Continuing the conversation: The second semi-annual Diversity Business Clubs Summit

By: Katelyn Godoy
Poster with diversity messaging and handwritten notes

By Isabella de Castro ’21

Students who are involved in business clubs are obviously busy. But that didn’t stop close to 100 of them from attending the second semi-annual Diversity Business Clubs Summit in the spring of 2019.

Hosted by the Dyson Students of Color Coalition (DSCC), Forté Campus @ Cornell, and Dyson Pride, the goal of the summit is to increase diversity within Cornell’s business organizations. The focus for the spring semester meeting was on the reception of underrepresented minorities in on-campus business clubs as well as off-campus internship programs.

The four hosts of the summit
The hosts of the were Julio Lopez Ramos (DSCC, left), Jessica Tao (Dyson Pride, second from left), and Claire Stewart (Forté, right). Jen Majka, director of Dyson Diversity and Inclusion (second from right), was also present at the summit.

Progress from the past

At the inaugural summit last semester, student leaders gathered around one table. This time, with a much larger crowd, students were divided up into smaller tables with the goal of splitting up members of each organization to get more diversity of thought and experience at each table. And the tables were overflowing.

The meeting started off with an update on how some of the business clubs had made strides to increase diversity since the last summit. Several organizations reported they had altered their process for selecting new members by establishing numerical scoring to reduce subjectivity. Many had also created informal events like coffee chats to help prepare students for the recruitment process. Through these efforts, the organizations saw significant improvements in the diversity of their new members, especially in terms of women joining.

Laying the groundwork: Defining terms and posing questions

Following the update, summit organizers Julio Lopez Ramos ’21, Claire Stewart ’20, and Jessica Tao ’20 introduced the spring semester topic. They laid the groundwork for the conversation by defining diversity, inclusion, and tokenism.

Tokenism, which is defined as making only a symbolic effort to include minorities, is a key concern among minority students. One student shared that she had been recruited for an internship through a company’s diversity program where recruiters stressed how diverse and inclusive the workforce was. When she began the internship at the beginning of the summer, she found no support systems for minorities and not a single person who looked like her working there. Other students shared similar stories.

From there, questions were posed to those attending the summit, with students discussing their reactions and ideas with others at their table. A student at each table was elected to share what had been discussed with the larger group.

Trinity speaking at her table
Trinity Jaquez ’22 (right) and junior Angelith Usuga Arellano ’21 (AAP) (left) participate in a small group conversation about the issues.

Discussing club recruitment

One question posed was: “Why do you think student organizations on campus have so few students of color?” DSCC co-founder Joseph Olalusi ’19 responded by sharing his experiences.

“I think the recruitment process isn’t geared to attract students of color,” he said. “I am from a predominantly black community and so as a freshman it was very difficult just to get used to talking to people who didn’t look like me or come from my childhood community. I had to get over being uncomfortable on top of being prepared for the challenges of recruitment.

“White people understand the recruitment process and probably have a friend within the chapter giving them pointers,” Joseph continued. “It is also much easier for them to show they can ‘fit in’ and ‘belong’ in the organization.”

He did not feel the recruitment process needed to be revamped to attract students of color, but that it should not be geared as much toward students from privileged backgrounds. Joseph would also like to see clubs take into consideration the huge learning curve that students of color go through to show interest in organizations on campus.

Joseph speaking and presenting
Joseph Olalusi, co-founder of Dyson Students of Color Coalition, shares his experiences at the summit.

Minority disadvantages and possible solutions

Another topic of discussion at the summit was how past experiences affect recruitment. Minorities are more likely to come from disadvantaged backgrounds, with less access to obtaining experiences in business fields or internships prior to enrollment at Cornell. With no exposure to interviewing, it can put minorities at a disadvantage when trying to get into a business club.

Summit participants also talked about how unconscious bias often plays a role in candidate selection. Research has shown that when employers are given two resumes that are exactly the same except for the name of the applicant, the hiring manager is 50 percent more likely to call the person with a name that seems to indicate he or she is white compared to the applicant with a name that seems to indicate he or she is black. In order to combat these issues, the organizers suggested that clubs read resumes name blind, graduation year blind, and address blind.

Another suggestion was to introduce a more holistic approach to recruiting. For example, students could share their stories, beyond what is typically covered in an interview.

One final area of discussion was on diversity specific internship programs. While that is not possible for Cornell’s business clubs, it is recognized that such internships provide minorities with the chance to build a foundation and be competitive with students who have had more opportunities in the past. Summit participants were supportive of these programs.

Looking toward the future

Student writing on a poster
Attendees signed a poster at the end of the summit pledging to support the initiatives discussed.

Overall, the event was a huge success, with 34 organizations and 90 students attending. At the end of the meeting, participants were asked to sign a poster pledging to commit to diversity and inclusion. Almost all the students attending did so.

Next up, organizers of the summit are eager to see how club leaders follow through with their promise. They will also reflect on how the business summit can grow and improve next semester.

“Although we had a big success with the number of people that showed up to the Diversity Business Club Summit, I think we need to do a better job in facilitating the group discussions to make sure everyone’s voices are heard,” said DSCC co-founder Julio Lopez Ramos. “We know there are more ways in which we can make the summit better for everyone and we look forward to the next summit. It is an ongoing process to hold business clubs accountable and knowledgeable when it comes to diversity and inclusion.”

About Isabella de Castro ’21

Isabella de Castro

Isabella de Castro is concentrating in strategy and finance at the Charles H. Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management. From Walnut Creek, California, Isabella is an active member of the Dyson Students of Color Coalition, co-president of Mixed at Cornell, and a program assistant for the Dyson Office of Diversity and Inclusion. She is also an actor and technician for the Cog Dog Theater Troupe. Isabella has previously interned at Samba TV, a smart TV data company, doing client research in business development. This summer she will be interning at Cornell University in the Custom Development IT department doing project management.