“We need a collective understanding of diversity to create actions that positively change our environment,” said Sophie Howlett, Ph.D., Associate Vice President for Learning Support and Director of Accreditation and Assessment at Kean University (shown above), during the opening remarks at the Diversity Issues in Higher Education conference on November 14. Titled “The Changing Face of Diversity: Poverty, Education, Immigration, and Race,” this 14th annual event drew an audience of more than 150 students, faculty, administrators, and corporate leaders who explored diversity challenges across public and private sectors.

Shirley J. Wilcher (shown below), J.D., CAAP, and the Executive Director of the American Association for Access, Equity, and Diversity and Fund for Leadership, Equity, Access, and Diversity, kicked off the full-day conference with a thought-provoking keynote address. “Are we really living in a post-racist society? Or in areas such as Ferguson, Mo., is there just an extension of Jim Crow laws where the perpetrators are the police?” she asked.














Ms. Wilcher’s presentation set the stage for an informative panel discussion, moderated by William Paterson University Office of Employment Equity and Diversity Director Michelle N. Johnson, Esq. Panelists included a cross-section of representatives: Enterprise Rent-a-Car Cultural Relations Manager Carole Lakin; BASF Chief Diversity Officer/HR Communications and an American Conference on Diversity Board of Trustees member Patricia Rossman; NJ Division on Civil Rights Director Craig T. Sashihara; NJ Division of Equal Employment Opportunity/Affirmative Action Director Mamta Patel, Esq.; Brookdale Community College President Dr. Maureen Murphy; and Corwin Conner, President of the Rutgers Business School Diversity Programs Council and a senior finance major.


Despite attending one of the most diverse educational institutions in the nation, Conner said he is often the only Black student in senior-level classes. “There needs to be continued support for students from underrepresented groups in higher education so we don’t feel so isolated,” he said.

Dr. Murphy (shown below) added that social inequities stem from a lack of funding in K-12 schools in low-income neighborhoods. “As long as we continue to fund K-12 schools based on property taxes, we will have inequality in education,” she said.


Armed with new insights, participants attended one of four workshops for further discussion on:

Poverty – “How can a student study if his or her parents are fighting because of money?” questioned William Paterson University Financial Aid Director Michael Corso (shown below). This fact-filled session was facilitated by College of St. Elizabeth Career Services and Student Employment Director Teri Corso and led by Michael Corso, NJ Office of Faith Based Initiatives Executive Director Edward LaPorté, and Pathways to Prosperity Coordinator Diana Morrison . “One in four children in the US lives in poverty,” said Morrison. “Since 2000, the number of Americans in poverty soared by 60 percent.”


Education – Moderated by New Jersey City University (NJCU) Office of Academic Career Planning and Placement Director Jennifer Jones, Ph.D., the workshop addressed issues impacting access to educational opportunities, from legislative policies and legal restrictions to financial limitations. Presenters included NJCU Office of Specialized Services and Supplemental Instruction Director Jennifer Aitken, NJCU Opportunity Scholarship Program Director Andrew Platizky, NJCU Student Services and Enrollment Management Vice President John Melendez, Ph.D., and Enterprise Rent-a-Car Talent Manager Chris Fitzpatrick.

Immigration – Kean World Languages Coordinator Melda Yildiz, Ed.D., opened with an interactive quiz. “True or false: Most immigrants come to this country illegally,” said Yildiz. “False: Most come here legally and contribute significantly to the economy.” Kean University Affirmative Action Programs Director Charlie Williams, Ph.D., facilitated this session.


Race –”Do you put who you are into action?” asked Rev. Forrest M. Pritchett (shown above), Ph.D., Seton Hall’s Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Leadership Program Director. Montclair State University Director of Equity and Diversity Dr. Esmilda Abreu-Hornbostel, Rutgers Business School Diversity Programs Council Communications Director Chioma Igwebuike, and Rev. Pritchett explored the obstacles that segments of society face and inspired the audience to “erase racism” by advocating for change.

L’Oréal USA Senior Vice President of Diversity & Inclusion and American Conference on Diversity Board of Trustees Co-Chair Angela Guy (shown below) rounded out the day with a luncheon presentation intersecting education and the business case for diversity. “We need more diversity in STEM [Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math] in order to innovate. We need diverse talent to fill our jobs. We couldn’t be the number-one beauty company in the world if we couldn’t recognize what’s unique about your beauty,” said Guy. “Let’s talk about diversity so we can drive innovation into our education systems and our workplaces. I hope you can use what you learned today as a catalyst for change.”


Support positive change in New Jersey communities. Through the American Conference on Diversity programs, we make sure that students have access to robust educational experiences that embrace differences and value diversity. To donate, please visit

Special thanks to the conference planning committee: American Conference on Diversity, Bergen Community College, Bloomfield College, Brookdale Community College, College of St. Elizabeth, Drew University, Georgian Court University, Kean University, Monmouth University, Montclair State University, New Jersey City University, Rider University, Rowan University, Rutgers: The State University of New Jersey, Saint Peter’s University, Seton Hall University, William Paterson University, and Corporate Partners BASF, Enterprise Rent-a-Car, L’Oréal USA, and PSEG.


About the American Conference on Diversity The American Conference on Diversity was founded in 1948 as the National Conference of Christians and Jews. Today the programs, services, and initiatives of the American Conference on Diversity are among the most important work focused on creating a more inclusive society. It is the unfinished business of living in a highly diverse nation: educating and empowering our next generation of leaders; enhancing our workplaces; and helping to create inclusive communities. The American Conference on Diversity builds on a historic mission and creates programs and activities relevant and vital to 21st Century life. It is a journey we can all take together. The American Conference on Diversity operates Regional Community Networks covering all of New Jersey. Visit to learn more.


Gail Zoppo

Media Relations Consultant

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New Brunswick, NJ 08901