Conference Participants Learn Diversity Is Right Thing To Do

Vallerie A. Maurice, Merrill, Thomas A., Morgan, Johnny W.  |  4/21/2005 11:52:11 PM

News Release Distributed 02/21/05

Participants in the LSU AgCenter’s Diversity Conference earlier this month got a healthy dose of advice that respecting, understanding and honoring diversity is the right thing to do.

The conference, which was held Feb. 9-12 in Baton Rouge, built on last year’s successful national event and focused on continuing its theme by billing this year’s conference as "Second Helpings of Diversity Gumbo: Recipes for a Multicultural Workplace."

Workshops and seminars during the conference covered a broad range of issues such as faith and diversity, race and gender in the workplace, understanding the culture of poverty and breaking the "glass ceiling."

Peppered through the conference, however, was the overriding message that being different is OK and that making diversity a priority is important.

Baton Rouge attorney Brace Godfrey stressed that in his keynote address, which emphasized that work on diversity issues in an organization must be treated as the right thing to do – not just window dressing.

"Diversity does not simply mean opening the door to diverse individuals and saying come in," Godfrey said in his remarks about hiring, retaining and making employees with diverse backgrounds feel at home. "But it does mean that we should say come in and really mean it."

Although the LSU AgCenter’s diversity conference marked its fifth year in 2005, this was the second year it was open to a national audience and the first time it attracted a truly international audience – with at least some participants from Norway and Argentina.

Officials say giving LSU AgCenter employees and colleagues from across the country a chance to increase their knowledge of diversity is an integral part of the AgCenter’s own diversity initiatives.

"What we wanted to do was open the event up to more people so that there would be an opportunity for more diverse ideas," said Vallerie Maurice, the LSU AgCenter’s director of diversity and assistant to the chancellor.

The LSU AgCenter’s diversity initiatives, which began in earnest in early 1998 and were the first of their kind in the LSU System, have included community outreach forums to determine how to better serve all Louisiana citizens, diversity training for faculty and staff and a variety of other programs to ensure the LSU AgCenter is an inclusive organization that capitalizes on the diversity of its employees and its clientele.

LSU AgCenter Chancellor William "Bill" Richardson opened this year’s conference by discussing the strides that have been made over the past few years in the area of diversity.

"We know that through the diversity efforts of the LSU AgCenter we truly can achieve our mission of improving the quality of life for all the people of Louisiana through the best research and educational programs we can conduct," Richardson said.

Richardson and Maurice also stressed another important milestone for this year’s conference.

"While we have actively involved faculty and staff from Southern University in our diversity initiatives from the beginning, this was the first year that the Southern University Ag Center was a co-sponsor of the conference," Maurice explained, stressing the importance of cooperation between the state’s two land-grant universities on diversity issues.

One of the indications of that cooperation was the inclusion of a visit to the Southern University’s African American Museum as one of several educational tours designed to help conference participants learn more about other cultures – as well as different work environments, such as the urban forest and research station operated by the LSU AgCenter at its Burden Center in Baton Rouge.

"It has been a joy to listen and share with the others here at the conference. I believe that in order for us to move forward we will have to learn about the cultures of others," said Sadie Roberts-Joseph, founder and curator of the Odell S. Williams Now and Then Museum of African American History in Baton Rouge, who was one of approximately 250 conference participants.

Roberts-Joseph also stressed that it is important to be proactive in making sure people learn about diversity, and she complimented the LSU AgCenter for its efforts.

Like Roberts-Joseph, Frank Owens, an Iowa State University extension specialist who participated in the conference, said the topics discussed were very timely and very much needed.

"What I’ve found is that diversity is an ongoing process. It’s one that has to be worked on in some way every day of our lives," Owens said, adding, "I don’t know if it’s something that we will ever complete, but we just have to keep working at it."

The conference was coordinated by the LSU AgCenter’s Office of Multicultural Diversity and its Diversity Council. It was co-sponsored by the AgCenter, Entergy of Louisiana, Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center, Southern University Agricultural Research and Extension Center, AmSouth Bank, Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Louisiana, 100 Black Men of Baton Rouge, American Express and Baton Rouge Coca-Cola Bottling Co.

For more details about the work of the LSU AgCenter, which covers topics ranging from lawns and gardens to nutrition and health, visit www.lsuagcenter.com.

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Contact:        Vallerie Maurice at (225) 578-4163 or vmaurice@agcenter.lsu.edu
Writers: 
                       Johnny Morgan at (504) 838-1170 or jmorgan@agcenter.lsu.edu
                       Tom Merrill at (225) 578-2263 or tmerrill@agcenter.lsu.edu

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