Breaking Bread, Breaking Barriers

There is something about sitting with people while sharing a meal that lends itself to comfort and open, engaging conversation. The cynics might say the wine at dinner loosens up the lips and creates a positive feeling but I have seen it happen too much, both with and without the presence of alcoholic beverage, to agree with that cynical view. Having a meal fosters intimacy. It is an invitation to share in a ritual that historically was usually reserved for one alone or with family and close friends. An invitation to dine, especially in one’s home, is an invitation to get to know people at their least guarded. It is an invitation to be included in one’s closest social circle.

So, it should not be surprising that dinner is the order of the day currently at Darden (pun intended,) for cross cultural engagement. Students are using this cozy and strong interpersonal practice to manifest effective leveraging of diversity. I offer two examples.

In the fall, I became aware of an idea that Darden’s chapter of the National Association of Women MBAs was proposing for a diversity fund competition. The idea proposed and eventually sponsored by Darden’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion is a Diversity Dinner Series that would run the entire academic year, one dinner per month. Each small group gathering would focus on a topic unique to women and women in business. Efforts were made to keep the group small to ensure group-wide engagement in the conversation, but to also make sure men, alumni, faculty and staff were included. The plan also included ways to expand the conversation beyond the dinner itself but to the community at large. The kick-off dinner was phenomenal. The topic was “How Diversity Creates a Corporate Advantage in the Workplace” and an alumna was invited as a special guest. Dean Bob Bruner was in attendance as well as Sr. Associate Dean and Chief Diversity Officer Peter Rodriguez. I remember the discussion that night being thoughtful, revealing, enlightening and challenging. It was a great way to break bread and break barriers.

For the other example, you will need to access another blog, Global Voices of Darden. I would like to call your attention to the entry dated March 29, 2012 where second-year student Anders Hvelplund shares an experience around small, informal international lunches he and two of his classmates initiated. This effort has grown into the International Business Society club’s cross-cultural small group dinners. Anders describes the benefit of Taking Advantage of Our Diversity plus simply having fun at the same time.

In essence, what value is diversity if it is not being explored? Leveraged? Enjoyed? Taken advantage of? At Darden this is not simply something that is optional. It is something students initiate, demand and value.

Kellie Sauls
Director, Diversity Initiatives and Programming
Associate Director of Admissions

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