District of Columbia Winter Seminar: Identity, Power, Profit a Success for the Second Year

During ten days this past January, a group of William & Mary students traveled around Washington, D.C., and met with numerous professionals who work in the diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (DEIB) space. Now in its second year, the immersive course strives to expose students to different perspectives, experiences, and paths and help them become better allies to marginalized individuals.

This year's D.C. Winter Seminar, titled "Identity, Power, Profit," was expertly led by Clinical Associate Professor Phil Wagner, with the invaluable support of William & Mary's Washington Center. A cohort of sixteen students, accompanied by a teaching assistant, had the opportunity to learn from top experts in the field, participate in insightful site visits, engage in conversations over meals, explore the arts, and receive training from professionals working in DEIB. Throughout the seminar, students were exposed to a wide range of perspectives and had the opportunity to deepen their understanding of the crucial issues surrounding identity, power, and profit.

"Our primary goal was to expose students to diverse perspectives, not limiting them to a single line of thinking. While we discussed DEIB theory and academic content during our meetings in Williamsburg, our purpose in DC was to immerse them in non-stop engagement," explained Wagner.

According to Daniela Pereira Flores '25, "The program is truly exceptional, offering students an unparalleled opportunity to engage in high-impact learning experiences and connect with William & Mary's distinguished alumni while immersing themselves in the vibrant culture of the city."

The creation of the course resulted from continuous efforts by William & Mary and the Raymond A. Mason School of Business to incorporate more experiential learning opportunities related to DEIB in the academic curriculum. As part of the course curriculum, the city became the primary classroom where students conversed honestly with individuals from diverse backgrounds representing various walks of life.

Amaya Jones '25 shared that the experience curated a star-studded itinerary that motivated her to envision the integration of her business interests with her values, particularly in the context of human rights.

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; Ike Irby '17, Senior Policy Advisor to VP Kamala Harris; Nathan Chin '08, Global Head of DEI and Engagement at Cvent; Crystal Morrison-Joseph '09 with PsychYourMind; Sacha Thompson '93, MEd '99, founder and CEO of the Equity Equation; and many more.

A diverse group of professionals from different organizations and independent consultants who specialize in various fields such as human rights, women's rights, law, and business consulting participated in our course. Some notable participants were the Human Rights Campaign, National Women's Law Center, Amnesty International, and Accenture.

As part of our program, an evening thought leadership event on Storytelling for Inclusive Leadership was well-attended by alumni based in Washington, D.C. These alumni played a key role in engaging with the students and sharing their insights on the topic.

The students had the opportunity to attend the Broadway hit "Wicked" and a captivating performance called "No Excuses, No Limits" at The Kennedy Center. This exceptional show featured an international all-star breakdance crew consisting of seven of the world's most talented disabled dancers. Through their mesmerizing dance routines, music, and audience participation, each individual's unique story was shared, inspiring the audience with a newfound understanding of the boundless potential of the human spirit. Wagner, who accompanied the students, emphasized that the arts are often a driving force behind social change. The Kennedy Center performances provided a platform for discussing important issues related to representation, social support, and inclusion in a fun and engaging way.

The students also participated in a "give back day," collaborating with Bread for the City to assemble numerous bags of food for those in need. Wagner stated that this organization is among D.C.'s best-known food insecurity resources. "During our time there, we assisted in packing bags of food for distribution to individuals and families in low-income areas and those facing food insecurity throughout the DMV. In addition to this, we engaged in discussions regarding housing and food insecurity and their connections to diversity and inclusion efforts."

During their visit, the students explored a variety of significant landmarks in Washington, D.C., that shed light on the experiences of historically marginalized groups and how this impacts current DEIB efforts. They had the opportunity to tour several essential sites, including the Museum of African American History and Culture on the National Mall, the White House, the U.S. Capitol, and the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. In addition, they were privileged to attend a guest lecture presented by Dr. Rebecca Carter-Chand, Director of the Programs on Ethics, Religion, and the Holocaust, and Program Coordinator Julia Liden at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. The lecture provided valuable insights into the interplay between history, ethics, and contemporary approaches to diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging.

In their analysis, Carter-Chand and Liden delved into the complex relationship between the German churches and the antisemitic policies of the Third Reich, which manifested in a fluctuation between complacency, enthusiastic adherence, and rejection. Additionally, they provided historical context on the long-standing tradition of antisemitism and examined the actions and choices made by influential leaders across the globe.

According to Wagner, the objective was to demonstrate that despite years of advancement, traces of the past persist in our current day. Although it may be uncomfortable, acknowledging these realities is crucial. "We cannot move forward if we don't carefully understand the past," said Wagner.

Jada Jones '25 noted that her experience reminded her that business is "ultimately about people. While it has the power to make lives easier and drive change, it is far from perfect, as history shows. Working in this field, and life, means dealing with messy and imperfect individuals, some of whom you may not get along with. This is where DEIB comes in. Even if you do not end up being close with everyone, treating them with respect, love, and grace is important."

In addition to visiting museums, the group also immersed themselves in the local culture by dining at minority-owned and operated hospitality sites across the DMV. Dubbed "Chat and Chews," these gatherings at establishments such as Ben's Chili Bowl, Purple Patch, and Mitsitam allowed students to hear firsthand accounts of the owners' stories and struggles in creating and managing their businesses. This experience highlighted the importance of representation in DEIB work and emphasized the significance of learning directly from individuals' experiences rather than solely in a classroom setting.

The course aimed to equip the next generation of business leaders with the necessary knowledge and skills to address contemporary DEIB challenges. To achieve this, students explored the concept of identity from various angles, including race, gender, class, ability, sexuality, faith, identity, and beyond. The profound impact of the course was evident as students gained valuable insights that they plan to apply in their future professional endeavors, regardless of whether it formally pertains to DEIB or not.

Moreover, students better understood the vocabulary, knowledge, and perspectives of underrepresented groups they may encounter in their workplaces. This experience gave them a more comprehensive outlook on approaching diversity, equity, and inclusion in their personal and professional lives.

Joe Core '25 conveyed that the positive experience during the course motivated him to continue learning beyond it and apply it upon returning to campus. He believes this sense of shared purpose and community will deepen his relationships, expand his horizons, and create positive change within his campus community and beyond.

Phil Wagner, host of the "Diversity Goes to Work" podcast, serves as a Clinical Associate Professor of Organizational Behavior at William & Mary's Raymond A. Mason School of Business. Demonstrating his strong dedication to diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (DEIB) efforts, Wagner has eagerly extended his involvement in the course for an additional two years, until the winter of 2025, following its remarkable success.