‘Damage has been done’: Gipson says social justice center staff won’t lose jobs, rumors ‘misconstrued’

MU’s Vice Chancellor of Inclusion, Diversity and Equity met with staff Monday to clarify comments made last week that led to concern over the future of the university’s social justice centers.

In a Monday Zoom meeting with staff from MU’s social justice centers, Maurice Gipson, the vice chancellor of inclusion, diversity and equity, assured attendees that an upcoming realignment will not directly result in the loss of their jobs.

“That’s just inaccurate,” Gipson said in the meeting. “No one is losing their job on June 30. That was never the intent. That was never the case … It was our intent to no longer have coordinators as the title, no coordinator in the title, but to shift to the different model where we have assistant directors and specialists.”

Social media rumors circulated, primarily on Twitter, after leaks from Thursday’s meeting suggested that the coordinators of MU’s social justice centers were being cut from their positions on June 30.

On Monday morning, more than 100 students protested in several prominent locations on the university campus against the decision.

“We have students marching at Jesse [Hall] now over incorrect information,” Gipson said. “It’s preposterous to think that we would do away with the social justice centers.”

The Maneater obtained an audio recording of the meeting and the Thursday meeting that led to initial concern for the centers’ future.

In last week’s meeting, B. Sherrance Russell, the assistant vice chancellor for student diversity initiatives, told staff about “a realignment and a restructuring.”

“We are changing our focus from an individual center perspective to a community, collaborative perspective,” Russell said last week.

The five centers in MU’s Department of Social Justice are the Gaines/Oldham Black Culture Center, LGBTQ Resource Center, Multicultural Center, Relationship and Sexual Violence Prevention (RSVP) Center and Women’s Center.

Staff seemed to take away conflicting messages from last week’s meeting.

“No one, essentially, at large, has jobs June 30,” Russell said at one point in the call. “No one, because no one’s positions are going to continue in that state.”

But at another interval: “If you wish to stay on with the university, you definitely can stay on with the university. Vice Chancellor Gipson was very clear in the meeting. He said some people won’t be here. So if you’re not a part of, if you don’t fit in this new direction, and there’s not a job that you want to apply for or you think is for you, your time with the university as it is now is no more.”

Asked specifically in Monday’s meeting about comments about personnel leaving the university, Gipson said some may depart on their own.

“That is factual, that is accurate, because some people will not be here,” he said. “That is not directed to any specific person, but we know that as we move forward and we change our direction, some people won’t agree and they will self-select themselves.”

Under the new model, Gipson said on Monday, coordinators are expected to take on the title of either “assistant director” or “specialist.” There might be an assistant director and specialist for the combination of the LGBTQ Resource Center and Women’s Center, Gipson said in an example.

“Our thought was individuals who have been here longer would move into assistant director roles, and those who aspire to do that one day, they would at least have a clear path forward to some promotion,” he said in the Monday meeting.

Monday’s explanation differed from Thursday’s, some staff said in the meeting.

“That model is completely different than the model that we were talking about or the information that we were told on Thursday,” one staff member said.

Applications for new positions will be open to both internal and external applicants.

“We cannot considerably change titles without re-opening an application process,” Gipson said.

A significant portion of the Monday meeting centered around how incorrect information regarding the centers’ futures spiraled into social media firestorm.

“I’m always a person that will own mistakes and will own failures,” Gipson said. “I will say that this, the way we rolled this out, in hindsight, could have been better.”

One staff member, who wasn’t identifiable from the audio, said that they felt unable to correct misinformation or release a statement on social media because of university policies.

“We are not really allowed to do that on our own,” they said.

MU students received an email from Gipson on Monday afternoon, though it contained few of the details expressed in the meeting.

In the Monday meeting, Gipson criticized staff for voicing concerns to students instead of bringing them up to him. Staff responded saying that they’d been instructed to follow a chain of communication and not go directly to Gipson.

Ultimately, Gipson acknowledged the damage to MU’s reputation and distress experienced by the university community.

“It’s going to take a long time to repair this, and this is of our own doing and our own making and that’s unfortunate,” he said.

Gipson said he will hold a town hall-style meeting with student organizations next week.

Edited by Hope Davis | hdavis@themaneater.com

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