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Education news and issues in the Ozarks.

Student that Initiated Juan Meraz Complaint Speaks Out, Assistant VP Apologizes

Springfield Coalition for Minority Advancement
Scott Harvey

Weeks after a student group first publically called for the dismissal of Juan Meraz and following the recent conclusion of a review into his behavior, the diversity official at Missouri State University is apologizing for his actions.

Specifically, the assistant vice president of Multicultural Services says he is sorry for the language and tone used during a recorded discussion with a student, according to a university statement.

“It was never my intent to hurt this student or other students at Missouri State with language that was unprofessional and offensive. As a member of a historically excluded group, I have felt the sting of words and actions many times in my life, which is why I understand that I let the students down with my words.”

Meraz’s apology is directed toward Monica Villa Meza, who acknowledged during a press conference Thursday that she recorded the conversation in early November out of fear. In the recording, Meraz talks in part about a hostile environment within the Multicultural Resource Center. The audio file has been a focal point in calls by the Springfield Coalition for Minority Advancement for Meraz’s dismissal.   

Shortly after obtaining the recording last November, Villa Meza initiated a complaint against Meraz. She and other SCMA members also brought up concerns during the December Board of Governor’s meeting, although the specific examples noted Thursday were not mentioned then.

During Thursday’s press conference, Villa Meza, along with other members of the SCMA, referenced a confusing complaint process. The group said the complaint was requested to be done formally, but an informal process was initiated by Wes Pratt, then director of the Office of Institutional Equity and Compliance (OIEC). Melissa Berry, who recently became interim director for the OIEC and equal opportunity officer, took over the complaint review process in mid-January.

SCMA member Shawna Barkley said, “Not only did they directly violate what the student requested, which is obviously a problem, as Monica said there was no clear explanation for the difference or what the process looks like or what will be involved in it. And that’s something the university should make available to their students whenever there’s an issue. They should be willing to help and provide that information.”

In its statement, MSU acknowledged the confusion that can sometimes occur when providing support to students. It also listed a timeline of the complaint as documented by the OIEC.

Villa Meza alleged instances of unprofessional conduct, unethical leadership and cultural incompetence of Meraz. She noted that Meraz questioned the people Villa Meza would interact with, seemed to express negative feelings towards her dating a black male, and says she questioned Merza’s intentions after receiving text messages from him with “kissy faces” and the words “I love you very much.”

Meza said, “After the case was completed, Melissa Berry told me that even after providing them with text messages, emails and recording, there were no findings – only findings of bias. I was told that everything was out of their jurisdiction, and it would all be handled by Dee Siscoe.”

The complaint timeline provided by MSU states that interviews were conducted with multiple witnesses, most of whom had been identified by Villa Meza, but that many denied the student’s allegations against Meraz.

As part of his apology, Meraz said, “I have been disciplined by Dr. Siscoe and I accept it as an appropriate university response to my actions. This has been a regrettable but powerful learning opportunity for me and I will continue to strive to ensure all students on campus feel welcome and valued in my presence.”

Details of the actions taken against Meraz were not disclosed. Last week, President Clif Smart told KSMU the matter had been resolved and noted the pending discipline against Meraz, but added that such actions taken against an employee are not discussed publicly.

The SCMA members said Thursday they’ve lost faith in Missouri State University’s ability to handle these types of personnel matters.

“They have shown they are more concerned with protecting the university’s name than students and it makes me question how far will they go to protect someone who has clearly violated the policies put in place and goes against everything the university is supposed to stand for,” Villa Meza said.

Xavier Torres Ghoston took his frustration a step further.

“I don’t think I want to hear anything else from the university about diversity and inclusion and cultural competence or ethical leadership because this illustrates that ya’ll not dishing out what ya’ll say ya doing. To keep somebody around like that; that goes against everything that this university stands for.”

SCMA released a statement earlier this week detailing its objections the university’s complaint review process.

Villa Meza says she’s now going “outside a room of the university to handle this matter” and has taken steps to do so. She declined to elaborate on those plans.

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