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Rep. Thompson, NAACP call for federal racial equity investigation at call center

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Rep. Thompson, NAACP call for federal racial equity investigation at call center

Mississippi call center workers and the NAACP are calling on the Biden administration to investigate equity and racial disparities at one of the country's leading federal contractors, Maximus, which employs nearly 800 people in Hattiesburg.

The bulk of those frontline employees in Mississippi are Black women who handle customer service calls about , Medicare and the Affordable Care Act.

The heads of the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) and union Communication Workers of America (CWA) delivered a letter Thursday on behalf of workers to the federal office charged with investigating discriminatory practices at federally contracted companies.

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NAACP Director Derrick Johnson and CWA President Chris Shelton, who signed the letter, wrote that women of color at the company face barriers to move beyond the company's lowest rungs, according to a copy obtained by Mississippi . The letter, addressed to Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs Director Jenny R. Yang, says Maximus has failed to “address systematic racial disparities within its workforce.”

The letter alleges the company may be in violation of regulations that require federal contractors to “identify problem where impediments to equal employment opportunity may exist” and create programs to correct those problems.

“I know that I am a great employee,” Daija Arrington, who has worked at the Hattiesburg call center for three years, said during a Thursday virtual press conference hosted by the NAACP and CWA. “I am someone who is willing to go above and beyond for my employer and in my job. But at Maximus, there's just not an opportunity for me.”

Arrington said she, too, wants to see Maximus investigated by the feds.

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A , written by NAACP and CWA, references Maximus-released workforce data that shows while 48% of its call center employees are Black and Latina women, they represent just 5% of executives. The report surveyed nearly 300 call center employees and found that more than 60% applied for higher positions. Of that number, 75% said they were turned down or never heard back.

In response to the report and letter, Maximus said in a statement it is “committed to diversity, equity and inclusion.”

“We continue to make significant progress with our long-term commitment to build a strong and diverse workforce,” the statement said. “We take strong issue with undocumented and uncorroborated claims and faulty research promoted in this report.”

CWA's report comes after its ongoing efforts in both Mississippi and to organize Maximus call center workers, who last held a strike in November. Attendees to such are consistently women of color calling for an increase in wages.

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Maximus said its company is regularly audited by the government for its hiring and promotional practices, as well as for the diversity of its staff by location.

“Maximus has passed every audit conducted across our locations,” the statement said. “We hold ourselves accountable, from the executive level to those working every day serving millions of Americans seeking information and connecting with essential .”

Democratic Congressman Bennie Thompson, who attended Thursday's virtual press conference, said he's met with women who work at Maximus office in Hattiesburg.

He, too, called on the Biden administration to investigate Maximus, adding “if this contractor is in violation of the intended spirit of this whole issue around equity and inclusion, to hold them accountable. Either fix it, or find us another contractor who will.”

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A spokesperson with the Department of Labor said should federal contractors be found violating compliance regulations they may be subject to contract termination and disbarment for future federal contracts.

Arrington, who has almost a decade of experience working at call centers, is in school. She said she is about a year-and-a-half away from finishing her bachelor's degree and has held supervisors roles at other call centers. She enjoys her job at Maximus but doesn't feel like there's a clear pathway, or support, to a promotion.

“If I could get Maximus to respect me and believe in me, like I believe in them, then we can go places together,” she said. “But that takes accountability and actions on both sides. And if I am to meet them halfway, but they're not willing to do so, then that is an issue.”

This article first appeared on Mississippi Today and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

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Mississippi Today

On this day in 1964

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mississippitoday.org – Jerry Mitchell – 2024-06-21 07:00:00

JUNE 21, 1964

A group of more than 20 Klansmen killed three workers, James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner, south of Philadelphia, Mississippi. 

The three had as a part of Summer to register Black voters and work in the civil rights movement. Imperial Wizard Sam Bowers called on Klansmen to repel this “communist invasion” by counterattacking the movement at night: 

“Any personal attacks on the enemy should be carefully planned to include only the leaders and prime white collaborators of the enemy forces,” he said.

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The trio came to Neshoba County to investigate the KKK's burning of a Black church and the beatings of members. On their return to Meridian, Neshoba County Deputy Cecil Price jailed the trio and then released them into the hands of the waiting Klansmen who chased them down, executed them and buried their bodies 15 feet down in an earthen dam. 

Hundreds of FBI agents came to investigate the case, which the agency called “Mississippi Burning,” or MIBURN for short. Forty-four days later, agents found their bodies. In a 1967 federal trial, seven men were convicted on conspiracy charges with none serving more than six years in prison. Nobody was ever tried for murder until 2005 when Edgar Ray Killen was convicted of orchestrating the trio's slayings. The conviction took place on the 41st anniversary of the killings.

This article first appeared on Mississippi Today and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

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IHL board rubber-stamps Delta State program cuts

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mississippitoday.org – Violet Jira – 2024-06-20 14:35:12

The governing board of Mississippi's eight public universities summarily approved a plan Thursday to resuscitate Delta University's ailing budget. 

The lengthy list of program deletions was among the first of 60 items on the consent agenda that were unanimously approved, with no comment or discussion during the board's meeting.

The drastic restructuring, which was unveiled at a DSU town hall earlier this year, will result in the regional college in the Mississippi Delta shuttering its College of Arts and Sciences and eliminating 21 of its 61 programs, including degrees like history, English, chemistry and accountancy. 

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The university has already cut more than 66 positions, and more cuts are coming. The Institutions of Higher Learning Board of Trustees approved the deletion of the 21 degree programs — cuts estimated to affect 16 full-time positions across the departments of languages and literature, art, chemistry and music. 

Though an ad hoc committee of faculty, staff and administrators had input, the deep cuts are largely the priority of the president, Daniel Ennis, and the 12-member board that hired him. 

IHL board member Teresa Hubbard is a Delta State graduate. 

“As an alum, we always hate to see cuts happen,” she said. “But at the same time, I think it's more of a repositioning and reappropriating of things to get them where they need to be.”

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According to Hubbard, the board has provided mostly moral for Ennis as he undertook the restructuring. 

“This board hired Dr. Ennis, and he is just an incredibly impressive man. And I think he's on the right track,” she said. “He runs some things by us, but he puts so much thought and energy and effort into every that he makes that I just don't think we could have done a better job, with the results that he's showing.”

Delta State has struggled for years to keep its budget in the black as the tuition-dependent university in Cleveland contended with declining enrollment. In an effort to keep the university afloat, prior administrations also eliminated programs and positions.

Delta State University President Daniel J. Ennis, center, attends the Mississippi State Institutions of Higher Learning board meeting at the IHL headquarters in , Miss., on Thursday, June 20, 2024. Credit: Eric Shelton/Mississippi

In an interview with , Ennis pointed to DSU's Fiscal Year 2025 Operating Budget — also approved by IHL — as an indication that progress is already in motion. The university also received approval to spend as much as $618,976 over three years to enter into a contract with a consulting firm, Ruffalo Noel Levitz, to aid the university's enrollment efforts — an issue Ennis says must be addressed in tandem with budgeting efforts. 

READ MORE: ‘At an uneasy town hall, Delta State's president unveils ‘dramatic, upsetting' restructuring' 

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The cuts at a time when universities across the state are facing a declining population of prospective students. So far this year, universities or colleges nationwide have closed at a pace of one per week. This session, Mississippi lawmakers have taken aim at the state's university system by proposing bills to shutter or merge some of the colleges. 

Hubbard, the only trustee on the board who graduated from Delta State, is part of a regional college working group that she says exists to give regional colleges a chance to meet and have a voice in addressing issues that impact them as a collective, to a lesser degree than they do the research universities. The group meets as needed, and recently met with Senate Colleges and Universities Committee Chair Nicole Akins Boyd, R-Oxford.

When asked why Delta State is important to Mississippi, Hubbard pointed to the school's location in the Delta. 

“All the universities are important — I think the location of Delta State is important for a lot of reasons economically as well as educationally,” she said. “I think they have a goal to reach certain students and that's very important. I just think the Delta is a very special place in our state that everyone should experience.”

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In Cleveland, community members have generally applauded on social the restructuring, while inside the university, the reaction has been more mixed

The board also approved a new mission statement for the university. It is short compared to the one that preceded it: The mission of Delta State University is to offer exceptional programs and opportunities that are current, innovative, and responsive to the diverse needs of those it serves. The University provides experiences that cultivate intellectual growth and individual enrichment to develop productive members of local, regional, and global communities. 

“The new mission statement is certainly part of our next steps,” Ennis said. “It's not enough for a university to just survive — we have to set ourselves up for success.”

The newly approved cuts largely take aim at the university's liberal arts programs. A ranking of programs favored degrees like nursing and teaching that are more directly connected to jobs in the state. The viability of programs was assessed based on standard metrics implemented during an academic review process.

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“The public can be confident that exhaustive metrics were evaluated, with multiple reviews conducted by internal stakeholders throughout the process,” Christy Riddle, DSU's chief marketing officer, said. “Program data was also sent to departments for review, and all feedback was considered as decisions were made. Ultimately, cost analysis was only responsible for 10% of the formula, whereas program enrollment, faculty-to-student ratio, and completion rates had heavier ratings. Profitability, even though a major concern, was not the primary metric used.”

Four new degree programs are being written to replace the eliminated programs. 

The United Campus Workers of Mississippi, a labor organization that is seeking to unionize higher education, put out a statement last month condemning the restructuring as part of a “larger and longer-planned attack on universities.”  

“Politicians rant about preparing students for a global workforce and cut funding so that schools have to increase their tuition, then treat it as a natural fact that students just aren't enrolling in liberal arts courses that would enrich their educations but don't have obvious employment tracks,” the statement reads

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Half of Mississippi's public universities take a larger share of their revenue from tuition than state dollars while, on average, it's the opposite across the country, a Mississippi Today data analysis found

In Thursday's meeting, IHL board member Gee Ogletree pointed out the drastic decrease in state appropriations to IHL over the past 25 years. 

“I'm grateful to the for their appropriations to us. They certainly allow all of our universities to be able to achieve their mission,” he said. “I just want to point out that part of our tuition increase is largely due to, over those years, to the fact that we do a smaller percentage [of funds].”

Higher Education reporter Molly Minta contributed to this report. 

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This article first appeared on Mississippi Today and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

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Mississippi Today

Mississippi Today to host community listening sessions across the Delta

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Members of the Mississippi newsroom will be in Clarksdale, Greenwood and Greenville conducting community listening sessions in June. The listening sessions are a way for Delta to share their experiences and information needs with the newsroom, in advance of an extensive is planning in the region.

“Through from the Julia Reed Charitable Trust and the McMullan O'Connor Foundation we are embarking on a multifaceted reporting project in the Mississippi Delta,” said Mary Margaret White, Mississippi Today and Executive Director. “We feel it is imperative to listen first to community members across the region before deciding on the direction of the reporting. The Delta is not a monolith and it is important for us to begin this project with a nuanced understanding of the reporting people want and need.”

In partnership with Modern Farmer, Mississippi Today reporters will be conducting community listening at the Clarksdale Farmers Market on Thursday, June 20 from 5:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. and at the Greenwood Farmers Market on Saturday, June 22 from 8:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. The Greenville listening will take place on Tuesday, June 25 from 4:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. at the Washington County Public Library.

“To meet your community's needs, you must start by listening, which is why we are so pleased to be partnering with Mississippi Today on this project,” said Erica Anderson, Modern Farmer Director of Content. “Agriculture is at the heart of the Mississippi Delta. As a nonprofit outlet covering equity and resiliency in our food system, we can think of no better place than the farmers market to engage with folks and hear their concerns.”


Modern Farmer is a nonprofit initiative dedicated to inspiring action and driving change toward a more equitable and resilient food system in North America. Through storytelling, community engagement, and partnerships, Modern Farmer engages and empowers a diverse audience to get involved and make an impact.

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This article first appeared on Mississippi Today and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

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