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Stephens honors Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day with Diversity Conference

January 18, 2016

“We are not taking the day off, we are taking the day on,” said Stephens College Diversity Conference speaker Sean Olmstead, coordinator of the LGBTQ Resource Center, University of Missouri, echoing a sentiment shared throughout campus today as Martin Luther King Jr. Day was celebrated with activities designed to promote inclusion and understanding.

For juniors and seniors, the day included a Diversity Conference sponsored by the Center for Career and Professional Development. Students chose from workshops centered around creating safe spaces, exploring diversity and inclusion through active listening and productive dialogue, and working in an increasingly diverse environment.

“What will the world look like when you head down your career paths? What will it feel like when you’re at the table with people with different experiences and backgrounds of all kinds?” asked Stacye Smith, director of human resources at Shelter Insurance Companies. The challenge came as part of a panel that focused on creating and sustaining a diverse network and working with an increasingly diverse population. The panel also included Dr. Amanda Andrade, chief people officer at Veterans United Home Loans and Lorelai Wilson, united initiator at Veterans United Home Loans.

“You need to be willing to have a conversation with someone different from you. Trust me, the person that seems the most different will have something in common with you,” Smith said. The workshop continued by pointing out that there will be five generations working side-by-side when today’s students graduate, and urged students to find common ground. “Seek first to understand before asking to be understood,” she said.  

Speaker Stan Hudson, associate director at the center for health policy at the University of Missouri held an interactive session that challenged students and faculty in attendance to share words related to “diversity.” Then the participants broke into pairs and small groups to share personal thoughts and experiences about those words. Learning to “step back and listen,” “connect person-to-person” and “get out of the comfort zone” were some of the results of the exercise. 

A third session, led by Olmstead, used stars to represent coming-out experiences from the LGBTQ community and challenged students to “be a point on the star for someone else.”

“All oppression is connected,” he said. “You can’t be an ally to one group and not the other.”

In her keynote presentation, Stefani Weeden-Smith (pictured above left), program director for the National Conference for Community and Justice of Metropolitan St. Louis, challenged the audience to look at where they grew up and explore their own biases. She urged the group to “enter into new conversations across borders by visiting a new neighborhood; church, temple or mosque; or even a new restaurant.

“Find a way to change your corner of the world,” she said.  

Stephens College President Dianne Lynch and Vice President of Academic Affairs Suzan Harkness also spoke at the event.

Concurrent to the conference, first-year and sophomore students participated in service projects benefitting Rainbow House, Room at the Inn, The Bluffs Nursing Home and the Ronald McDonald House. Other events planned for the week include an evening celebration in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., a Peace Walk to be held Tuesday, and numerous student group-led sessions covering a wide range of topics related to diversity and inclusion. 

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