at Nichols Park.
“The Central Bulldogs came out on top over Waynesville in the bottom of the seventh with a walk-off 7-6 victory,” Hart reports. “My son pitched, went 3-3, including an intentional walk in the bottom of the seventh. Great game.”
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