By STEVEN NALLEY
Mississippi State University will seek methods for improving diversity at all levels of higher education during its second Diversity Conference Thursday and Friday at the Colvard Student Union.
The theme for the event is “Enhancing Diversity in Higher Education: Undergraduate Retention and Recruitment of Graduate Students, Faculty and Staff.” The event is sponsored by the MSU President’s Commission on the Status of Minorities. Commission Chair Adrienne R. Morris said the conference is designed to develop practices and initiatives to improve diversity on campus.
“The agenda is designed to share ideas and explore meaningful ways of using diversity as a tool to move forward communities, businesses and educational systems,” Morris said.
The conference’s keynote speaker is Freeman A. Hrabowski III, president of the University of Maryland in Baltimore County. U.S. News and World Report named Hrabowski one of America’s best Leaders in 2008 and named UMBC America’s No. 1 up-and-coming university in 2009, 2010 and 2011. In 1988, Hrabowski joined with philanthropist Robert Meyerhoff to found the Meyerhoff Scholars Program, which helps minority students committed to advanced science and engineering.
Morris said Hrabowski’s lifelong message was a good fit for the conference’s theme this year.
“He is an educator, administrator, researcher and civil rights advocate,” Morris said. “He is dedicated to educational excellence and minority achievement, particularly in math and science fields.”
Morris said the conference will host several other presenters, moderators and panelists representing diverse universities, organizations and backgrounds. One of these special guests is Stephen Middleton, history professor and director of African-American studies at MSU.
Middleton will moderate a panel featuring MSU Provost Jerry Gilbert as well as provosts from several other Mississippi colleges. Middleton said panels like the provost panel, featuring top-level academic administrators, will set this diversity conference apart from the first.
“What this panel is designed to do is explore strategies to help state institutions in Mississippi become more diverse in terms of race, gender and other ethnicity,” Middleton said. “For Mississippi, as our provost has said, diversity also includes increasing the number of African-Americans on the faculty. This session is about exploring ways to accomplish that in ways that are compliant with state law and federal laws and regulations.”
When MSU’s diversity levels are examined from the undergraduate level up, Middleton said, room for improvement becomes apparent. At the undergraduate level, he said, diversity initially appears strong among freshmen and sophomores at MSU.
“If you move up the scale to juniors and seniors, we lose kids, particularly African-American males after their second year or in their second year,” Middleton said. “If you look at certain undergraduate colleges, we’re not doing very well in terms of diversity. For example, the college of architecture is not doing well. When you move up to the master’s and doctoral level, most colleges — not all of them — (have low diversity.) I think the college of education does better than most other colleges on diversity.”
In a press release, MSU President Mark Keenum said improved diversity can empower and enrich any university as well as its students, faculty and staff.
“It gives us the opportunity to communicate, to know one another and to displace fear and prejudice with understanding and respect,” Keenum said. “It is particularly important that our colleges and universities, where the leaders of the future are developing today, should be in the forefront in enhancing diversity.”