CSM Hosts ‘Defying Definitions’ Community Program, Oct. 28

Ava Morton is the coordinator for the Diversity Institute at the College of Southern Maryland.

‘Justice for All?: A Community Conversation about Freedom, Equality’

The College of Southern Maryland will host “Defying Definitions” a community engagement program in partnership with the Maryland Humanities Council (MHC) and the Maryland Commission on Civil Rights (MCCR) on Oct. 28 at the La Plata Campus. Registration is free and must be submitted by Oct. 18 through http://tinyurl.com/defydefcharlesco.

“Defying Definitions” is a public conversation that challenges participants to reflect on how they perceive others, how they are perceived by others and what they understand about themselves. The project uses the humanities (film, literature, photography and poetry) to bring people together for dialogue, both online and in community settings, with the goals of breaking down stereotypes, reducing conflict, and modeling civil and meaningful discussion.

The Oct. 28 event at CSM, hosted by the Diversity Institute, is one of three public dialogues in Southern Maryland and participants will discuss “Justice for All?: A Community Conversation about Freedom and Equality.”

“The Diversity Institute at the college was the vision of the president, Dr. Brad Gottfried, and Makeba Clay who is the executive director of Institutional Equity and Diversity here at the college,” said Diversity Institute Coordinator Ava Morton. “They wanted to position the college to be a place to have discussions, provide diversity training, social justice education, youth leadership and public dialogue, and as a safe place for conflict resolution.”

Morton said that the process of breaking down stereotypes, reducing conflict and modeling civil discourse begins with conversations where participants feel free and comfortable expressing their feelings and beliefs. “It’s OK to have differences, but you have to be civil when you’re having those discussions,” Morton said.

The first component of the Southern Maryland Dialogue Project was a community engagement program in September that asked students, faculty and staff to explore identity, stereotypes and diversity. It challenged participants to reflect on how they perceive others, how they are perceived by others and what they understand about themselves. The project utilized the humanities (film, literature, photography and poetry) to bring people together in community settings, with the goals of breaking down stereotypes, reducing conflict, and modeling civil and meaningful discussion.

A second component is a series of three community public dialogues—one in each Southern Maryland county. Calvert Library in Prince Frederick held a community dialogue on Sept. 23, “Rights, Freedoms and Responsibilities: Exploring our own Struggles with what ‘Created Equal’ Really Means. Charles County’s dialogue is 6-8 p.m. on Oct. 28. St. Mary’s County Library, Leonardtown Branch will host “What Does ‘Liberty and Justice for All’ Mean to Me?” from 5:30-8 p.m. on Nov. 13.

“The CSM event in Charles County will begin with a light dinner between 6 and 6:30 p.m. followed by breakout sessions led by trained facilitators. Participants will be shown photographs to stimulate conversation within the breakout groups. People of different backgrounds and experiences may have different reactions to identical photos and that is where the dialogue begins,” said Morton.

An online component at www.DefyingDefinitions.org provides opportunities for people to submit their own stories and experiences to add to the public dialogue on stereotypes.

To view a video on CSM’s involvement in the Defying Definitions program, visit http://youtu.be/HUvAo1ajaec.      

 

Sidebar

           

CSM Names Ava Morton Coordinator of Diversity Institute

 

Diversity is not black and white. By definition, diversity is the condition of having or being composed of different elements or qualities. “As individuals in this community we are already diverse,” said Ava Morton, coordinator of the Diversity Institute at the College of Southern Maryland. “We are diverse in race, gender, age, physical ability, education and economic status. But as a community we tend to separate ourselves into like categories. It’s not that we don’t like people who are different from ourselves; it is that we naturally tend to gravitate toward people who have shared backgrounds and experiences.”

Morton’s goal is that through providing opportunities for people of diverse backgrounds to gather together and talk, the institute can increase understanding and mutual respect in the community.

“Ava has a background and a success rate of developing diversity programs in the corporate world that we saw as a good match for this office and this community,” said CSM President Dr. Brad Gottfried, who added that CSM’s vision for the institute is as a resource that provides enrichment through cultural activities, diversity training and leadership training.

Morton grew up in Bryans Road. In elementary school and middle school, Morton attended St. Mary’s Star of the Sea School and graduated from Henry E. Lackey High School. She attended Hampton University where she began her studies with human ecology or home economics with a focus on fashion merchandising.

“I thought that when I left Southern Maryland to go to college I would never come back. I hoped for a career in fashion merchandising in New York City,” said Morton, who added that when a job in New York didn’t surface, she looked in the Metro D.C. region.

 Morton started her professional career at Hecht’s department store as an executive trainee which led to positions as an associate buyer and a floor manager before transitioning to human resources and customer service training. “My parents were both teachers, and I found that I loved the teaching part of my job,” said Morton. She soon began taking her training on the road to Annapolis, Tysons Corner, Fair Oaks and Montgomery malls.

In 1990, when Morton saw that Hecht’s was opening a store in Waldorf she jumped at the chance to work closer to her family. She convinced executives that as a Charles County native, she would be able to advise the company as an insider. After living outside of Southern Maryland for many years, she returned to live on her family’s homestead in a house her father built for her.

Following her work in retail human resources, Morton moved to communications giant MCI where she worked on Internet recruiting. When WorldCom bought MCI Morton began hearing the first mention of workforce diversity. Already involved in internship pipelines to bring in diverse sales, finance and technical talent, MCI/WorldCom looked to Morton to focus on new diversity initiatives for current employees and management. When Verizon bought MCI/WorldCom, the diversity programs and recruiting initiatives that Morton worked on were rolled into larger and more established programs at Verizon.

“At the executive level, statistics showing a diverse workforce was a goal. But it’s about more than just hiring a diverse workforce, it’s about welcoming people, mentoring people and developing people,” said Morton about the need to change corporate culture from the top down.

When Verizon moved its corporate headquarters to New Jersey, Morton did not follow. Instead she worked for the educational nonprofit the United Negro College Fund in its Special Programs Corporation (UNCFSP) where she focused on federal funded programs for minority serving institutions. Morton worked with UNCFSP as its human resources director supporting the program managers who were identifying and filling fellowships, experience exposure and mentoring for students and faculty at institutions such as NASA, Department of Education and Department of Justice.

Now at CSM’s Diversity Institute, Morton is developing programs and events that engage the community and lead to greater understanding and appreciation of its differences.

From an early career that embraced fashion, Morton has woven her understanding of corporate and community culture, workforce training and her lifetime experiences into a career promoting diversity in her hometown.

“Fashion is all about blending different shapes, colors and textures to make a beautiful garment. Diversity as a way to build a beautiful community is not so different,” Morton said, and referenced Maya Angelou’s quote, “We all should know that diversity makes for a rich tapestry, and we must understand that all the threads of the tapestry are equal in value no matter what their color.”

 

Calendar

Defying Definitions. 6-8 p.m., October 28, College of Southern Maryland La Plata Campus, Center for Business and Industry (BI) Building, BI103-104, 8730 Mitchell Road, La Plata. Part of the 2013 Southern Maryland Public Dialogue Project, Defying Definitions will present “Justice for All?: A Community Conversation about Freedom & Equality.” Following a light dinner, participants will move into breakout sessions led by trained facilitators where they will be shown photographs or writings to stimulate conversation within the breakout groups. “People of differing backgrounds and experiences may have different reactions to identical photos and that is where the dialogue begins,” said CSM Diversity Institute Coordinator Ava Morton who planned the event in partnership with the Maryland Humanities Council and the Maryland Commission on Civil Rights. Free. Registration requested by Oct. 18 through http://tinyurl.com/defydefcharlesco, or contact Morton at AMorton@csmd.edu or 301-539-4742.

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