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Opportunity centers will replace campus diversity offices but not services

Screenshot 2021-11-30 113743.jpg
Lindsey Balbierz

In January, South Dakota universities will replace student diversity offices with opportunity centers. The South Dakota Board of Regents says despite the name change, services for diverse student groups will remain.

Governor Kristi Noem asked members of the Board of Regents recently if campus diversity offices were quote “still operating within the scope of their original mission” unquote. The comment came in a letter from Noem criticizing the concept of Critical Race Theory.

Tim Rave is serving his first term on the South Dakota Board of Regents. Rave, who’s a former lawmaker, says before Noem’s letter, some lawmakers questioned whether diversity offices were necessary.

“I don't think there was a full appreciation of what a diversity center did. I think there was some preconceived notions, specifically from some legislative folks that didn't really comprehend exactly what a diversity center was or did.”

Rave says the Board of Regents proactively addressed concerns from lawmakers and the Governor. They created opportunity centers to replace diversity offices on state university campuses next year.

Tony Venhuizen is also in his first term as a regent. He is the former chief of staff for Governor Kristi Noem and Governor Dennis Daugaard.

Venhuizen says the regents found that many student services were siloed and spread across each campus.

“What you really want and what we're going to have now, is if you're needing help you can go to this place, and they'll connect you with the right thing. And so maybe you need a tutor, maybe you need a counselor, maybe you need to join the frisbee golf team. You know, whatever you need to get you connected with campus and get you successful that's what they'll do. It's a one stop shop.”

Venhuizen says initially university officials were concerned that replacing diversity offices meant reducing diversity services and programming. Venhuizen says they will not cut any programming and South Dakota universities will continue to provide support to diverse student populations. Both board members made their comments Monday at a Sioux Falls Rotary meeting.