Olin creates diversity committee in response to student demands

| News Editor

The newly-formed Olin Diversity and Inclusion Committee will hold its first meeting Thursday in the hopes of tackling its internal issues of diversity and underrepresentation.

The committee, which currently consists of 16 Olin faculty members, staff members and students, was formed in order to identify and improve the areas in which Olin is lacking in diversity. Earlier this year, a group of students approached Dean of the Olin Business School Mahendra Gupta with a list of demands in the hopes of bringing to his attention some of these issues and to shift the focus from external efforts to internal improvements. Among their demands was the establishment of a long-term committee tasked with working towards a more diverse and inclusive school.

Business school administrators were optimistic about the outcomes of the committee. The students who initially presented the list of demands said they appreciated Gupta’s efforts, but hoped that the committee would lead to more concrete results.

According to Gupta, the committee will be working towards the improvement of diversity and inclusion within the business school. In an email sent out to all of Olin on March 31, Gupta stated that “the committee will examine our current culture, academic and professional development programs, student recruitment and the composition of students, faculty and staff related to diversity and inclusion.”

Although the establishment of the committee is just the first step in what Gupta expected to be a long process, he is hopeful about what will come out of it.

“This committee is going to be our eyes and ears on this important issue of diversity and inclusion,” Gupta said in an interview with Student Life. “They will not only be the eyes and ears at one time, but it will be a continuous basis, periodic basis. They will do their own research and their own analysis of how we are doing. I don’t expect these issues to get resolved in a couple of months.”

Gupta identified the importance of teaching students to keep an open mind when dealing with others, because some of the inclusion problems arise from a lack of cultural understanding from students.

“Reality is, most of these issues we inherit from the backgrounds of the students that are coming to this campus, how their own values, their own culture and beliefs have evolved over time. It’s the families and communities they’re coming from,” Gupta said. “So we are getting adults who are coming in with their own preconceived notions, and in universities what we do always is to now help them to have a different perspective, a new discussion, a new debate about it. This committee is going to very much respect the diversity that the students bring in and also help them to understand the diversity that exists. That’s going to be an important task.”

One of the student committee members is Delisle Warden, who was elected just this week to the newly created position of VP of Diversity on the Graduate Business Student Association. Although most of his work will take place next year, Warden noted some of the issues he hopes to work on during his time in the position, including the gender disparity in Olin.

“We’ll look for possible solutions for Olin in terms of how you can address issues of diversity both in the sense of current diversity on campus and also possible increasing the number of students coming from underrepresented groups, and when we say underrepresented groups that also includes women, because at the graduate level, women only represent about a quarter of the class—I think the actual number is 28%,” Warden said.

Warden worked for the civil rights division for the Department of Justice for two years before going to law school, and has worked for the past four years with the Department of Commerce. Based on his experiences, he believes it’s important to bring in students from St. Louis in order to increase development.

“When people graduate they tend to gravitate back to where they’re from or to the major job markets for MBA students, which doesn’t necessarily contribute a whole lot to development in St. Louis,” Warden said. “Of course you do have some people who are staying, but one of the things I think is that we could recruit people from St. Louis who are committed to staying in St. Louis. They would address a lot of the issues in terms of what I would call institutionalized classism in the St. Louis area; classism falls very much in line with racial demographics.”

Law student Aaron Davidowitz, who was part of the original group that met with Dean Gupta in February to encourage Olin to acknowledge their diversity issues, believes the new committee along with the VP of Diversity position of the GBSA are steps in the right direction, but still lack tangible results.

“The ball’s in their court at this point, which is really good,” Davidowitz said. “I think it’s an encouraging first step, but it’s also nothing besides the creation of the committee and an understanding at the institutional level, at Dean Gupta’s level, that these are actual problems and that there is a willingness to address them, which is definitely a big step because we weren’t sure how we were going to be met with that.”

Although Davidowitz was initially unsure of the authenticity of Gupta’s response, he and other students have been pleased with his efforts thus far.

“We weren’t sure how serious he was about actually changing things or if he was just being receptive to not get us riled up and then knowing we’d be out the door in May and that would be it,” Davidowitz said. “But Dean Gupta has been receptive and he has seemed to really be interested in really bringing change. But again, that doesn’t in and of itself bring change. It brings so far the kind of tools that hopefully will effectuate change, but not enough change in my opinion, yet.”

Davidowitz noted that there is still a large amount of uncertainty as to the outcome of whatever the committee and Olin decides to do.

“I’m very happy and encouraged that the committee is formed and they did it in a relatively quick manner for something of this size, but I’d say I’m cautiously optimistic to see how the committee actually works,” Davidowitz said.

Gupta stressed, however, that any major improvements will be gradual, but the efforts will not be lackluster.

“I don’t believe in doing everything at orientation and expecting people to remember. So we need to do it in a slow, steady and systematic manner to keep on reinforcing the issues again and again, and reinforcing how people can face those, address them, deal with them and become more informed and educated about diversity and inclusion in our community,” Gupta said.

Sign up for the email edition

Stay up to date with everything happening at Washington University and beyond.

Subscribe