Social Inclusion Center to fill in gaps on campus

Former Alabama Residents Clark West and Elliott Mitchell pledged $250,000 last fall to establish the Mitchell-West Center for Social Inclusion with the goal of making UNA more progressive.

The University of North Alabama’s Mitchell-West Center for Social Inclusion is set to open this fall, providing students with support inside the classroom and outside the classroom.

The Center will be located on the first floor in Rice Hall and with it being on the residential halls, it is be arranged to be accessible to students.

“The Mitchell-West Center for Social Inclusion really has a unique position on campus because it kind of has one foot in student affairs and one foot in academic affairs,” said Andrea Hunt, the executive director of the center. “We get to bridge that and also fill the gaps in some of the existing services on campus.”

To do so, the center will be partnering with student counseling services, disability support services, the office of diversity and institutional equity, and several other offices. In working with these offices and services, it will be able to provide some innovative ways to address inclusion and diversity on campus.

“There’s a lot of collaboration,” Hunt said. “There’s a lot of input from students, staff, community and parents. We’re getting to respond to that and getting to continue to be a campus that is inclusive for everybody.”

One of the main purposes of the center is to address the needs of marginalized students. It will address recourses, housing support, food insecurity, mental health and suicide prevention.  

Hunt said they want to be able to deal with all of these things for students and to think about the whole student, not just them in the classroom and not just them in housing.

“We know if students are struggling financially, if they are struggling with mental health issues, if they are struggling economically, if they don’t have enough food that it affects them academically,” Hunt said. “We want to be able to ensure the success of our students so we’re putting some intentional focus on those other supports.”

Hunt is aware that even before students get here, they might be experiencing some challenges.

 “Whether that’s a death in the family, victimization, or economically insecurity that their family is dealing with, we have some that are already coming and dealing with some of those issues,” Hunt said. “If there’s one thing we do really well at UNA is care for students and so when we know we can start building those support networks.”

Chief Enrollment Officer and Assistant to the President for Diversity Ron Patterson said UNA’s goal is to try to assist in areas, try to fill in gaps and be good community partners.

“Our goal really is to when anyone steps foot onto campus they immediately feel welcome, regardless of skin color, background, race, socioeconomic status, gender affiliation,” Patterson said. “We want them to feel welcome and feel like this campus is one that provides opportunities educationally, socially, personally for our students to thrive. That’s all we can ever ask for.”

Hunt wants students to feel like they are at home, and she works with parents at SOAR tries to get them to understand this.

“I tell every parent if we’re not doing something that makes you feel that this is your home, we need to know so we can begin to make those needed changes,” Hunt said. “I hope the center is able to contribute to that. This is such an exciting time to be at UNA. We have so many things happening right now. Not just with the center, but with our larger diversity inclusion efforts on campus.”

Hunt said she is super grateful for her colleagues that have been doing this work for quite some time.

The diversity and inclusion initiatives on campus are not just beginning – people have been doing this for quite some time. The Mitchell-West Center for Social Inclusion will only continue to move forward on those efforts.

 “My hopes for the center are that we’re able to support people just to do good work on campus,” Hunt said. “I hope we’re able to support students and bridge those gaps.”

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