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University of Missouri

Intentionally Inclusive

Robert Ross welcomes all to the Mizzou Alumni Association.

Robert Ross

Robert Ross won an Inclusive Excellence Award from MU in 2014. Photo by Nicholas Benner.

Inclusiveness is not automatic, says Robert Ross, M Ed ’12, coordinator of affinity engagement for the Mizzou Alumni Association. Regardless, he says, “The association prides itself on being inclusive, and I work to be intentional about it.” In recognition of his efforts, MU’s Chancellor’s Diversity Initiative awarded Ross one of its Inclusive Excellence Awards for 2014.

In 2011, Ross helped the association launch efforts to engage traditionally underrepresented students and alumni, and he co-wrote the report Engaging All Mizzou Alumni: A Plan for Diversity and Inclusiveness.

Through his role at the association, Ross works with a range of groups, including Marching Mizzou Alumni Band; Army ROTC Alumni; Mizzou Military Veterans Alumni Association; and Varsity M, for former athletes. Some alumni and students have expressed interest in restarting the LGBTQ alumni group. He helps these groups build relationships with students and alumni.

When it comes to African-American alumni, special care is sometimes required, Ross says. “Some alumni had student experiences that resulted in their not keeping a strong relationship with Mizzou after graduation. But the association sees itself as home to all alumni. So, we design engagement opportunities that stand on their own merit, not some quota,” Ross says. For instance, the association sponsored two screenings of the documentary Battle: Change from Within, about educator Eliot Battle’s, M Ed ’60, role in desegregating schools and housing in Columbia.

Andrea Allison-Putman, BS BA ’85, chair of the association’s diversity committee and chief people officer for the YMCA of Greater Kansas City, says Ross’ efforts are central to engaging traditionally underrepresented alumni. “He shares his research-based insights and tactics in concrete ways with the Mizzou Alumni Association governing board and so helps ensure that we make it a priority.”