Fully Engaged The Role of Diversity & Inclusion

Unity. Collaboration. Cultural awareness.

That’s how Haslam College of Business leaders describe the college’s efforts to promote diversity and inclusion among faculty, staff, and students. 

In October 2022, the college hosted its first-ever Diversity Summit with the theme “Bridging Cultural Gaps.” While the event focused on students, it also included faculty and staff with breakout sessions for each group. Kendall Williams, a senior in supply chain management, especially enjoyed those. “The topics were very relevant, helping us engage with different people across cultures and communities,” says Williams. “It was encouraging to talk to peers that we can relate to easily.” 

The Diversity Summit is just one of many efforts led by the Office of Access and Community Connections (OACC). Created in 2005, the OACC exists to create a welcoming and inclusive environment for faculty, staff, and students. Its vision impacts all the college’s processes, from student outreach to retention to faculty searches.

The Need for Diversity and Inclusion

Why is it important to focus on diversity at a business school? OACC Director Clarence Vaughn points out that no matter what industry you’re in, everyone works with people. “We have to understand what each person brings to the table and the historical context of relationships between groups,” he says. “Ultimately, we want to make sure we’re not isolating any groups from participating and feeling that they belong.” 

When diverse groups of people learn to work together, they become well-rounded, collaborative leaders and more effective teams. “To me, this is about implementation,” Vaughn says. “It’s giving people tools, resources, and knowledge they’ll be able to use regularly in the business world and for their personal and professional growth.” 

To Stephen L. Mangum, dean and Stokely Foundation Leadership Chair at the college, these efforts get at the heart of higher education as a place where the free exchange of ideas is fundamental. “The best thing we can do as an educational institution is to make space for people from different backgrounds, cultures, and life experiences—and work to create an environment where individuals can feel a sense of value, safety, and belonging as they freely articulate their views and engage with one another.” Mangum adds that diversity often grows from an atmosphere of inclusion, rather than the other way around. 

Supporting Students and Faculty 

With a current team of five dedicated staff, the OACC oversees a number of programs and services for students and is involved with faculty searches and professional development efforts. 

Student programs include TakeOff, designed to support first-generation students; the Diversity Advancement Program, providing student leaders with opportunities to advance diversity initiatives at the college; and development programs that are pipelines to internships and full-time opportunities. Noah Dandridge (HCB, ’21, MBA, ’22) was part of The PepsiCo Power of One: Diversity Leadership Development Program as a senior studying supply chain management. In this program, selected students attend four sessions taught by PepsiCo executives on topics related to diversity and business. “Being part of the program enhanced my professional development skills and allowed me to connect with diverse company executives,” Dandridge says. “It was a beneficial experience.” 

Student Antonio Terrell, a senior majoring in finance, also appreciates the wide variety of services the Office of Access and Community Connections offers. “They provide minority students with opportunities and experiences that we might not be comfortable seeking elsewhere on campus, such as professional development trips, help with soft skills and resumés, and more,” he says. “Everyone on staff is sincere and fully engaged with the students.” 

Moving Forward Together 

In many ways, Haslam is a leader in the area of diversity and inclusion. Still, Mangum stresses that the college has a long road ahead toward the goal of achieving student and faculty demographics that reflect those of the entire state. Staying connected in the community is key to reaching that goal, and the reason why community relations is part of the office’s title. “We tied those two responsibilities together because there’s diversity in our area that historically we haven’t recognized and accessed as widely and carefully as we should,” Mangum says. “Today, we want to ensure we’re reaching every part of our community.” 

Student recruitment is a big part of those outreach efforts, says Vaughn. “We want to continue to recruit the best and brightest, particularly through our pre-collegiate programs for high school students.” Those programs include Business Education for Talented Students (BETS), a 10-day program for rising seniors, and Accounting and Information Management (AIM) Academy, a three-day program for rising juniors. 

Faculty recruitment is another piece of the diversity puzzle. For Lauren Cunningham, Keith Stanga Professor of Accounting and Cheryl Massingale Faculty Research Fellow, seeing women in leadership roles was part of what drew her to Haslam. “At the time I was interviewing in 2014, Annette L. Ranft was one of the deans,” Cunningham says. “That communicated to me that this college cares about diversity in leadership. Since I’ve been here, I have observed an increasing focus on diversity in planning meetings and as part of the hiring process.” 

Ultimately, Vaughn wants the OACC’s efforts to improve the experience for everyone in the Haslam community by promoting a vision of unity. “This is not about separating people into us versus them,” he says. “This is ‘we.’ Our approach is focused on finding commonalities, increasing cultural awareness and competency, and creating space to discuss differences while recognizing that we share a common love for the college and the university.” 

Tyvi Small, vice chancellor for diversity and engagement at the University of Tennessee, says the college has made great strides in the areas of diversity, equity, and inclusion over the past 15 years. “Haslam has always stepped forward as a trailblazer in this space, and they are a key cog in what we are doing campus-wide to help everyone know that they matter and they belong.” 

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