September 21, 2018 | ° F

New Brunswick-based organization embraces diversity

As they close in on their 65th anniversary, the American Conference on Diversity hopes to continue educating local residents on the increasingly multicultural world around them.

“Our organization is focused on empowering individuals to better understand diversity and broaden the definition of what diversity really means through different types of program services,” said Elizabeth Williams-Riley, president and CEO of American Conference on Diversity.

The organization’s headquarters, located at 109 Church St. in New Brunswick, also has seven other chapters across New Jersey. The organization has been in New Brunswick for about two decades.

Williams-Riley, who was the organization’s first black woman president under the age of 40, said the organization is located in New Jersey because it is one of the most diverse states in the country, with New Brunswick’s own population adding to the melting pot.

Statistically, nearly 50 percent of the New Brunswick population is Latino and 36.2 percent is foreign-born, with more than 52 percent claiming to speak a language other than English at home, said Gail Zoppo, media relations consultant for the American Conference on Diversity.

Williams-Riley said she believes the University adds to the range of cultures found in the area.

“We are near Rutgers, which gives us a global window,” she said. “There are a lot of students here that are international and from different parts of the country with different traditions, so students can help us by opening up this opportunity.”

But even with all of the diversity at the University, Williams-Riley said she hopes students will make more of an effort to integrate themselves with the different ethnic groups that live off campus.

“I think that students are aware of the diversity outside of Rutgers because they participate there often,” she said. “Now, how they embrace that diversity . . . is different for each individual.”

Critics of the city have pointed that segregation has pushed certain ethnic groups into different areas, Williams-Riley said. The criticisms, she said, are not entirely fair because some people feel more comfortable living around people of the same ethnic background.

“Segregation is influenced by the different types of policies in place, but also sometimes its by choice because of familiarity and a sense of community,” she said.

Williams-Riley acknowledged that the diversity has also led to a strained relationship between the local public and the police force.

“There have been incidences where the relationship between the public and the police have been challenged,” Williams-Riley said. “We can’t ignore that.”

Yet Williams-Riley said it is in these cases that the American Conference on Diversity can offer help and education.

“These relationships [between the police and residents] are influenced by how we perceive the other, and the images that exist around who can be considered criminal or a good citizen,” she said. “Our role is to help people think, ‘How can we challenge those stereotypes to build healthier relationships?’” she said.

Williams-Riley said the importance of diversity-focused organizations would only increase in the future as it reflects the growing diversity in the state.

“Ten years ago, the diversity was very different,” she said. “If we look at the census, we can predict more diversity in that way. If New Brunswick continues to provide people with the opportunities to excel, more people will come.”

To celebrate their 65th anniversary, the American Conference on Diversity will kick off a campaign that asks local residents to make video or written submissions about any effects that diversity has had on their lives.

“We want people to share with us some of the defining moments diversity has had in their lives,” Williams-Riley said.

The campaign, starting in January, will be a yearlong project.

Vicky Hyppolite, a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore, said the diversity found in New Brunswick is appreciated by many students and is one of the reasons people enroll in the University.

“I think it’s important to be around a diverse area when you’re in college so that you can get out of your own bubble and see what life is like for people from different background and different lifestyles,” Hyppolite said.

— Emily Gill contributed to this story.

By Giancarlo Chaux

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