Smith student Philip Peker ’18 writes about diversity at Smith and the student-run Diversity Empowerment Council (DEC).
You open a college brochure and what do you see? That’s right, a student of color, a Hispanic student, an Asian student, and a white student holding books, relaxing on a grassy patch, or laughing together in front of a prominent campus building. Why is this such an effective first impression for applicants and parents? Why is the ideal of diversity so cherished at universities worldwide? Perhaps because the student mix is so important for a well-rounded college experience. Or perhaps it’s a reliable way of ensuring a globalized community that will enrich each student’s perspective. Or maybe, even, it is conducive to an open and unbiased learning environment. All of these are acceptable, but one thing we know for sure is that diversity is integral – integral for the students, for the administration, and for the school brand.
However, many times there seems to be a disconnect between what the university preaches versus what it practices. At the Robert H. Smith School of Business at the University of Maryland, this is not the case. Thanks to organizations like the Diversity Empowerment Council, Smith practices what it preaches, and more. The Diversity Empowerment Council is a student-run “grass-roots” committee of Smith student leaders that function as an engine for sustained growth of diversity within the Smith School of Business. DEC has three main pillars:
- Outreach – reaching out to high school students to educate them on the business school opportunities that are available to them as they look to choose their major path.
- Smith Focus – growing diversity within the Smith School through events, discussions, and interorganizational programs.
- Administrative – being an effective liaison between the administration at Smith and the students, tearing through some of the red tape that may stop lines of communication about spreading diversity.
I had the chance to talk to some people that were (and still are) integral to the development of the program. Smith Alumnus Olumide Akinwande ’15, the founder of DEC, introduced me to DEC by explaining how he was introduced to diversity in Smith himself. As a senior, Olumide was blessed to be a part of several Smith committees and clubs that were very focused, and sometimes even founded, on diversity empowerment. However, they lacked the single purpose of fostering diversity among the Smith student body, and so he decided to approach Dean Mullins with the idea of starting the Diversity Empowerment Council initiative. He established a loyal cohort of capable, diverse-minded, and driven Smith students to help him begin to transform ideals into actions. Olumide knew that this was not just another club to start, but creating a foundation that can leave a legacy. “I knew I needed to give back, so that the same blessing I was experiencing, others could to. I wanted to leave something that would pull others up to greater heights,” he said.
The current DEC student leader Foluké Tuakli is, more than anything, passionate about diversity. “We want people to start seeing diversity as an asset, as well as something to learn about others,” he said. Inherent in the definition of diversity is that it has no limits, it has no boundaries. Diversity can be in thought, language, ethnicity, color, sexual orientation, looks, and beliefs. Foluké mentioned that the ultimate vision for DEC is for it to be a model diversity empowerment organization that other schools at the University of Maryland look up to.
Although DEC is largely a student-driven initiative, it is advised by Assistant Director of Undergraduate Studies Jeanette Snider and Dr. Hank Boyd, clinical professor and diversity officer at the Smith School of Business. As advisors, it’s their job to oversee and guide, but not execute and direct. Jeanette has lauded the leaders of DEC for their achievements in putting on events that are a fun way to start talking about diversity. For example, last year, DEC hosted a “door-decorating contest” with the help of other Smith organizations, to propel the discourse on diversity through an enjoyable and collaborative activity. DEC strives to be the face of Smith, and an exemplary council for other colleges at the University of Maryland.
Dr. Boyd completely agrees in vision and purpose with Jeanette, but added a few morsels of wisdom himself, on why he sees this mission to be of top priority. On a more global scale, “DEC is addressing the biases endemic in academia today,” he said. There seems to be “an unconscious bias” in academia against minorities and people are afraid of talking about it. But the time has come for people to stop being afraid of engaging in dialogue about issues such as race, ethnicity, and minorities and how they are affected and affect the academic environment at universities. Dr. Boyd also hopes to see more non-minority students take part and involve themselves in DEC. “It is important to champion cooperation amongst all students, and not separate the minorities and non-minorities, because the ultimate goal is collaboration, not separation.”
DEC’s mission is as inspiring as it is profound. Just mentioning diversity in brochures and pamphlets at open-houses is not enough. Students themselves must speak up for a change in the academic climate. The workforce is becoming more and more diverse, and it will be paramount for business school students to be able to unite across a range of languages, ethnicities, abilities, beliefs, and values. Diversity should not be an impediment, but a tool, and DEC is at the forefront of the fight for a more diverse, collaborative, and cohesive academic and professional environment.
Join us for a Diversity Fireside Chat on Oct. 9 with John W. Rogers, Jr., one of the most powerful African Americans on Wall Street.
Look out for DEC’s second annual campaign on diversity later this fall. They’re planning an exciting portfolio of events for the Smith and Maryland community.
For more information about diversity at Smith, visit: www.rhsmith.umd.edu/about-us/diversity.