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Vice President for Diversity and Inclusion, Missouri State University
Vice President for Diversity and Inclusion, Missouri State University

2015 Economic Outlook: Ken Coopwood

Posted online
The first to hold the executive post at MSU, Ken Coopwood is working to build a more diverse Springfield.

2015 Projection
Diverse backgrounds will begin to play in the economic success of the city and will help align its resources accordingly.

SBJ: How will the minority population impacting the Springfield area economy in 2015?
Ken Coopwood: The impact will probably directly link to the city’s and the university’s ability to prepare for spending commitments. If you’re going to recruit some more diverse students, if you’re going to recruit some more diverse talent, then you need to also be prepared to invest in the retention and development of those diverse talents. We have to spend differently when our environment changes. It’s no different than becoming a greener campus; it’s no different than using different sources of energy. You have to begin to transform your fiscal infrastructure so that you’re ahead of the game when those changes come to fruition.

SBJ: Is the minority population growing in Springfield?
Coopwood: Yes, but what I tend to find is it’s not growing in the leadership infrastructure. People who can be at the table to make decisions from a diverse perspective are not present. You have families coming in from different places, but they’re lower middle-class families. They may work in the factories or in small businesses or some companies, but they’re not in positions to make policy change to redirect resources to meet our different sets of needs. Because of that, you have a city infrastructure that remains incredibly small and incredibly inaccessible to diverse groups. That inaccessibility essentially acts as a deterrent for senior-level talent.

SBJ: How does Springfield combat that?
Coopwood: If you see companies and universities actively recruiting people of color to the senior level, that tells you somebody that’s not a diverse person is serious about the benefits to be gained by working alongside a person who is from a different background. You combat that by educating those who are at the main tables about the knowledge to be gained and to be acquired by having difference at the table that is both forward thinking and productive. If the people at senior levels are not educated to absorb all that diversity and put it to use for the benefit of their organization, then we’re still the same old Springfield that we were 10 years ago, 20 years ago and beyond.

SBJ: Was the expansion of the city’s nondiscrimination ordinance to include gender identity and sexual orientation a step in the right direction?
Coopwood: Any time we take any measure to expand the opportunities for humankind, I think we’re doing the right thing. Regardless of people’s orientation or their ethnic background or socioeconomic background, people have talent. Because talent is there, there also rests an opportunity for an economic boost to our community. We have to come to grips with learning to value people for who they are and not necessarily for what they personally decide to take on as a lifestyle.

There will be a pushback against it because Springfield doesn’t have a history of having inclusive context. Because of that, there’s probably too much traditional focus on the future of Springfield. If that remains, the pushback will be either in the legal realm or manifest in barriers to people gaining access to equal opportunities.

SBJ: What are the lingering effects of racial protests, such as those in Ferguson?
Coopwood: The demonstrations are simply awareness activities; they don’t make the change in and of themselves. Policy review and fiscal equity – those things will eventually make the change. People have to be willing to do that or they have to be made to do that. The federal government is really good at saying, “Hey, if you don’t do this, we’re just going to take your money.” That’s not necessarily compliant. That’s more of strong-arming people to behave in certain ways.

Diversity is not about strong-arming. It’s about getting people to a point where they personally want the benefit of having a diverse environment. The protests are a start for an awareness that there are inequities that need to be addressed in our society. They’ll continue all over. The unfortunate thing is so will the killings and the public displays of violence. You can’t get rid of all that in just a few months; it’s been going on for centuries. Now, we just have cameras.[[In-content Ad]]

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