Dr. Jonathan Locust, Associate Vice President of Equity and Inclusive Excellence at WSU

Celebrating, uplifting, and working toward equity for people of color is not a once a year activity. 

It’s a continuous journey, and one that Winona State University is dedicated to. 

In honor of Black History Month, WSU is taking the opportunity to check in on its goals for increasing racial equity and eliminating racism to see how much progress has been made, or not made. 

Speaking with Jonathan Locust, the Associate Vice President of Equity and Inclusive Excellence at WSU, he went through each of the 15 goals to check in on its progress.

“Without a doubt, the university has made significant headway toward its goals,” Locust said. 

Intensive year-long conversations about race and equity have been ongoing, a George Floyd scholarship has been created, workshops and trainings are underway, a fund to support equity is being established, and a task force is exploring ways to include anti-racism classes as a core requirement.

Other areas didn’t progress as much as planned, including creating a Bias Response Team or requiring diversity statements from new applicants to positions at WSU. 

There is more work to be done. 

Equity is achieved when there are no gaps in power, access, opportunities, treatment, impacts, and outcomes, Locust explained as he shared what the Inclusive Excellence Committee has outlined. It will take continued focus and intention to identify gaps, analyze history, practices and policies, and then come up with solutions, assess the impact and repeat the process again.

Efforts will continue to be an all year, every year, journey.

Here’s how the university is doing with all 15 goals: 

1) Create a George Floyd Scholarship

One week after the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Winona State University started a scholarship fund in his honor.

So far the scholarship has more than $4,000 and is on its way to toward the goal of $30,000. 

“The end goal is for it to be fully endowed,” Robert Christiano said, Director of Development.

What that means for students of color is that once the target is reached, it will be invested, so that the fund can last in perpetuity while awarding $1,000 per scholarship. 

Although it seems like the scholarship is far from the $30,000 range, Christiano said that is normal for a fund and is based on fundraising momentum and how it is received by the community. 

Locust said education has been a big part of fundraising for the scholarship. At the time, some in the community didn’t understand why the scholarship was important and others didn’t understand what George Floyd represented to students and people of color. 

The lack of understanding wasn’t out of malice though, Locust explained, but out of ignorance to the reality people of color live. That’s why the Office of Equity and Inclusive Excellence used the scholarship as an opportunity not only to raise funds for students, but to educate. 

“People are always going to donate to causes they know or are passionate about,” Locust said. “There’s a lot of education that needs to be done as to why people should be donating to these causes.”

2) Organize more campus conversations about racism

As a way to continue conversations about racism, Locust gave the opportunity for leaders, faculty, and staff to join an intensive study group called the Race Matters Study Cohorts that would last the entire academic year. 

The response was more than capacity could handle. 

More than 40 people signed up for the opportunity. In order to make the group stay focused and impactful, only 24 members were selected and split into two cohorts. 

The cohorts meet every other week to have in-depth conversations led by Jonathan Locust. Conversations are spurred by articles, videos, and content that Locust gathers with the input and help from Tyler Treptow-Bowman from the Office of Equity and Inclusive Excellence and Director Eri Fujieda from the Institutional Planning, Assessment and Research. The content is sent out to the cohorts a week in advance.  

So far the groups have talked at length about systemic racism and how it’s able to continue, about terminology and what phrases and words to use, and most recently about how Black and Hispanic/Latino populations have been displaced by wealthy white populations moving into or away from certain areas (gentrification), among other topics. 

Sometimes the topics discussed make perfect sense to members. Other times there’s a need to pause and have thoughtful, engaging, and vulnerable conversations. 

Locust, who has no problem with sharing his own experiences as a person of color, said discussions center around individual experiences related to the content they’re reading. For example, members who grew up in rural areas struggle to understand how over-policing can happen or how living environments can be so vastly different based on neighborhoods. 

“It’s all about people relating the content to their experiences,” Locust said. “If we can center this content around our experiences, we can have discussions and concrete examples to show how relatable we really are.”

3) Prepare culturally competent professionals

This fall, a task force of faculty leaders teamed up to explore the possibility of creating an anti-racism graduation requirement. This group is exploring possible models for a class, examining WSU’s capacity for requiring such a class and gathering information from other faculty about their needs and interests around anti-racism curricula. The group plans to make a report to the Faculty Senate by the end of the spring semester and recommend a pathway forward. It will likely take some time before an anti-racism graduation requirement is in place, but such a requirement will help prepare students for the diverse world they live in as well as allow all students to see themselves represented in WSU courses.

4) Issue a joint statement among higher education in Winona condemning racism

On June 10, 2020, Winona State University, Saint Mary’s University, and Minnesota State College Southeast in Winona banded together to say with one voice that work needs to be done in our community “to ensure that racism has no place in our beautiful town.” Read all about it here.

5) Encourage employees and students to give their time, talent, and treasure to charities that work toward racial equity

Engagement pushes this past year were primarily focused on the 2020 Census, pandemic relief and mutual aid, and the 2020 election, which have implications for racial equity, but weren’t framed in that way.

The Office of Equity and Inclusive Excellence’s page on the WSU website dedicates space to guiding what to watch and read, as well as organizations to donate to, and ways to put time into action that help to increase racial equity and support the Black community and underrepresented populations.

7) Implement Cultural Competency workshops for campus leaders and university administrators

When talking about workshops that are on the horizon, Locust’s voice flowed with enthusiasm as he talked about one coming up. 

Locust is using content from the Race Matters Study Cohorts to develop unique training for a WSU-Rochester committee of alumni, city leaders, and others. 

“There’s an appetite for it,” Locust said with excitement. ”We were able to custom design and work with that group.”

Although not a workshop, Locust was also looking forward to a conversation in late February with the WSU Cabinet where they will be discussing systemic barriers in relationship to economic mobility. They’ll also be reviewing and discussing the same content used in the Race Matters Study Group.

8) Encourage WSU Foundation to establish an equity committee

The process for establishing an equity committee on the WSU Foundation has been slow, Locust said, but for good reason. It’s because it’s being done with intention and with relationship-building as the most important aspect. 

Locust explained that from a scholarship-giving standpoint, it’s important for Foundation members to look through an equity lens to be sure that efforts are helping students of color and underrepresented backgrounds. 

“If the Foundation is giving out a certain amount of scholarships but doesn’t have access to conversations with people who work in diversity, to highlight inequities and gaps in educational outcomes, it becomes very difficult for these gaps to be addressed by Foundation dollars,” Locust said. “Communication is critical so they can make more informed decisions.”

Conversations with the Foundation have been ongoing since 2020 and have included talks on how to build in equitable practices, as well as how to engage alumni of color who could be potential donors by first addressing pain that was previously inflicted. 

“Before we go out and ask for money, we need to first apologize,” Locust said.

6) Establish more need-based scholarships to address income inequity

Locust identified the need for an ongoing fund that the Office of Equity and Inclusive Excellence has access to, with freedom to disperse help when students approach with a specific need. 

Inequity at times can surface when a student needs immediate help rather than an ongoing scholarship, Locust explained. For example, a student might need a book for class but isn’t able to afford it.

“There are institutional scholarships, but a lot of those don’t give us the ability to say you need $25 for a book, here’s money for that book,” Locust said.

The fund isn’t fully established, but Locust said it’s making progress.

9) Encourage and support peaceful protest

“We absolutely do that,” Locust said with confidence. 

If a student asks for support in sharing information about an upcoming peaceful protest, the Office of Equity and Inclusive Excellence will happily share it, Locust said. 

Not only is sharing information a resource for students looking to peacefully protest, but also there’s conversations in the works of how to make sure protesters are safe from threats by those with conflicting views. 

“There needs to be a police presence for protesters’ protection,” said Locust.

11) Condemn racism on social media

The University Marketing and Communications Office– which runs the University’s social media platforms — takes confronting racist content by current students and faculty seriously. Last year, after the killing of George Floyd, posts by current and future students were discovered and confronted. Although there isn’t the capacity or ability to keep tabs on all content, if WSU is tagged or the department is made aware of racist content by a student or faculty member, then it is responded to and condemned.

12) Reach out individually to student leaders to seek their ideas and gauge what resources they need

There’s a strong relationship between students, the President’s office, the Cabinet, the Office of Enrollment and Student Life, and the Office of Equity and Inclusive Excellence, among others. This is specifically important and continues to be nurtured to make sure students have opportunities for giving input and to make sure the connection is strong for when topics — especially revolving around racial equity — come up.  

President Scott Olson and Denise McDowel, the VP of the Office of Enrollment and Student Life, have weekly meetings with the Student Senate President. President Olson also attends every Student Senate meeting to hear their concerns. Locust has regular meetings with numerous student groups related to equity, as well as meetings with the KEAP Council, which is a safe space and inclusive atmosphere for diverse persons, organizations and groups. 

To add to the connections, students have seats on nearly every all-university committee.

13) Require diversity statements from applicants to positions at WSU

This is a commitment for the future, but hasn’t seen a lot of progress yet. Part of that, Locust explained, is because there hasn’t been a lot of hiring and the topic hasn’t been at the top of the list.

10) Work with the Winona Police Department to ensure safe, respectful, equitable policing

Starting in June, connections and conversations have started between WSU and the Winona Police Department. 

“We met with members of the police department to talk about the experience of students of color with law enforcement,” Locust said. “Not everybody has a good relationship with law enforcement and there are systemic reasons for that.” 

Another conversation is being scheduled and will include a group of students that plan to work with the police department as an advisory group.

14) Work with the K12 schools to see what resources or assistance they may need from WSU

Locust has worked with and continues to reach out to Cotter Schools, Winona Area Public Schools, and Bluffview Montessori, as well as with Miller Mentoring.

At times it’s by popping into a Diversity and Equity Committee meeting at WAPS or by presenting during an event series or by providing training for faculty and staff.

15) Create a Bias Response Team

Some headway has been made, Locust said, but the team has not yet been created. One of the first steps is in exploring the hire of an Advocacy Coordinator who would head the team.

Once that happens the department will have a better vision of the team based on the new coordinator’s thoughts, goals, and vision.

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Tesla Mitchell

Named after the 80's rock band, Tesla Mitchell has a decade of experience covering local news and features as a journalist in Winona. A Saint Mary's University alumna, Tesla graduated with a bachelor's degree in Journalism with an emphasis in political science and entrepreneurship. During her free time, Tesla enjoys organizing block parties, being a super mom and an avid heavy weightlifter.