On Nov. 18, the American Conference on Diversity in partnership with New Jersey City University (NJCU) and several other colleges and universities throughout the state held the annual Diversity Issues in Higher Education conference for more than 200 engaged and enlightened leaders from tri-state-area schools, communities, and workplaces, including Judge Lawrence M. Lawson, Of Counsel at McElroy, Deutsch, Mulvaney & Carpenter, LLP.

acodhesuehendersonThe daylong conference, which launched 16 years ago at New Jersey City University, featured an impressive lineup of speakers and panelists comprised of people of all races and religions, ages and abilities, and beyond. Ranging from corporate diversity & inclusion officers and college deans to university freshmen and faculty, attendees were welcomed by NJCU President Sue Henderson, Ph.D (left). Dr. Henderson is the first woman to take the helm of the Jersey City-based university, located in the most diverse city in the nation. “Our students represent more than 60 different ethnicities and speak 30 different languages,” she said. “Our nation is made up of so many rich cultures – and it’s our strength!”


Photos by Bill Wittkop/Courtesy of NJCU

American Conference on Diversity President & CEO Elizabeth Williams-Riley followed with an impassioned presentation: “I welcome you to create synergy with one another today,” she said. “But understand that your perspective is not the only perspective.”

Keynote speaker Lucida Plummer, Vice President of Diversity & Inclusion at Wyndham Worldwide (left), brought diversity front and center with her thought-provoking presentation. She shared her personal journey of discovering that she was “different.” A Latina born in New York City, Ms. Plummer’s family moved to Rockland County during her school years, where she was the only brown-skinned girl. “Our experiences shape who we are, what we do and, more importantly, what we don’t do.” acodhigheredlucidapodium2Plummer’s address emphasized the importance of understanding privilege and the way in which her company has started these conversations. Wyndham currently sponsors a student academic enhancement program at NJCU that supports students as they pursue their careers. The keynote segued to a lively panel discussion, followed by an audience Q&A, that focused on leading diversity and inclusion in a climate of globalization and change.

Moderated by the Past President of the New Jersey State Conference NAACP James Harris, the panelists included CareCentrix Management Executive Tejwansh Singh Anand, Ph.D., Bergen Community College Dean of Humanities Beatrice L. Bridglall, Ph.D., Pratt Institute Vice President of Student Affairs Helen Matusow-Ayres, Ph.D., and PSEG Manager of Diversity & Inclusion, Corporate Citizenship & Culture Melissa Reynolds (shown below, left to right). The panelists provided a global perspective on diversity and inclusion rooted in research, professionalism, and personal experiences. Dr. Bridglall closed out the panel discussion and encouraged the students, “to take control their own narratives and not let anyone take control of their truth as they work toward achieving their goals and working toward inclusion.”


Four breakout sessions focused on dealing with the challenges and opportunities of immigration, having difficult conversations on diversity, filling the Ph.D. pipeline with diverse candidates, and building partnerships with communities of color provided further insight throughout the day. acodhediversitydialogpanelThe standing-room only session on navigating difficult conversations surrounding diversity shed light on the interpersonal skills, leadership qualities, and the important role of allies in creating and sustaining inclusive workplaces, schools, and communities. Panelists (shown right, seated left to right) included Joe Santana, President of Joseph Santana, LLC; The College of New Jersey AVP and Chief Diversity Officer Kerri Thompson Tillett; Enterprise Director of Diversity and Multicultural Relations Carole Lakin; Ramapo Women’s Center Coordinator Ebony Jackson; and moderator American Conference on Diversity’s Elizabeth Williams-Riley. “In order to lead the charge, it takes courage! Courage to challenge your own implicit bias and be responsive and reflective when you encounter unconscious bias in others,” said Ms. Williams-Riley.

The afternoon’s “Voices of Students” panel discussion – moderated by Seton Hall’s Dr. Forrest M. Pritchett, Faculty Mentor and Freshman Studies Program Director, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Leadership Program – highlighted the challenges diverse students often face when entering college. NJCU’s Rashad Wright (shown below, right) kicked off the talk with a thought-provoking spoken word presentation, “I Too Sing the Waste Land.” He was joined by others representing Seton Hall, The College of Saint Elizabeth, and Rutgers University – Newark, who challenged their peers to re-assess and re-evaluate their level of engagement on campus when faced with bias, bigotry, and racism. They acodhigherednjcustudentsexpressed the need for individual action and collective leadership to contend with the often-isolating experiences that students of color and LGBTQ face on college campuses that may not be as inclusive as they aspire or profess to be.

The participating conference institutions included Berkeley College, Bergen Community College, Bloomfield College, Brookdale Community College, Centenary College, The College of St. Elizabeth, Farleigh Dickenson University, Hudson County Community College, Kean University, Montclair State University, New Jersey City University (NJCU), New Jersey Institute of Technology, Pratt Institute, Ramapo College of New Jersey, Rider University, Rutgers: The State University of New Jersey, Saint Peter’s University, Seton Hall University, Stevens Institute of Technology, Stockton College, The College of New Jersey, and William Paterson University. A summary of the conference comments made on social media can be found here: ‪‪. In addition, below are some memorable outtakes:

“You all rocked it! Great conference! My students could not stop talking about everything they wanted to do once back on campus!”

Teri Corso, Director, Experiential Learning Center & Career Services, The College of Saint Elizabeth

“The timing of current events added to everyone’s excitement about and insightfulness into the topics discussed. The student panel especially moved me.”

Michelle N. Johnson, Esq., Chief Diversity Officer, Director of the Office of Employment Equity and Diversity, Title IX Coordinator, William Paterson University

“The day had heart, wisdom, and impact.”

Esmilda Abreu-Hornbostel, Ph.D., Acting Director of Special Projects and Title IX Coordinator, Pratt Institute

Missed Diversity Issues in Higher Education? Join us on January 12, 2017 at Kean University during the “No Hate” Town Hall for an honest, open dialogue focused on bias and bigotry. To sign up email us info@AmericanConferenceOnDiversity.orgacodnohatelogo

If you would like to be part of the 2017 Diversity Issues in Higher Education planning committee to impact the lives of tomorrow’s leaders, please contact American Conference on Diversity’s Director of Youth and Collegiate Development Services Bari Katz at

About the American Conference on Diversity

The American Conference on Diversity is dedicated to building just and inclusive schools, workplaces, and communities through awareness, education, and advocacy. The nonprofit organization 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. Visit to learn more.


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