During the past few days, articles have appeared in the local and national news about a torchlit protest and subsequent candlelit vigil in Charlottesville that took place over the course of this past weekend. It’s important to understand what has prompted these events. Over the course of the past several months, the Charlottesville City Council and city residents have been having a dialogue regarding a historic Confederate statue in the city and whether it should be removed. The council voted to remove the statue but there is now legal action preventing these actions from occurring for six months. The city’s decision has drawn both concern and support from a variety of groups and political figures and the events of this past weekend (both the protest and vigil) are outcomes of the decision.
What shouldn’t be lost in these events is that dialogue has been part of the process and should continue. The University is part of the broader Charlottesville community – our students are interns, employees, gym members, shoppers, patients etc. While we may not be able to prevent these types of incidents from occurring, as a community it is important to have open conversations about them and not turn a blind eye – but to have our eyes, hearts, and minds wide open. The physical and emotional safety of our students is paramount to the leadership of the Darden School. We agree that all have the right to express opinions but not instill fear. At Darden, we embrace the challenging discussions surrounding diversity, equality, and justice that face not only our city but our society because it is our mission to develop leaders who are prepared to lead responsibly through the most difficult issues confronting business and the world. When we disagree we must summon our better selves and reject previous paths that have been incendiary and divisive.
Darden’s Global Business and Culture Club (GBCC) hosted its first Global Week to celebrate the school’s cultural and ethnic diversity through a series of events. The week was jam-packed with events, including a kick-off spearheaded by Dean Melissa Thomas-Hunt, a global food festival, a speaker series throughout the week, and an Indian dance workshop to name a few. The club’s President, Roshini Rajan, sat down to talk about how Global Week came to fruition. She emphasized the importance of this event happening in the beginning of the semester to help International students feel welcomed at Darden. She felt this event was, “the perfect opportunity to highlight the global nature of the school!” The events held throughout the week were well received by students and faculty alike. One of the highlights of the week was the Global Food Festival (GFF). More than 150 participants representing over 25 countries had the opportunity to showcase their authentic ethnic cuisine, traditional costumes and cultural performance to nearly 500 attendants. A key goal throughout the week was to embrace the abundant diversity throughout Darden and highlight the ways in which diversity is paramount in a successful workplace and academic environment. During the week, GBCC held a speaker series entitled “Leveraging Diversity in the Global Marketplace” hosted by Judy Shen-Filerman from Dreambridge Partners. The session aimed to raise awareness about critical cross-cultural norms that affect business interactions through experiential dialogue. The events held throughout the week focused on preparing Darden students to step up as leaders and effectively lead in a global context. The events throughout the week provided international and domestic students with a platform to showcase their backgrounds. GBCC helped foster a welcoming environment for all students as they prepared for a successful semester. Global Week served as the impetus to GBCC’s yearlong goal of promoting and showcasing Darden’s diversity.
J.D. Vance grew up in a small, poor city in the Rust Belt of southern Ohio, where he had a front-row seat to many of the social ills plaguing America: a heroin epidemic, failing schools, families torn apart by divorce and sometimes violence. In a searching talk that will echo throughout the country’s working-class towns, the author details what the loss of the American Dream feels like and raises an important question that everyone from community leaders to policy makers needs to ask: How can we help kids from America’s forgotten places break free from hopelessness and live better lives?
Robb Willer studies the forces that unite and divide us. As a social psychologist, he researches how moral values — typically a source of division — can also be used to bring people together. Willer shares compelling insights on how we might bridge the ideological divide and offers some intuitive advice on ways to be more persuasive when talking politics.
This past Friday, undergraduate students across the University came together to host a Diversity Town Hall organized by a fourth-year student, Atia. Students and administrators alike participated in various workshops held throughout the day in which they discussed important topics surrounding diversity at UVa. Topics included Course Curriculum, Addressing Implicit Biases, Faculty Diversity and Admissions, to name a few.
I had the pleasure to participate in the workshop on admissions, during which we tried to tackle the question, “How can UVa increase its outreach and set itself apart to attract and retain diverse talent?” In order to effectively answer this question, we first had to humble ourselves and break down the current undergraduate student demographic as it currently stands: ~13% Asian, ~6.5% Hispanic/Latino, ~6.5% Black/African American, 0.1% Native American, ~63% White. When the numbers were further analyzed, it was noted that yield rates take a heavy toll on the student demographics. With that said, what can the University do to increase attraction and retention of minority students? We are aware of the myth surrounding the “typical UVa student,” and in some cases it may hinder recruitment efforts. The admissions office has to consciously target students that would otherwise not apply to UVa for various reasons. Programs like the Outreach Student Admissions Committee (OSAC), run by Valerie Gregory, are setting the bar for aggressive prospective minority student recruitment. One participant suggested that UVa take on early outreach programs across the state, in an effort to excite students about the college process and plant the UVa seed as early as possible across a diverse population of students. College preparatory programs like Urban Prep, POSSE, and Prep for Prep should be at the top of the University’s radar.
The Diversity Town Hall was a step in the right direction for the Undergraduate school. The Dean of Students, Alan Groves, was present along with faculty and administrators from across the University, like Dr. Michael Mason from The Office of African-American Affairs. When thinking about diversity and recruitment, the University should consider what it can do to set itself apart from its counterparts and competitors. Going the extra mile to find students unfamiliar with the University of Virginia name may prove to be vastly rewarding in the long-run.
This Thanksgiving week, I would like to thank those who attended the career discovery panel and workshop entitled “Uniquely You: Finding Your Professional Calling” that I organized and hosted this past Wednesday, 16 November 2016. I would also like to thank those who supported financially, logistically, and with words of encouragement. This event was the manifestation of two desires: (1) to help my Darden classmates, many of whom have voiced uncertainty about their post-MBA career plans, identify and pursue a meaningful career beyond simply repaying school loans; and (2) to expose the Darden community to broader diversity, not only of gender and cultural background, but also of thought and experience.
As we reflect on this past U.S. presidential election and all the lessons we have learned about leveraging diversity in Leading Organizations in Q1, the insights that many attendees walked away with and later shared with me would not have been possible without the stories shared by our exceptional guests. First, the courageous journey of a woman and refugee from the Liberian civil war who experienced the highs and lows of banking from Goldman Sachs to a front-row seat during the collapse of Bear Stearns. Second, the decision of a woman to walk away from a six-figure “dream job” to take on an MBA coaching role with Management Leadership for Tomorrow (MLT), a non-profit diversity and professional development organization partnered with the top business schools and companies globally, while pursuing her passion for yoga and receiving a certification in mindfulness. Finally, the path of a woman who overcame rejection after a seemingly successful internship at Google to cultivate a career in social media at NPR and become the voice of inspiration for female entrepreneurs through her podcast, Side Hustle Pro.
This Thanksgiving week, I hope we all can appreciate the diversity, in one form or another, that each of us brings to the Darden experience.
Wishing you all a warm and bountiful Thanksgiving!