Open. Understanding. Respectful. Safe. Four simple words that encompass the values of the University of North Georgia (UNG) and a culture of inclusion for all faculty, staff and students. UNG is launching the OURS campaign to emphasize the university's dedication to diversity and acceptance.
The OURS description states:
We are members of an intellectual community that shares fundamental values. The University is OPEN; the open and free exchange of ideas is fundamental to a culture of academic excellence. The University promotes the UNDERSTANDING of diverse view points, and RESPECT for all people, their diverse backgrounds and opinions. And we believe that all students, faculty and staff are entitled to work and study in an environment in which they feel SAFE, free from harassment or danger.
"Within our university community, these principles of being open and respectful, showing understanding and being safe is something that we want as a work environment and as a learning environment," said Chaudron Gille, vice provost of academic affairs at UNG. "OURS is about how we interact with each other."
Nearly three years ago, Gille and Robert L. Robinson, director of multicultural student affairs, were tasked by UNG President Bonita Jacobs with looking at diversity and crafting an awareness campaign for a changing university population.
In spring 2016, UNG's student population was 76.8 percent white. In spring 2001, the demographics of UNG’s two former institutions were much different; Gainesville State College was 88.8 percent white and North Georgia College & State University was 93.6 percent white.
UNG's shifting demographics reflect population changes in the state and the nation. The U.S. Census Bureau projects that students of color and ethnic minorities will become the majority in K-12 classroom by the middle of the 21st century. In Georgia, one of 13 states where people of color make up more than 40 percent of the population, 44.1 percent are nonwhite.
Robinson said OURS, which will be presented at orientation events for new students and employees, communicates the university's values and tells newcomers UNG appreciates their culture and ideas.
"We want UNG students to understand they are not defined by their religion or their color or their gender or gender identity. UNG students are defined by their pursuit of academic excellence," he said. "We want them to know immediately what the culture is here, so they feel like they can be comfortable at UNG being who they are."
An advisory committee will guide the campaign, which will include visual marketing for events, UNG shuttles, video screens, brochures, and other displays, according to Sheila Caldwell, advisor to the president on diversity.
"OURS is about highlighting who we are to create a shared understanding of our values that also provides a foundation for us to build on who we hope to be as a university," Caldwell said.
UNG has been addressing the ideals of OURS in many ways, including:
- diversity programming for students
- institution-wide cultural celebrations
- training opportunities for faculty and staff
- diversity statements in statues, handbooks and other UNG governing documents
- support offices and student support groups for diverse populations
- a focus on global understanding as part of the curriculum
As ongoing incidents related to differences in race, religion and culture continue to flare up in news coverage, Gille said it becomes even more important that UNG state its commitment to respecting diversity in educating students.
"It is absolutely incumbent upon us as a university that is preparing students to be future leaders that we communicate our values to them and that we model them as faculty and staff," Gille said. "We are a community – one that is a microcosm of the world."