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November 18, 2010

ULM's College of Education and Human Development hosts first ever Diversity Forum

It is no secret that businesses that effectively manage diversity will outperform their competition in a global society. The field of higher education is no exception.

On Wednesday, Nov. 10, the College of Education and Human Development Diversity Committee sponsored its first ever Diversity Forum, reinforcing the motto that "there are more differences within groups than between groups."

To illustrate that point, Jessica, an international student majoring in English, said she is often asked if "arranged marriages" are the norm in her native China.

"That happens only occasionally in rural China, but it is not really the norm," she said, adding that questions about her language are also frequent. "Since there are over 100 different dialects spoken in mainland China, it is more appropriate to ask which dialect I speak."

The forum brought together over 140 students and featured members of a diverse panel representing the Muslim Student Association, the Wesley Foundation, the Gay/Straight Alliance, the International Student Organization and Delta Sigma Theta. The program began with a five minute introduction by each speaker describing how his or her organization supports diversity at ULM.

The comments were followed by a 30-minute panel discussion led by Dr. Leonard Clark, before breaking into small group discussions during the last thirty minutes of the forum. Among the questions discussed in the public forum were whether ULM is doing a better job in accommodating diversity, but interesting debate also surfaced over more topical issues, including the U.S. Military's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy.

Diversity Committee Chair Dr. Lynn V. Clark said the committee saw the forum as both an opportunity to broaden conceptions of diversity as well as a time for CEHD groups to come together. The committee has also started a student advisory sub-committee chaired by Dr. Sherlyn Powell that will meet twice a semester.

"These students were nominated by committee members and will help fulfill our mission of creating a safe space for diverse perspectives in the College of Education and Human Development," Powell explained.

"The committee recognizes that we all have multifaceted and dynamic cultural perspectives that are a combination of our racial, ethnic, gender, linguistic, ability, religious and sexual identities," added Clark. "The forum provided an excellent way to address stereotypes and misconceptions about group membership."

The committee, which represents each department or program in the CEHD, will attempt to hold at least one forum a semester, she said. Although there was no formal instrument to gather feedback, committee members reported that many students were already inquiring about when the next forum would be held.

Clark, who also serves as the liaison to ULM Diversity Committee, said the committee meets the first Wednesday of every month that school is in session. In addition to Clark and Powell, the following CEHD faculty and staff serve on the committee and also helped plan last week's forum: Dr. Augusta Clark, Dewanna Greer, Dr. Ava Pugh and Dr. Brian Bramstedt.

College of Education and Human Development Dean Dr. Sandra Lemoine said she takes great pride in the committee's mission.

"Our committee slogan 'ULM thrives on diversity' speaks to the tasks I assigned to this committee. Three imperative tasks include raising student awareness on the value of diversity and individuality, providing a process to address diversity-related issues and supporting faculty with an avenue to share instructional resources," explained Dr. Lemoine. "I am very proud of what our committee is achieving."

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