A Presidential Conversation with the American Conference on Diversity

Panagiota Babadelis is a Marketing Communications major, pursuing a Bachelor’s of Business Administration degree through the Berkeley College Larry L. Luing School of Business®. She expects to graduate in 2021. Ms. Babadelis is a member of Phi Theta Kappa and the National Society of Leadership and Success, Sigma Alpha Pi. She founded the Volunteer Leadership Program at Berkeley College in Paramus, NJ, connecting students through community service and event marketing and management. She is also a Teacher’s Assistant for the Berkeley College Honors Program, and works in the Berkeley College Office of Communications and External Relations.

On Friday, November 13, 2020, I attended the 20th Annual Diversity Issues in Higher Education Conference by nomination via the Berkeley College Student Development and Campus Life (SDCL) department. The virtual conference was hosted by the American Conference on Diversity (ACOD), a community partner that provides diversity training for businesses and youth leadership programs, and was sponsored by Berkeley College. This conference serves as a bridge to connect higher education perspectives on national issues, including the COVID-19 pandemic, with diversity and inclusion. The conference focused on relationships, not only between students and their institutions, but also with the communities in which they reside.

Tyree Oredein, DrPH, ACOD Conference Coordinator, welcomed the attendees to the Conference and announced the theme – developing an agenda for change in higher education. Dr. Oredein introduced Katherine Kish, an ACOD board member of 20 years, who delivered the welcome address to the conference attendees and speakers. Panelists included Michael J. Smith, President of Berkeley College; Jonathan Holloway, PhD, President of Rutgers University; Augustine Boakye, PhD, President of Essex County College; and Helen Streubert, EdD, President of Saint Elizabeth University. The Presidential Panel was moderated by James Harris of the NAACP.

The panelists discussed remote learning due to the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as what colleges are doing in response to the financial crisis and social unrest.

“Students have discussed macroaggression, micro-inequalities, and racial and ethnic encounters they had on campus,” Harris said. “As president, what does this mean for your leadership?”

Streubert acknowledged that students have many challenges today in navigating the college experience. “Communication is a fundamental key to move forward in any setting,” she said.

“During times of financial crisis… preserving diversity and inclusion programs is actually a smart investment,” added Holloway.

Smith said the central goals of higher education are to help students finish their degrees and progress to fulfilling careers. “What we need to focus on is the quality of education, the classroom, and getting students across the graduation stage,” he said. “It’s not about starting college; it’s about finishing college.”

He noted the importance of a diverse faculty that accurately represents the student population. “Faculty can mentor, they can grow, and they can model the behaviors that we want to greatly amplify,” Smith said.

As discussed on the panel, in order for us to move forward as a society, we need to look at the issues that stem from early learning environments. These need to continue to be corrected, or they will have a domino effect that impacts higher education and employment.

Every speaker had an interesting perspective on the topic at hand. It was refreshing to see these distinguished educators answer attendee questions in real time. Their responses were real, open and honest. Walking away from this conference, I hold new perspectives, motivation to continue helping my community change for the better, aspirations for the positive changes in the world that are to come, and a sense of pride to be part of the Berkeley College community, where our voices are heard, our opinions matter, and opportunities are at our grasp.