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Diversity Matters - Natalie Sandoval

Natalie Sandoval, a professor in the Social Work Department sat down with me back in February
before copresiding over a Diversity Peer Educators meeting, to have a candid conversation about
Diversity. This is Natalie's first year as a full time faculty member in the College of Health and Human
Services, although if you are taking her Social Work Intervention course, you wouldn't know it. In
addition, Natalie currently serves as the faculty advisor for Diversity Peer Educators (DPE), a student
organization dedicated to teaching tolerance and promoting social justice issues. She enjoys teaching
her students about the Social Work profession and learning from their personal experiences. She
honestly believes that learning is a two-way street and that there is always something to be gained by
the experiences of her students. Natalie is most proud of the work she has done in the community as
a social worker and while working with Project Homeless Connect. When I asked Natalie to sit down
and answer a few questions about Why Diversity Matters, her kindness and the care she has for the
welfare of those residing in the Cape Girardeau community was apparent.

What are some of the immediate thoughts that you have about the recent recommendations of the
President’s Diversity Task Force?
“My biggest piece of criticism would be that the recommendations would become a working
document. I think everything that they put in there makes sense, there’s a plan, and there are
goals. I do think that sometimes those documents aren’t bought into by the entire system, so I do
think that it’s important that there is room for follow up and evaluation in the way of a working

What are some diversity and equity challenges that are unique to Southeast’s campus?
“One thing that I think we often don’t think about on our campus are individuals with ability
differences. “Look at how hilly our campus is, and it’s beautiful” Natalie jokes. Natalie points out that
if you have a mobility difference it really can be the difference between you being comfortable on
campus or not. She says "Imagine being a student in a wheel chair and maybe in the Social Work
building (Crisp Hall) the elevator went down for the day. That would be the difference in making it to
class or not. I think one of the things that we might be able to do in the future is really make the
campus more accessible. One of the things we really don’t think about when we say “Diversity” is
difference in ability, and that’s a change; we also need to start changing that conversation to include
ability difference.”

What are some diversity and equity challenges that are unique to the SEMO region?
“Our region struggles with issues like accessibility and belief in opportunity. I think our campus is an
extension of the region. I think that we struggle with having a student population, that are still first
generation college students , I think a lot of students come into the University with a secondary
education that was challenging. That speaks to our surrounding communities, I think we struggle with
communicating to our surrounding communities that higher education is accessible. Education is
something that they deserve. We still have a long way to go as far as racial relationships. People here
know how to be very politically correct, it doesn’t mean that those underlying judgments and ideas
about race aren’t still there.”

Are there enough opportunities for cultural enmeshment on our campus?
I think there are opportunities. Are there enough? No! There’s always room for more opportunities.
We often have very surface level conversations about diversity and cultural differences, we as a
community need to start communicating on a more meaningful level. I think we can do a lot more in
regards to meaningful exchange.”

The Wrap Up
It was a pleasure to sit down with Natalie Sandoval and to hear her perspective on Diversity Matters
here on the Southeast Missouri State University campus. I found some comfort in knowing that
there are others who share my sentiments that, although, we are working in the right direction, there
is still a lot of work to do! Interviewing Natalie was refreshing and fun! She has a fire for social
justice and is not afraid to speak her mind about issues that are often swept under the rug. As a
student who is fighting for equity and understanding, it's refreshing to know that we have faculty
members out there who not only still have the WILL to change, but who are continuing to change the
world in their own way each and every day.

Story by Robert-DeanTurner
Student Worker, Office of Institutional Equity and Diversity
President, Diversity Peer Educators
Southeast MO State University


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One University Plaza, MS 3375
Cape Girardeau, Missouri 63701