Enthusiastic students and faculty spent an afternoon in William & Mary’s Raymond A. Mason School of Business on Feb. 16, learning how to more effectively foster inclusion and diversity in professional communities.
The university’s inaugural Student Diversity Symposium was made possible through a partnership between Ernst & Young and the university’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion. The forum featured speakers and workshops, allowing participants to engage in active learning with individuals from the corporate and academic world.
Ken Bouyer, director of inclusiveness recruiting at Ernst & Young Americas, addressed those gathered to open the symposium. Responsible for the advancement and implementation of the organization’s recruitment strategy, which emphasizes the pursuit of an inclusive and diverse talent pool, Bouyer shared the meaning of inclusion and his experience in the corporate environment.
“He used a metaphor from a book he read about penguins and peacocks to explain diversity,” said Jay Thompson ’20, a prospective finance major. “He told us about how we may want to put on a penguin suit to fit in, even if we’re really a peacock. It was really an elaborate way of saying that we should let our peacock-ness shine and embrace the things that make us different.”
Samantha Kim ’19, who majors in marketing and psychology, explained how Bouyer’s unique analogy captured his audience.
“I think he talked about diversity in a really mature, engaging, and comical way,” she said. “The speech hit home because of his connections. I was able to understand diversity in a way I’d never been able to grasp before.”
Following Bouyer’s address, participants spent several hours in workshops on a variety of topics.
One, titled “Making Space: Accessible Activism,” was hosted by Roxie Patton, associate director for the Center for Student Diversity. It involved group reflections on the meaning of diversity, feeling welcome in a space and possessing or lacking privilege in a community.
She began by laying out the framework in which she wanted the workshop to operate. To create an accessible and inclusive space for her participants, she emphasized that there was no sole possessor of knowledge and presented what she called “The Platinum Rule.”
“This takes the golden rule one step further,” Patton said. “Treat others the way they want to be treated.”
Students and faculty listened attentively as Patton explained the downfalls of certain myopic conceptions of diversity in the professional world.
“In some contexts, diversity has become a checkbox,” she said. “Diversity said, ‘Put them in a room together,’ but it didn’t say you had to make anyone feel welcome in that space.”
Throughout her presentation, Patton emphasized the multiplicity of manifestations of diversity and engaged her participants in strategizing on how to construct inclusivity for all people. Her workshop further addressed the symposium’s theme of developing a comprehensive definition of diversity, providing attendees with a toolkit for enhancing inclusion in their academic and professional environments.
Sarah Horan ’18, a major in psychology and management, found that the symposium served as ideal preparation for her entrance into the professional world.
“I’m graduating in three months,” she said. “This was a great opportunity for personal growth and professional development. As I graduate, I’m going to be able to take so many experiences with me – what I’ve learned in the classroom, but also the skills and perspectives I’ve learned at an event like this.”
Through the symposium, Horan explained, she has gained a more advanced comprehension of the importance of diversity and inclusion.
“Being able to have an understanding of a more diverse narrative is imperative to succeed in the workforce,” she said.
Thompson also reflected on the day with appreciation.
“Seeing different kinds of people come who feel a commitment to fostering diversity and inclusion was hopeful and encouraging,” she said. “I think it’s important to foster these types of conversations, learn these new perspectives, and be equipped with the tools to help you have these conversations elsewhere.”
She explained that the combination of her own experiences and the workshops she’s attended has caused her to further examine the meaning and significance of diversity.“Diversity is having people with different experiences that they bring to the table feel comfortable expressing those differences,” she said. “I liked seeing people encourage the use of those differences to work together to make something that’s better, whether that’s a product, or society.”