It’s 2016 and we are connected across the globe, and in our own backyard, in ways that many of us could not have imagined, even just 15 years ago. We now have a window into the lives of others who may have experiences and perspectives that diverge significantly from our own.

Both exhilarating and scary, peering through the window can open our eyes to new ways of thinking, new places, new people, and their triumphs and struggles. However, those who will lead in business and society, more broadly, must be more than onlookers. We must engage! We must be willing to have conversations across our differences. The harrowing events around the world have catalyzed such conversations, yet many of us remain fearful of saying the wrong thing when examining and engaging difference. The concerns become most heightened when we discuss race/ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation and identity, culture, religion, class, and the ensuing politics. Leading in our global world will necessitate that we step outside our comfort zone and wrestle with uncomfortable topics and issues.

The world has always been textured (i.e., diverse), but previously it was easier to focus on our own familiar domain. Diversity is a topic that has always been important, but it has taken the spotlight in America and across the world like few times in history recently. It is a challenging topic that kindles differing perspectives, passionate opinions, and sometimes — sadly — hate and violence.

I have dedicated much of my life’s work to the complex issues surrounding diversity, including conducting research on unconscious bias. As Darden’s Global Chief Diversity Officer, a spouse/partner, a mother and a Catholic African-American professional woman of southern, Irish and Caribbean heritage, I want to continue to facilitate a productive dialogue around diversity, inclusion and engagement through the new Diversity at Darden blog.

I hope to share my thoughts here, and also the thoughts of others inside and outside of the Darden community. To start the conversation on this platform, I’d like to share a note Darden Dean Scott Beardsley and I sent to our community in July after a rash of violence and terror swept the globe. It expresses our desire as a School to not shrink from a challenging subject, but to lead and overcome fear.

I look forward to your thoughts, and to our continuing dialogue here on Diversity at Darden.

Melissa C. Thomas Hunt

An email to the Darden community from Dean Scott Beardsley and Senior Associate Dean & Global Chief Diversity Officer Melissa Thomas-Hunt

Dear Darden Faculty, Staff and Students,

Yesterday afternoon, we hosted a community dialogue to reflect on the recent string of difficult global events and their impact on each of us. From the conversation, it is clear that for many of us the recent and frequent acts of violence and terror around the globe have been overwhelming – generating anger, fear, sadness and dismay, and leaving us bereft of a sense of what we can do to make a difference.

Over the past weeks and months we have written to you about atrocities around the globe. Today we are reaching out more broadly to provide solace about the recent horrific shootings in Louisiana, Minnesota and Dallas that have fueled mounting racial tensions in the United States. Our hearts go out to the individuals who in this recent spree of terror in the United States have lost a son, father, brother, significant other, colleague or partner and the broader communities – geographic, demographic, and those in law enforcement and military – that ache. Many in our own Darden community are struggling to make sense of the events, and we find ourselves unsure of how to share our feelings with and provide comfort to one another.

In volatile and difficult times like these, we must remember to continue to lead.  We must overcome our fear; fear of accidentally saying the wrong thing, fear of offending others and fear of inviting conversation not deemed appropriate for a business school, business or any organization. At Darden we nurture global leaders who understand and can navigate local contexts. Each of us has our own local context, informed by our background and experiences. It is through our own local context that we interpret the events around us. This means that any objective event will be experienced differently by individuals. Part of who we are and aspire to be necessitates that we must engage with one another in meaningful ways across the differences in our interpretation.

Darden is a community of leaders, and it’s critical that we gather to provide support for all members of the community, that we ask each other questions and learn from each other, and that we create safe spaces for sharing concerns. We’d like to thank everyone who came yesterday and to assure those who could not — including our students who will return in August — that we will provide additional opportunities to continue the discussion.

Darden’s Senior Associate Dean & Global Chief Diversity Officer Melissa Thomas-Hunt, in collaboration with our students, will put in place a framework for discussion and is open to your suggestions.

As a reminder, Darden and the University of Virginia offer many resources for those seeking individual support, an ear or an opportunity to lead the conversation.

At Darden, students, faculty and staff can continue to reach out to Sarah Wilcox-Elliott and her team in the Office of Student Affairs, and Lisa Cannell and her team in Darden Human Resources. Additional resources are listed on the Diversity at Darden webpage.

Some additional resources available at UVA include:

At Darden we are leaders and we have an obligation to engage with one another in meaningful dialogue and with positive intent, both in the classroom, at school and away from school, in our internships, jobs and communities.

Given the increasing frequency of attacks in the USA and globally, we do not intend to communicate on each and every event via email. Instead, face-to-face community dialogues led by Melissa and her team, as well as a variety of student leadership organizations, will be used to provide support for members of our community. However, know that we always check on the safety and well-being of our students, alumni, faculty and staff wherever they may be, and will communicate any necessary information as appropriate.

We look forward to continuing the conversations, and thank you for your leadership to help Darden live up to its full potential as a globally diverse, inclusive and wonderful community.

Sincerely yours,

Scott and Melissa