Student Diversity Programs and Services
SDPS ready for fall semester
story by Alex MacDonald and Joe Giordano
Published Aug. 17, 2021
The seven offices that comprise Student Diversity Programs and Services at Colorado State University are designed to support students in a variety of ways and provide opportunities for them to successfully participate in as well as contribute to a diverse campus environment.
As students return to campus, there are a few new faces in the offices this year, including within the Black/African American Cultural Center and Pride Resource Center.
See what’s in store in Fall 2021 for all of the SDPS offices below.
Asian Pacific American Cultural Center
As the director of the Asian Pacific American Cultural Center, JoAnn Cornell calls the center a “home away from home” on campus when talking with her friends and family.
“It’s a place where people can come in and find community, and even check in with each other and us,” Cornell said, adding that it’s a hub where students can eat, sleep, study or just hang out and be comfortable.
Fall 2021 marks Cornell’s 11th year in her role as director, and it has given her much experience as she returns back to campus for a traditional in-person semester. “We are excited to move forward and be in-person, but also quite cautious. We’re trying to balance a lot more,” she said.
APACC intends to host an open house during Ram Welcome with extra space for overflow and also to provide social distancing for those who need it. They also plan on having open office hours throughout the week in the fall with a student-based staff.
For in-person events, Cornell said they plan to have a concurrent virtual event equipped with an OWL-360 camera for attendees that would prefer it. “We have learned from the pandemic that we can do virtual events and it can be successful as well as reach a larger audience,” she said.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, Cornell said she also recognizes just how much of a personal connection can be lost from being virtual.
“We learned initially how much we relied on in-person stuff but how quickly we could adapt to virtual things,” she said. “Now, we can have a bit of both worlds.”
— Alex MacDonald
Black/African American Cultural Center
The magnetic pull of Colorado State University keeps bringing Duan Ruff back to Fort Collins.
Ruff, a 2003 CSU graduate, earned a bachelor’s degree in liberal arts, minor in economics and played on the football and track and field teams. After serving in leadership roles in higher education and secondary education in Denver, he returned as assistant director of Black/African American Cultural Center from 2013-2017. Now, after another tour in Denver, Ruff is back at his alma mater as the new director of B/AACC.
“It’s full circle to come back here now,” Ruff said. “This is a second home for me. To immerse myself in the Black experience at CSU, that’s what keeps bringing me back. I’ve met a lot of great people here, and I see so much of myself in the students who walk these halls and spend time in the center.”
Ruff said he plans to build upon the work of his processors such as Bridgette Johnson, Vivian Kerr, Bruce Smail, Dawn Persons, Jennifer Williams Molock and Vice President for Student Affairs Blanche Hughes who served as the director of the center when Ruff was a student.
As Ruff settles into the center, he said he hopes to build a space that celebrates students and the intersectionality of their identities. Additionally, he is planning to expand the center’s engagement with alumni and enhance the use of technology to better connect with students.
“We want to lean into live-streaming things, while also providing opportunities to engage in the office,” he said. “We also have our work to do with the second-year students who didn’t get a traditional first-year experience last year.”
— Joe Giordano
El Centro Director Dora Frias is looking forward to Fall 2021 so that she can engage with students in person again. After her first year as director in a completely virtual environment, Frias said what she misses most is hearing about the day-to-day happenings of student life.
Starting her position during the COVID-19 pandemic, Frias said she hopes to hear once again about simple things like the fun events in a student’s day and what they do at CSU.
“I want to hear what adds vibrancy to their life and how I can engage with them on it,” she said.
Frias describes El Centro as a place where students can come and feel uplifted and supported by the connections they make.
For the fall semester, there are plans for a biweekly dialogue series called Platicas on Wednesday afternoons and celebrations with prominent authors and speakers for National Latinx Heritage month beginning Sept. 15.
El Centro is also looking forward to unveiling a new official logo design that is geared to a more inclusive representation of its Latinx students.
“We want to represent a variety of experiences, cultures, and ways of being,” Frias said. “The new design represents a variety of textiles from a bunch of different Latin American countries; we hope our students will see themselves, their cultures and identities reflected in it.”
For students returning or transitioning to a physical learning experience on campus, Frias said that the conversation of resiliency has changed. “As educators, I thought we needed to teach students how to be resilient, but because of the pandemic they’ve shown me that they don’t need to be taught, students are resilient,” she said.
— Alex MacDonald
Native American Cultural Center
Native American Cultural Center Director Ty Smith and Assistant Director Tiffani Kelly are looking forward to the energy that comes with being back on campus.
The NACC team is preparing the office to welcome back students in person for a new academic year, which includes moving furniture back to the center and creating a safe and welcoming environment.
“I’m looking forward to meeting the new incoming class, as well as welcoming back returning students,” Smith said. “The office hasn’t been the same without them.”
“It’s exciting to be back in our offices,” Kelly added. “This is a home away from home for our students. There’s definitely an energy for sure being back. Once the students are here, it will elevate it even more.”
Kelly explained that the Native American Cultural Center will be providing both in-person and virtual programming and services to meet the needs and preferences of students. As an example, the center’s popular peer mentoring programming and its tutoring program, which were strictly virtual last year, will have both online and in-person options.
In addition, Kelly said they are currently working on fall events, including Native American Heritage Month in November and that a decision has not been made yet on the annual AISES Pow Wow. Much like peer mentoring, the fall events will have in-person and virtual elements, she said.
With the ongoing uncertainty of COVID-19, Kelly said the Native American Cultural Center is taking into consideration the evolving nature of the pandemic.
“We’re excited to see our students, especially our juniors and seniors, who we haven’t seen (in-person) in over a year,” Kelly said. “Hopefully it feels somewhat normal, while still being cautious and prioritizing the safety of our community.”
— Joe Giordano
Pride Resource Center
The Pride Resource Center has a new director, Ashley Grice, who most recently served as the associate director of alumni and constituent engagement at Carnegie Mellon University. Previously, Grice was the resident director of CSU’s Edwards Hall from 2012 to 2015.
“I’ve always had intentions of seeking opportunities to come back,” said Grice, who started in June. “It’s really great to be around so many great leaders who role model a lot of the values that I align myself with, especially within the diversity, inclusion, equity and access space.”
One of her first major tasks as director involves thoughtfully integrating students back on campus in ways that are accessible. Additionally, she is looking to build synergies across all of the Student Diversity Programs and Services offices.
The Pride Resource Center is hosting a variety of in-person and virtual events to kick off the academic year as part of its Rainbow Ram Welcome. Events include taking part in the Ram Welcome Street Fair on Friday, Aug. 20, and a Queer Connections Dialogue on Tuesday, Aug. 31, among other events.
Grice, who holds an Ed.D. from the University of Pittsburgh, said that she is excited to elevate the intersectional aspects of the Pride Resource Center, adding that the students in the center are very thoughtful and intentionally intersectional.
“I have definitely been inspired and encouraged to know that our students are very forward thinking and very thoughtful about the ways in which our Black and Brown folks and our Latino and Native American folks who are also LGBTQ+ are experiencing the world,” she said. “That’s something that is inspiring for me, especially as somebody who identifies as Black and Queer.”
— Joe Giordano
Student Disability Center
Justin Dove said it was interesting becoming the new director of the Student Disability Center in the midst of a pandemic. Dove, who previously served as director of the Disability Resource Center at Missouri State University, just recently moved into his office in The Institute for Learning and Teaching on the Oval.
“It feels good to be on campus,” Dove said. “I’d be lying if I said it doesn’t feel a little overwhelming, but I’m glad to finally be here in person.”
Dove explained that the ongoing pandemic has forced him and his team to be flexible in determining the best strategy for success for the upcoming academic year. However, he said the center — which supports students with both permanent and temporary disabilities — will continue to assist students as quickly as possible in determining reasonable accommodations for equal access.
Since arriving on campus, Dove said he is working to continue to build relationships with leadership and faculty within the colleges to better support students.
“Hopefully, students will expect from us that we’re going to support them, ensuring they have equal access in the classroom,” he said, “and also that we’re doing what we can to support faculty and making sure they feel supported in providing an inclusive education for our students.”
Dove credited his team with helping to meet government compliance standards and advocating for students at CSU. He said he is looking forward to finally working with them in person.
“The team has been super impressive in terms of how they support each other, how they support students, and how they advocate to have a more inclusive campus,” he said.
— Joe Giordano
Women and Gender Advocacy Center
After nearly 14 years of working in the Women and Gender Advocacy Center and five years in her position as the director, Monica Rivera said she is welcoming the incoming new semester with a new perspective.
Despite the pandemic, she said she feels that she has grown closer to the community through the staff and the students she works with at CSU.
“I couldn’t ask to work with a better group of people,” she said. “They care so deeply about everyone, and they take risks and commit themselves to growth and change.”
Returning to an in-person semester provides a change of pace for Rivera, who works to provide resources such as confidential victim advocacy for all students, staff and faculty. She explained the WGAC strives to create a connection where people can feel safe and valued, and the pandemic has shown that while the resources are available virtually, some of that is challenging.
“Being with someone in 3D (in person) reminds you of their humanity, and the unfortunate reality of trauma work is that there’s something unspoken about being in their presence to get the right support,” she said.
The WGAC plans to return to regular events this fall such as an acknowledgment of National Domestic Violence Awareness Month in October. Also, as a CSU-specific resource center, she explained that they’re hoping to clarify their goals and create more awareness of the expansive resources they offer to students, staff and faculty.
“We can help through legal, emotional and conduct processes,” Rivera said. “One of the things we often hear from new people to the WGAC is that they didn’t realize we had so much to offer.”
— Alex MacDonald