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Murray State Presidential Lecture Speakers Discuss Intentionality in Higher Ed Diversity

Matt Markgraf, WKMS

Murray State's 2017 Presidential Lecture centered on the theme "We have a dream. Are we living it?" with personal experience and insight from three alumni discussing diversity efforts in higher education.

Speakers were Murray State Regent and President and CEO of the American Association of Community Colleges Dr. Walter Bumphus, former regent and CEO of DreamCatcher Educational Consulting Service Dr. Jerry Sue Thornton and Arkansas Tech University Associate Dean for Diversity and Inclusion Dr. MarTeze Hammonds. 

To answer the theme's question Walter Bumphus said, "Yes, but we still have more to do." MarTeze Hammonds reminded the audience that "Intentions don't always mean impact," and Jerry Sue Thornton said "There is no elevator to the top, it is one step at a time."","_id":"00000179-ebc4-d7ee-a97b-ebe5c17a0000","_type":"035d81d3-5be2-3ed2-bc8a-6da208e0d9e2"}">">","_id":"00000179-ebc4-d7ee-a97b-ebe5c17a0000","_type":"035d81d3-5be2-3ed2-bc8a-6da208e0d9e2"}">

In a press conference before the lecture, the panel answered a question about efforts in higher ed regarding "intentionality," a word that often emerges in discussions about diversity efforts. Bumphus said an example of intentionality is in the hiring process for faculty and staff, putting people before a classroom who look like the people attending the class. He noted that Murray State's enrollment, and enrollment in colleges and universities nationwide, are becoming more diverse.

"When I think of diversity I think of it in the broadest sense. Not only racial or ethnic or religious. I think of it in terms of divergent views," Thornton said. She added that diversity in the student population also broadens the experience of faculty, staff and administrators.

Addressing how Murray State has changed or become more diverse since graduating. "When we thought about diversity I'm not sure we even thought about that term," Bumphus said, reflecting back to 1966. "I remember when we were talking about 'boy it sure would be great to have A black faculty member here at Murray or A black cheerleader." He complemented diversity efforts under Davies' administration. He said when people graduate, "the job won't just be amongst a group of all white or all black, it's going to be a very diverse environment." 

Hammonds, who graduated more recently, noted in increase in marketing and branding over the past decade. "I see flyers, I see marketing production that has people that look like me on it and that wasn't always the case when I came in 2001," he said.

The cost of a college education continues to climb, as does the wealth gap along racial and ethnic lines (according to the Pew Research Center). The panel discussed higher ed's role inclosing that gap and reaching out to people who feel college is not affordable or attainable. 

Bumphus said more can be done to improve affordability and ease the debt burden students carry. Noting efforts to keep tuition low, he said "We've got to do more in a philanthropic viewpoint." Referring to the high cost of universities in major cities, Bumphus said some institutions have begun to accelerate matriculation by placing students on three year tracts rather than the traditional four.

Thornton said one way to reaching out to people is through a diversity of offerings, particularly in the STEM, engineering and agriculture fields. She said universities should identify where the jobs are and ensure curriculums match. (She added that liberal arts and humanities are also important.) Another factor is through partnerships with regional community colleges so students can access higher ed closer to home and then transfer to - Murray State for instance - to complete their degree.

Hammonds said closing the gap is important and added that Murray State has an understanding in this regard. He said students should have a clear understanding of financial responsibility of the offerings and resources at an institution and, likewise, the institution should offer those with financial difficulty an opportunity to help individuals continue their education. He said people who have an understanding of the opportunity gap should be hired.

Murray State students who attended the press conference asked the panel what advice they had for those who want to enter the higher ed field. Hammonds said one must be willing to change with the changing landscape of higher ed and admit when mistakes are made. Thornton said beyond gaining experience, so much of education is and will continue to be partnering with technologies and digital delivery. Bumphus urged one to volunteer as much as possible and identify mentors who can help in job searches.

Please note: WKMS spoke with each of the panelists on Sounds Good. See 'Related Content' below for those conversations.

Matt Markgraf joined the WKMS team as a student in January 2007. He's served in a variety of roles over the years: as News Director March 2016-September 2019 and previously as the New Media & Promotions Coordinator beginning in 2011. Prior to that, he was a graduate and undergraduate assistant. He is currently the host of the international music show Imported on Sunday nights at 10 p.m.
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