Vallerie A. Maurice, Merrill, Thomas A., Morgan, Johnny W.
News Release Distributed 2/20/04
BATON ROUGE – A variety of speakers challenged participants from across the country to respect and honor diversity during the LSU AgCenter’s 2004 Diversity Conference this week in Baton Rouge.
The conference ran Wednesday through Friday (Feb. 18-20) at the Sheraton Baton Rouge Convention Center Hotel and operated under the theme "Diversity Gumbo: Recipes for a Multicultural Workplace."
"Gumbo is concocted from a diversity of ingredients, but when you put it all together, the end product is so good that you love it and ask for more," said Dr. Kirkland Mellad, vice chancellor of the Southern University Agricultural Center, in welcoming participants to Baton Rouge and explaining the importance of the gumbo theme. "I compare that to diversity in our work, because when we respect and achieve diversity, we have something we can be proud of – and the quality of our work shows it."
Although this conference marked the LSU AgCenter’s fourth year to offer a conference focused on issues related to multicultural diversity, it was the first time the conference had been widely offered to colleagues in other land-grant universities and organizations across the country in addition to the AgCenter’s faculty, staff and others working in its diversity initiatives.
As for opening the conference to others this year, Dr. David Boethel, associate vice chancellor in the LSU AgCenter, said its extensive work in the area of diversity and the state’s diverse culture made sharing the AgCenter’s success and what it has learned a natural step.
"Louisiana is a diverse state – diverse people, diverse food and diverse agriculture," Boethel said. "I encourage all of you to keep diversity in mind when you go back to your workplaces and to work to build on what you’ve learned here."
LSU athletic director Skip Bertman, who also was one of college baseball’s best-known coaches, used the analogy of sports to stress the importance of diversity to success in any endeavor.
"Sports is blind to racial injustice or religious injustice. When two teams play, they start at 0-0," Bertman said, continuing, "Blacks and whites play together. And there is no advantage to being rich or poor.
"When the team gets together … not only do they have to help themselves, they have to help their teammates," he said, stressing, "Think about applying these same things to your work."
Like Bertman, speaker after speaker during the conference stressed the results that can be achieved when diversity is valued and respected.
"The value of affirmative action and diversity more generally is the value of benefiting a diverse leadership class," Tulane University law professor Raymond T. Diamond said during a half-day institute on diversity in higher education. "In a country that will be majority non-white within our lifetime and perhaps within the next 20 years, it is essential that we develop leadership that is multiracial in nature, leadership that has learned to deal comfortably with others of other races and leadership that has learned the essential value of power sharing.
"We teach that better in the university under diverse circumstances than perhaps we do anything else."
Those comments came during the three-day conference that included a spectrum of workshops and guest speakers stressing that the true potential of businesses and educational institutions can only be achieved if diversity is valued and respected.
Those workshops, institutes and speakers covered topics ranging from comparing the similarities and differences of various religious backgrounds to domestic violence and how it can be a workplace issue. Among the topics were sexual orientation in the workplace, understanding the culture of poverty, understanding and valuing differences, breaking the glass ceiling, faith and diversity, multicultural identity in Louisiana and the United States, being an ally and strategies for confronting prejudice.
"We should see diversity as an advantage," Dr. Paul Coreil, vice chancellor of the LSU AgCenter stressed during remarks Friday morning. "It is easy to go with the flow, but to make change, you have to buck the tide."
Others also stressed that message.
"It starts up top when people say it’s not OK to treat anyone with anything less than respect," said John Lord, a retired executive with the Bank of America. "That’s where it really makes a difference."
Walter Hurdle, director of diversity for American Express, took that principle even further – stressing that valuing diversity must pervade an organization’s culture.
"For diversity to succeed in an organization, it must be all-inclusive," Hurdle said. "It must be integrated into the organization and be a part of the responsibilities of every administrator, every manager, every team leader.
"You can’t have a complete diversity process if you exclude anyone from that process."
On the other hand, Hurdle stressed that respecting and valuing diversity doesn’t mean changing what people believe.
"When you set inclusion as a standard, it will happen," he said, adding later, "An organization can’t expect people to change their beliefs, but it can expect certain behaviors."
The conference was coordinated by the LSU AgCenter’s Office of Multicultural Diversity and its Diversity Initiative. It was co-sponsored by the LSU AgCenter, American Express, Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center, Entergy of Louisiana and Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Louisiana.
For more details about the work of the LSU AgCenter, visit www.lsuagcenter.com.