Southeast Missouri State University student publication

New division aims to improve student services and diversity

Friday, August 28, 2020
Graphic by Ally Bruemmer

The newly-created Division of Equity, Access and Behavioral Health now encompasses many offices and departments which have worked closely together for years.

Dean of Students and Assistant to the President for Equity and Diversity Sonia Rucker has been appointed vice president for equity access and behavioral health and will oversee the new division.

“In the last few months, we have seen quite a bit of activity related to deaths of a few people across the United States from George Floyd to Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery. Like everyone else, we were all glued to the TV watching everything happen,” Sonia Rucker said. “We did anticipate that students would come back to campus this academic year and that all this would be a part of our discussions and part of the campus community’s questions.”

Through a number of conversations, President Carlos Vargas and Rucker discussed what Southeast could do to further address diversity and equity on campus.

“[Vargas] discussed this new division that he hoped would be a way for us to show our commitment and our ongoing support to creating a campus community that is more diverse and inclusive,” Rucker said.

Departments the division oversees include the Center for Behavioral Health and Accessibility, the LGBTQ+ Resource Center, Student Support Services, the Learning Assistance Program, Educational Access Programs, Student Conduct and the TRIO and McNair Scholars Programs.

Trent Ball — appointed associate vice president for equity and access — will work closely with Rucker to help manage the many offices within the division. Ball said the new division will help these offices work together more smoothly to provide students with the services they need.

“Some of the conversations that began a few months ago were, ‘We’ve got to make services to students seamless in these key areas,’” Ball said. “There was a conversation about behavioral health, and the reason why that's important is because there's so much that is going on to support students that needs to be front-facing so the students will actually use the service.”

Counseling and Disability Services has been renamed The Center for Behavioral Health and Accessibility. Rucker said the name change is more reflective of the outreach programs and mental health education the department provides.

“We thought that renaming that department and giving it a name that encompases this more holistic approach to mental health and wellness would help us not only take away some of the stigma, but give us an opportunity to share what we do beyond traditional counseling,” Rucker said.

In a 2015 report, the President's Task Force on Diversity Education — formed shortly after the protests in Ferguson, Missouri — laid out nine major goals for Southeast to improve cultural competence and inclusion. Rucker said the new division represents another level of commitment to those goals.

“I started [at Southeast] in April of 2015. My first day of work, I was in the Diversity Task Force meeting,” Rucker said. “So to be here again, five years later, having almost identical conversations, it shows me that we still have a lot of work to do. We still need to put things in place that will provide us a greater and larger stage to reflect who we are as a community and what kind of community we want to be.”