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Five Questions: Ken Coopwood

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Ken Coopwood has spent his career raising awareness of diversity. On Oct. 1, Coopwood became Missouri State University’s first permanent vice president for diversity and inclusion, and the former Indiana University Northwest director of diversity programming is now meeting university and community leaders to share his perspectives and gauge the local appetite for diversity.

From Gary, Ind.
“In Indiana, I had the good fortune of being responsible for several major entities of the university infrastructure. In particular, faculty development, community-university relationships, recruitment and retention, and I was also vice chancellor of student affairs. I was the affirmative action officer, which included mediation.

“I was nominated for the MSU job. I guess as you become known in your field and you become trained by some of the national organizations like the American Society of State Colleges and Universities and the Millennium Leadership Initiative, the Harvard Management Development Program, your name starts circulating.”

Campaign for Diversity
“You begin your campaign by meeting with members of influential groups such as the chamber of commerce … the clergy of the city and Boys & Girls Clubs. These are the entities that are instrumental in creating the day-to-day life for Springfield citizens. You educate these groups about the importance of having a diverse market … and instill the understanding that if you have more people to purchase your products and there are more people aware and welcome to enter into your place of business, then your business grows.”

The Hunger
“It’s difficult to say where MSU or the community is on the diversity growth continuum, but people are excited about the opportunity to do the self-reflection and the internal construction or reconstruction necessary to become a more inclusive institution and community. … Just because Springfield has historically been a homogeneous community, that doesn’t mean that by nature people are unreceptive to change. … My first impression is hungry. People are hungry for change. They are hungry to rid themselves of the negative connotations of being nondiverse.”
 
Developing Focus
“Goals are under construction. Five weeks in, it’s hard to construct any goals without knowing all the players in the game. Right now, my goal is to meet as many people as I can before December. And from there, I’ll construct goals from common themes and common expectations for growth and central values and beliefs of the people to be served. That will guide the types and levels of training that will come out of my division.

The idea is you want to meet people where they are. You don’t want to superimpose or underimpose an agenda that people can’t identify with or something that is too primitive.”

Challenges of Change
“Inclusive doesn’t have to be an elusive term. We are not only talking about the values and trends we see in a global marketplace, but we are talking about a physical presence of differences associated with race, ethnicity, ability, geography, orientations, et cetera. … By far, it’s not a feel-good endeavor. It is a very real undertaking for the benefit of the university and greater Springfield.”
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