Darden’s annual Diversity Conference kicks off later this week, bringing together prospective students from across MBA degree formats for a two-day summit of student panels, case discussions, alumni speakers and faculty insights.

Christian West (he/him/his), Senior Director of Global Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Recruiting

View schedule highlights on the Diversity Conference web page. In celebration of this much-anticipated event, we are thrilled to feature Senior Director of Global Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Recruiting Christian West (he/him). West and the Diversity Conference planning team have been hard at work for the last several months, developing impactful and informative programming for the 200-plus conference attendees.

In his admissions role, West collaborates across the Darden enterprise, focusing on diverse populations and leveraging partnerships with the Consortium for Graduate Study in Management (CGSM), Management Leadership for Tomorrow (MLT), and Reaching Out MBA (ROMBA).

West was also a recent guest on the Experience Darden podcast, where he shared more about his background and commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion. He also discussed his current Ph.D. research, and how it fits into his admissions work advocating for diverse groups of students.

Q: What is your current role? How will prospective students interact with you?

A: I have the pleasure of serving as the senior director of admissions for global diversity, equity and inclusion. I lead the Admissions Committee’s strategy to recruit the most diverse class we can in the broadest sense of the word. I also seek to ensure our staff engages with sustained professional development and training opportunities to increase our competencies in diversity, equity and inclusion. Prospective students should look forward to engaging with me on one of our many virtual webinar opportunities, Diversity Coffee Chats, one-on-one MBA Conversations or seminars hosted by one of our many external partners (e.g. Consortium, Forté, MLT, ROMBA, Admit.me and others)!

Q: What led you to Darden?

A: My entire professional career has been in higher education. I started out in various student affairs functional roles, such as residence life, student activities and fraternity/sorority life. My first admissions-related role was serving as an assistant dean of admission for UVA’s Office of Undergraduate Admission. From there, I worked with UVA’s McIntire School of Commerce in their Office of Undergraduate Admission, which was my first foray into business education. After a pit stop in academia to work on my Ph.D. full-time, I started working with the Darden Admissions team in January 2021.

Q: Tell us a little more about your background and why you are passionate about this work.

A: I was born and raised in Southeast Washington, D.C. I come from a large, multilingual and immigrant family where Brazilian Portuguese, Haitian Creole and English are all spoken. I grew up in a single-parent, working-class household and am a first-generation college student. I’m thankful for AccessUVA, UVA’s institution-wide commitment to need-based financial aid, which was the predominant reason I chose UVA for my undergraduate degree in political science. After moving all around the country — Ohio, upstate New York, Denver, and most recently Los Angeles — working for several other universities, I came back to Charlottesville because it provided me a sense of “home” during my undergraduate years. After living in Charlottesville for seven years now, I’ve planted some roots in the Central Virginia area and love everything it has to offer. I’m an avid kayaker on Lake Anna, aspiring wine connoisseur frequenting the Monticello Wine Trail and terrible karaoke singer at the local Charlottesville Pizza Hut.

A higher education institution’s commitment to access and equity is very personal to me. As a person of color, first-generation college student and low-income student, it was UVA’s commitment to college access that provided a transformative educational experience for me several times over. I have since turned this personal experience into a research agenda in which I have publications on the experiences of students of color at predominantly white institutions, particularly on the connection between racial climate and student outcomes. I would theorize Darden’s efforts to provide an inclusive environment that is welcoming and supportive of all student experiences has a direct connection to student satisfaction, learning and job outcomes. A lack of concern for the principles of DEI would be our failure to maximize students’ educational opportunities.

Q: What do you want prospective students to know about Darden?

A: It’s a fun place to be! Darden has this reputation of being the academic bootcamp of MBA programs. That’s important as students grow in the skills and competencies they need post-MBA. However, there is an incredible social side to Darden that really informs the sense of community we have here. The Darden Cup, in which each section competes against each other in several competitions, facilitates a spirit of camaraderie and teamwork. Pride at Darden’s annual Drag Show shows how our Darden students can be vulnerable performing in drag for the first time and do well at it. The Outdoors Club’s annual camping trip right before classes start helps build relationships for our incoming First Year students. I hope all of these out-of-the-classroom opportunities do not get lost on prospective students because they are a part of the holistic Darden experience, too.

Q: How does Darden encourage intersectionality?

A: First, let’s clarify what intersectionality means. It is an analysis of power structures and how they impact people with multiple marginalized identities. It was conceptualized by Kimberlé Crenshaw, an incredible legal theorist and civil rights advocate. At Darden, we must think about the student experience at different cross sections. Because of the way Darden’s educational experience is built, how an LGBTQ+ student of color experiences Darden could be very different from an international student whose second language is English. It is our responsibility to ensure the educational experience we offer is inclusive of all those possible experiences to best support student success.

Q: What does the broader GDEI team do? How do they support alumni, students and candidates?

A: I love working in admissions because we sit at the center of so many aspects of the Darden enterprise. We get to usher prospective students through the admissions cycle, watch them as they matriculate and grow throughout their time at Darden, and then re-engage them as alumni. The broader GDEI team focuses on a wide spectrum of different communities: women, LGBTQ+, veterans, undergraduate students, international students, under-represented racial minorities, first-generation college students, and many more. By having a targeted approach to engagement activities, we can demonstrate how Darden’s experience is applicable to each of these experiences and how students can bring their authentic perspectives to the classroom and Darden community.

Q: What advice do you have for applicants?

A: Be yourself. In a holistic assessment for admission, the Admissions Committee is most interested in understanding your background, perspective and aspirations. Our pinnacle question is how you will use the Darden experience to better yourself and the business community. By bringing your most authentic self to the application and interview process, it helps us put together a class that is dynamic, diverse and demonstrative of the wide variety of business experiences.

Q: What are you looking forward to most for this academic year?

A: As UVA and Darden continue to reopen our doors with safety in mind, I’m looking forward to resuming in-person activities on Grounds, especially First Coffee! I consider myself an extrovert but that does not come out until after the coffee has kicked in. First Coffee provides that intersection of engaging with the entire Darden community each morning while getting my caffeine kick. If candidates make an in-person visit to Darden, they’ll find me there!

Q: Favorite eatery/place to hang out in the Charlottesville area?

A: The Jefferson School African American Heritage Center is a hub of cultural activities for me in Charlottesville. Located in the Vinegar Hill area, it was the first public high school for Charlottesville’s Black community and has since transformed into hosting interdisciplinary public programs such as plays, prominent guest speakers, Juneteenth celebrations, and a permanent exhibit telling the story of Charlottesville and Albemarle County. Learn more at jeffschoolheritagecenter.org.

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