Guest Blog: My Experience With Diversity at Darden

In the guest post below, Second Year student Maribel Garcia goes beyond the classroom and writes about the events during one weekend at Darden:

Maribel Garcia
MBA Class of 2014

“When asked to write a blog entry I was a bit disoriented on where to start.   What’s my message?  Do I need an overriding theme?  Who am I talking to?  Is this a diary?  And then the weekend came — dinner with global leaders, executing a global conference and a drag brunch.  My weekend was the perfect inspiration for this blog: My Experience with Diversity at Darden.

The weekend kicked-off with Darden’s Inaugural Global Conference.  While the conference is meant to promote diversity at Darden, for me the true essence of diversity came in the months of planning with eight different affinity club leaders, all from different countries: China, India, Ghana, France, Argentina, Japan and the United States. I took the role of conference co-chair thinking that the job would entail event planning and project management, but boy was I in for more!

Our first meeting last spring was scheduled for 30 minutes, yet the meeting went on for over two hours!  I remember leaving the meeting with a headache and at the same time a thrill for the challenge that lay ahead: the unchartered path of putting on Darden’s Inaugural Global Conference, the opportunity to make a mark, a clean canvas to design the conference the way we wanted, and of course coordinating six different international clubs and leading people of different cultures and backgrounds towards a common goal.

Being of a multi-cultural background myself, I felt I was “in my salsa” as they say in Spanish — meaning this was my natural habitat.  I grew up learning to navigate seamlessly between my European and Latin American background and the melting pot where I was raised — New Jersey.  But even that expertise was put to test at Darden.

Working closely in a diverse, professional setting for months is a completely different experience from having everyday small talk with individuals of different backgrounds.  Here, I had to get buy-in from leaders with different priorities, cultural norms and interests.  My leadership skills, cultural sensitivity and emotional and social intelligence were truly put to the test.  The results were a success, even more so for an inaugural event!  We had over 20 speakers come from countries around the world representing a wide variety industries. We had speakers from Walmart, to the World Bank, to the NGO Village Capital.  And just as Darden promised, I got to experience in real-time what it takes to be a global leader.

On Sunday, I was back at it — I went to Fellini’s for brunch — a great Italian-American restaurant in Charlottesville that puts on drag brunches the first Sunday of every month.  In the spirit of ‘Love is Love’ month, the GLAD club (Gays, Lesbians and Allies at Darden) kicked-off the month at Fellini’s.  ‘Love is Love’ is a series of events held at Darden throughout the month of February (coincidentally with Valentine’s Day), promoting the inclusion of the LGBT community.  What I thought was simply a social event turned into an educational one.

As the music turned up and picked up its pace, the crowd began to part to make way for the ladies and their lavish attires.  An international student next to me applauded and said to our table, “I don’t get what this has to do with the LGBT community.”  “Neither do I,” I thought to myself, but I wasn’t about to admit it out loud.  A board member of GLAD explained to the student that drag was not about the gender or sexual preference of the person. The GLAD member went on to explain that drag is an art, a form of expression in which individuals act out and play with the varying elements that traditionally define gender.  As a community that is largely misunderstood, the essence of drag and expression is very important in the LGBT community.  Ah ha!  And if I had stayed home and had cereal, I would have missed out on this tid-bit of education that takes place outside the classroom.

While my experience this weekend is not the norm at Darden (who has dinner with global leaders every weekend?), in some way I think it is very representative of the diverse experiences that I have here.  One can attribute my experience to the clubs that I am involved in, but my experience and definition of diversity go beyond these clubs.  Diversity to me goes beyond nationality, sex or race — it’s the accumulation of life experiences that make an individual unique in his/her thoughts and views.  More importantly, diversity at Darden is about not only making these experiences come together in a room, but also about making them work.  At Darden we strive not to color within the lines when it comes to diversity — we go Picasso and make the definition our own.”

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