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Spurring diversity & inclusion: The story behind the Mason Alumni of Color Network

Six years ago, Montique Warren, MBA ’14 approached his classmate Stephanie Appiah, JD/MBA ’15 with an idea he had about establishing a networking group for students and alumni of color at the Raymond A. Mason School of Business.

“From a representation standpoint, the number of minorities in the class was small. I know the Admissions team was doing a lot of work to expand diversity, but domestic-based minorities were a small number,” said Appiah. “We supported one another through this very rigorous MBA experience and we connected with alumni outside of the school experience we shared. We asked ourselves, how can we propagate and be advocates for minorities in the business world?”

To answer that question, Warren, Appiah, and several other members of their cohort began to brainstorm about what an initiative of this nature may look like in reality.

“We would often talk about how we could organize to spur greater demographic diversity in the program,” said Warren.

After pitching the idea to Carlane Pittman-Hampton, Director of MBA programs, Warren and Appiah began working with the Administration to take their idea, determine ways to make it sustainable, and bring it to life. What was ultimately born from their efforts was the establishment of the Mason Alumni of Color Network (AoCN) which officially launched on Friday, June 19, or Juneteenth of this year.

Warren and Appiah joined Adrienne Streater, MBA ’14 and Enrique Sánchez-Rivera, MBA ’07 in 2019 to formally organize as the founding members of the Mason AoCN. More recently, Tommy Fisher, Jr, MBA ’20 joined them on the Leadership Council. Together they plan and organize outreach to current students and alumni of color through a series of events and activities.

“The AoCN is an organization that supports incoming Mason students and alumni in building meaningful business and personal relationships. It promotes a more diverse and inclusive community, and ideally, our organization can become the go-to space for all students and graduates of color to find professional and collegiate support during and after their studies at the William & Mary,” said Sánchez-Rivera.

One of the pillars of the organization is to build a network where people can talk through their shared experiences and how to overcome obstacles in academic and professional settings.

“Our goal is to establish a safe space for alumni to talk through struggles they faced professionally in the business world, and provide and receive advice and support,” said Appiah.

Streater agrees and said the purpose of the AoCN is to provide a platform through which participants can establish a rapport with other Tribe members they may not know, but who can provide vital insight into the issues facing the current minority business workforce.

“Not everyone is comfortable reaching out to someone for advice just because they are a graduate of William & Mary, especially as a cold call. By hosting these events, we’re offering members of the Tribe a way to connect and ask those hard or uncomfortable questions they’ve always wanted to ask,” she said.

“We want students and alumni of color to be able to leverage each other as they make transitions throughout their respective careers and be able to lean on one another for advice and support so we can help ourselves, one another, and the overall William & Mary community,” said Warren.

The Mason AoCN Leadership Council also plans to help the university provide curriculum and experiences that are well-diverse to all graduate students across all graduate business programs.

“It starts with our LinkedIn network, continues through our book clubs and speaker series, and when we can safely do so, host in-person events,” continued Appiah.

In addition to supporting current students and alumni, the Mason AoCN Leadership Council hopes their efforts will drive interest by prospective minority students in the graduate business program.

“When they see that there is some type of engaged community especially with a community like the alumni of color, hopefully they will want to be a part of it too,” said Streater.

Sánchez-Rivera said, “We know that bringing together folks with different backgrounds generates ideas and solutions not thought of by homogeneous groups. This provides a much richer experience in the classroom and in life.”

Warren wants to be clear, however, that Mason AoCN is inclusive to minority students and alumni across all the graduate business programs and its mission is to elevate the leadership abilities of its members, and contribute to greater diversity and inclusion initiatives in both an academic and professional setting.

“We are not exclusionary and it is not our intent to separate from the pack. However, we first need to recognize the challenges we, BIPOC, face within existing structures, learn how to successfully address and navigate similar situations in the present, and open dialogue on how we collectively as business professionals work towards mutual understanding to affect change in the future,” he said.

“Diversity means being in the room. Inclusion means you are not only in the room, but you are valued, recognized, and invited to contribute. A group like the AoCN helps to remove the veil and provides just one additional dimension of the transformative leadership for which the Mason School is known.”