For ten days in January a small group of William & Mary students crisscrossed Washington, DC and met with dozens of professionals who drive change in the diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (DEIB) space.
Led by Clinical Assistant Professor Phil Wagner with support from William & Mary’s Washington Center, the inaugural DC version of Wagner’s “Diversity in the Workplace” course immersed participants in the critical DEIB work that is currently being conducted by organizations and individuals in the nation’s capital and around the world.
Eleven students and one teaching assistant learned from experts, conducted site visits, participated in conversations over meals, enjoyed the arts, and engaged in training sessions with, and by, professionals working in every corner of DEIB.
“Our central goal was to expose students to not just one line of thinking, but so many different perspectives. We met several times in Williamsburg and discussed DEIB theory and academic content but when we were in DC, our purpose was non-stop engagement,” said Wagner.
The course was created in light of ongoing efforts by William & Mary and the Raymond A. Mason School of Business to bring more experiential learning opportunities about DEIB into the classroom. In this case, the city served as the classroom, and the curriculum was presented in the form of honest conversations with people representing all walks of life.
Speakers included a mix of William & Mary partners and alumni, including Rita Sampson, ’89, the Director of the US Securities and Exchange Commission’s Office of Equal Employment Opportunity; Nicole McCauley, ’13, Senior Consultant at Deloitte; Jennifer Engelhardt, MBA ’97, Principal at EY; Nathan Chin, ’08, Senior Manager of DEI and Engagement at Cvent; Crystal Morrison-Joseph, ’09 with PsychYourMind; and Sacha Thompson, ’93, MEd ’99, founder and CEO of the Equity Equation.
“The most impactful part of the course for me was meeting with so many William & Mary alumni. Hearing from different generations, their experiences, and the paths they took to get to their current positions was very valuable and interesting,” said Tasia Ricks, ’23. “The most insightful remarks to me were made by Sacha Thompson as she talked about being a woman of color and experiencing different issues in the predominantly white male spaces she’s worked in. It was very motivating.”
Students also heard from representatives of the Human Rights Campaign, National Women’s Law Center, National Disability Rights Network, Special Olympics International, and independent consultants who work in the space.
“Merely being instructed in a classroom setting about DEIB is informative but it cannot replicate the educational experience of hearing individuals’ stories directly from them,” said Sebastian Ruiz, ’21. “I learned being an ally to marginalized individuals is about consistently showing them you are there and asking if there is a way you can take any bullets so they won’t have to take them anymore. Throughout the rest of my professional career, I want to be the best ally possible to all my coworkers whenever I can, not just when it’s convenient.”
In addition to guest speakers, the students went to The Kennedy Center for a showing of the Broadway musical “The Prom.” Wagner noted that the arts often drive social change and the Kennedy Center showing was a fun way to discuss issues of representation, social support, and inclusion.
The group participated in a “give back day” where they partnered with Bread for the City and packed hundreds of bags of food.
“This organization is one of DC’s most prolific food insecurity resources. We were able to roll up our sleeves, pack bags of food for dispersion to low-income and food-insecure folks across the DMV. And while there, we had conversations about housing and food insecurity, and how those topics tie back to diversity and inclusion work,” said Wagner.
The itinerary also included offsite engagements at museums and local restaurants. Look for Part II of this series, “Representation Matters: Diversity in the Workplace Course Brings Relevance to DEIB Work for Students” in the weeks ahead.