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Minnesota State University, Mankato
Minnesota State University, Mankato

Winter 2009 TODAY Column

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The dedication of the Amos Owen Garden of American Indian Horticulture that took place here in September was literally a rejuvenation, a re-birth, of history, color and life.

After more than a year of being “unplanted” to make way for the expansion of our Trafton Science Center, the garden was brought back in a formal ceremony and now has a prominent place near the Ostrander-Student Bell Tower.

As you’ll read in this issue of TODAY, Amos Owen was the Dakota spiritual leader who frequently shared his gentle nature and his world outlook with this community. It was Owen who in the early 1970s helped bring the now-traditional Powwow to Mankato and who endorsed the “Year of Reconciliation” in 1987, declared by Gov. Rudy Perpich to commemorate the 125th anniversary of the Dakota War. With its maize, sage and wheatgrass, the Amos Owen garden represents a culture integral to the Mankato area’s history. It’s reassuring to note that it will be well-tended by anthropology professor Ron Schirmer and others.

Can we say the same for how we encourage, enrich and support a diverse population on our campus? Absolutely. Since 2003, Minnesota State Mankato has tripled its number of students of color. They now represent 8 percent of our student population, up from 3.2 percent in 2003. And those numbers do not appear to be slowing any time soon—this fall we took in twice the number of first-year international students than last year. We also saw a 20 percent increase in students of color coming here as transfer students.

I’m confident we can reach the 2010 goal of having 11 percent of our student body represent students of color. Yet numbers would mean nothing if the University failed to offer an environment rich with opportunities, both academic and social. Numbers would mean nothing if we could not offer these students an enlightened community that prepares them—and all of our students—for a complex world and a global economy.

That requires time, persistence, hard work and visionary leadership. And it’s our history of providing it all that helps put those numbers where they are today. We accomplish this through programs ranging from the tutoring and counseling available through the Intercultural Student Center to the myriad of ethnic activities offered from the International Student Office; from the annual African American, Native American, Asian and Chicano-Latino student leadership conferences to the more than twenty-five years of scholarships provided by the International Student Endowment Fund.

Over the decades, we’ve done much to bring our campus community to this point. One facet of my tenure here is the establishment of the Division of Institutional Diversity, under Vice President Michael T. Fagin, to ensure this mission remains integrated into our everyday operations.

I invite you to celebrate this progress with us, and to join us in helping the University move ever forward with respect to diversity. You can do both by paying a visit to the Amos Owen Garden this spring, when the fruits of our latest efforts will begin to show.