SOM pushes diversity

The School of Management has launched a new initiative with the goal of boosting diversity in the student body.

In an email to SOM students last week, SOM Dean Edward Snyder announced the creation of the Diversity Advisory Group, a student-led initiative that will target diversity issues in the SOM community. Composed of 21 students, three faculty advisers, and Associate Director of Admissions Christopher Grey, the group will replace the Standing Taskforce on Diversity, which is led by faculty members and administrators. Unlike the Taskforce, Grey said the new committee will be driven by students from multiple areas of the SOM who will work with administrators in creating and implementing policy, though he said the group does not yet have a clear plan for increasing diversity.

“I want to make sure that every one of our students, when they graduate from this institution, feel comfortable interacting with all of the different segments of society,” Grey said.

Though he said the SOM, whose class of 2013 is 36 percent women, 32 percent international and 7 percent underrepresented minorities, already has a relatively diverse student body when compared with most business schools, he added that the group aims to encourage open dialogue on diversity on campus and to help in recruiting underrepresented minorities.

The students in the advisory group will include representatives from the student government and “affinity groups” such as Women in Management and Black Business Alliance, in addition to students elected to represent the four cohorts into which Master’s of Business Administration students are divided. Grey said fostering open dialogue is challenging in a “tight-knit” community like the SOM because people are often afraid of appearing insensitive. Art Swersey and Heidi Brooks, who will serve as faculty advisers for the group, said the diversity within the group itself would encourage honest discussion and new ideas.

“We’ll be asking the question ‘what does it mean to create a culture where people feel both fully welcomed and fully engaged?’” Brooks said.

Jessica Aldridge SOM ’13 FES ’13, a co-chair of the SOM student government’s Diversity Committee who will serve on the new group, said she thinks it is important for members of the SOM community to be able to discuss the need for diversity openly. Rather than simply state that the SOM should recruit more members of a particular group, she said she hopes the group will foster a community that understands the benefits diversity can bring to an educational institution.

Aldridge said she is personally invested in diversity because she hails from a small town in Mississippi, which she said is primarily white.

She said she recalls a moment in her “Innovator’s Perspective” course last spring when students were discussing a fictional business model for a service that would allow people to send text messages to “Jesus” about their personal problems and receive a relevant Bible verse in response. While many students in her class thought the business would not be viable, she said she was aware that there would be a market for such a service, given the prevalence of Christianity in the South.

“Although many might consider my traditional background — white woman, went to Columbia, worked on Wall Street, now at Yale SOM — as not very diverse, this experience highlighted the value of having and working with diverse backgrounds,” she said.

Claire Ruud SOM ’12, who was on the Diversity Taskforce and is a leader of the student gay-straight alliance Q plus, said diversity in a business school context is not strictly limited to racial or socioeconomic terms. Ruud, who identifies as a lesbian, said that business does not typically attract homosexual women, adding that she is the only member of her class to be an “out” lesbian.

But she said she is optimistic because the class of 2013 has three “out” lesbians.

“That’s exciting because there just aren’t that many lesbians in business school, period,” Ruud said.

Minority student groups must submit the names of their representatives in the Diversity Advisory Group today.

Comments