Owensboro Community & Technical College is continuing the Regional Diversity Conference after day one wrapped up on Thursday.
Sharmy Davis, interim associate dean of student affairs and director of cultural diversity at OCTC, said the first day went as well as it could have given the cold and icy weather this week.
“The weather through a wrench into things, but we still planned to keep on going with the conference,” she said. “It has gone better than expected given that we haven’t really done this before.”
Davis said the goal of the conference was to provide a variety of discussions around diversity.
“We had breakout sessions that did a good job of doing that,” she said. “We’ve received positive reviews of the sessions, too.”
More than 300 people registered for the conference.
“We had 105 people in Blandford Hall for our first session and more than 70 people online,” Davis said. “We are happy with the turnout and it’s been fantastic.”
Davis said she is expecting a larger turnout for the second day.
“There will be more great discussions (today),” she said.
Joe Frazier, executive director of the Center for Diversity, Equity & Inclusion at the KY Chamber of Commerce, gave the keynote during lunch on “Diversifying the Workplace.”
“Diversity applies to conversations about gender, women in the workforce, LGBTQ+ identity, religious identity, ability or disability,” he said. “There are so many things that fall under that term.”
Frazier said when it comes to diversity, equity and inclusion in corporations and businesses, he looks at diversity purely demographically as far as representation.
“What does your makeup look like from entry-level positions to your board of directors? Do they look different? Do they look come from different backgrounds and identities?” he said.
Equity is the solution to the problems that one might be faced with.
“It can’t be one size fits all,” he said. “Many populations have unique problems that require new solutions.”
Frazier said inclusion is what it looks like to engage diverse populations in the workplace.
“Having them at the table, getting their input,” he said.
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One statistic that Frazier said that if trends continue as they are, underrepresented minorities groups are expected to become the majority population by 2045.
“When we think about Kentucky overall, we’re ranked 41 out of 50 when it comes to diversity,” he said.
A panel discussion on disabilities was one of the breakout sessions following the lunch keynote address.
Amanda Owen, executive director of Puzzle Pieces Inc. moderated the panel and Wyatt Hunley, Waylon Millay, Lesley Blake, Blaire Neighbors and Antoine Smith-Rouse were panelists.
Hunley has autism and ADHD, and Millay and Blake have cerebral palsy. Neighbors and Smith-Rouse have family members who have disabilities.
“The goal of today is to really talk about and have a very raw and real conversation on how we support, love and value those with disabilities,” Owen said. “I always say that when we know better, we do better.”
One of the questions Owen asked the panelists was what are some barriers people with disabilities face that could be avoided.
“One thing I have a hard time with when I go out into the community is going to places like Walmart,” Millay said. “It’s hard for me to obtain over one or two items, people stare at the (wheelchair) and the shopping bags bump into the tires when it is hanging off the back of the chair, which causes a problem.”
Millay said he will ask employees at the customer service desk to assist, and they will.
“If you ever see anyone out shopping and they look like they might be struggling with their groceries, definitely ask, because if they look like they’re struggling, they probably are,” he said.
Instead of rushing over to someone with a disability to help them, Millay said to ask the person first.
“Just ask because everybody is different,” he said. “It wouldn’t bother me, but that’s not to say that the next person with a disability, they may not want that help. Ask before action.”
Hunley added to Millay’s answer, saying that if a person with a disability declines assistance, it has to be respected.
“You can let them change their mind,” he said. “You can ask, but if they say no, don’t. It’s part of their independence and their pride.”
Blake said coworkers at previous jobs had not included her in conversations or after-work activities.
“It hurt my feelings because I wanted to be their friend,” she said. “I am lucky now that I work with individuals that include me in conversations and activities.”
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