Push diversity, inclusion, Alcorn State officials say

Published 12:07 pm Thursday, June 21, 2012

Vicksburg’s business community could take a page from the Alcorn State University playbook and find its bottom line improving, members of the Vicksburg-Warren County Chamber of Commerce were told at their monthly luncheon Wednesday.

“Diversity is not just people being different from each other, but about being part of a larger family together,” said Dr. Derek Greenfield, director of diversity and equity engagement at ASU.

ASU made history in May when its president, Dr. M. Christopher Brown, hired the first white head football coach in the history of not just the school but the entire Southwestern Athletic Conference.

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The nation’s first state-supported black college, founded in 1871, ASU has sought a more diverse student body for a number of years and recently graduated a class which was 14 percent white, Hispanic, Asian and other groups.

Greenfield and his ASU colleague, Dr. Ruth Nichols, spoke to about 65 chamber members at the city auditorium, saying what makes good sense educationally also makes good sense economically.

“It’s not just about political correctness, but correctness,” said Greenfield.

The Lorman school, which has satellite campuses in Vicksburg and Natchez, is the only historically black college and university to exceed the enrollment mandates of the Ayers decision, a Supreme Court ruling related to the racial composition of Mississippi colleges and universities in a case originally filed against the state in 1975.

Ayers calls for HCBU’s to enroll at least 10 percent non-black students, said Greenfield.

Diversity and inclusion are not just “good morally,” but increase employee productivity, loyalty, creativity and innovation, he said.

“They maximize potential,” he said. “They’re good for business.”

Using examples like a school desk built for right-handed students and finding macaroni and cheese at the Thanksgiving dinner spread, Greenfield pointed out that cultural differences are a matter of perspective.

“We need to have a different viewpoint about the things we take for granted,” he said.

Members also were told the Chamber’s hospitality committee is organizing a “fam tour” of Vicksburg, to which 100 meeting planners across the state have been invited.

Convention center executive director Troy Thorn announced the event is set for Sept. 15 to familiarize meeting planners with the city’s convention facilities, hotels, restaurants and attractions.

“We hope to see a significant increase in convention business to our community and solidify our role as a regional hub for meetings, conventions and tourism,” he said.