It’s safe to say that Pratt has done everything in his power to empower community members. Upon returning to Springfield, he and his wife, Francine, started a local community action group called “The Gathering” and helped revitalize the local chapter of the NAACP, establishing several standing committees and increasing membership. Along with their colleague Dr. Leslie Anderson, Wes and Francine also provide bias-based training for the local police force, teaching members of the Springfield Police Department how to mitigate their bias and interact with people of color, individuals suffering from mental illness and low-income community members. “Now I’m a part of the change that is occurring not only at Missouri State but in the community as well,” says Pratt, who feels that his work at Missouri State is particularly important because of the university’s impact on the community. “So goes Missouri State, so goes the rest of this region because of the economic footprint.” For Pratt, that impact begins with explaining the value of diversity. “Our students have to be able to compete and relate in a diverse world,” he says. “They have to be able to succeed in a global society.” In other words, universities not prioritizing diversity are falling behind.
Missouri State is staying ahead, Pratt explains, with the help of the university’s 2016–2021 Long-Range Plan. The university outlines long-range plans for operations every five years, but Pratt says this is the first time a plan has included a section to define diversity, inclusion and cultural competency to “promote inclusive excellence as a core value for the university.” Regardless of whether Pratt will leave his post after the initially agreed-upon 18 months, he wanted to put together this research-based framework to keep Missouri State moving forward.
The section outlines specific verbiage to define diversity for university purposes. “Diversity’s pretty broad,” Pratt says. “A lot of people think it’s race or ethnicity when you’re talking about the individual and group social differences that we run into in the pursuit of higher education.” Pratt explains that diversity is much broader, and includes learning style, veteran status, disabled status and other factors. Using the diversity section in the plan helps unify the university’s faculty, student affairs departments and administration, which Pratt says can be difficult. “It’s like herding cats sometimes,” he says with a laugh. The framework will hopefully create a climate of “inclusive excellence,” judging success in four areas: access, success and equity; campus climate, learning development and institutional commitment. For Pratt, the long-range plan is a big step toward the successful prioritization of diversity and inclusion at Missouri State. “Missouri State could be the model of how a predominantly white institution can really value all of its stakeholders regardless of their diverse backgrounds,” he says. “And to me, that’s the goal.”
Pratt is currently planning to write a book about his life in public service. Until then, he’ll keep doing what he does best—facilitating tough conversations, standing up for cultural consciousness and listening. Always listening.