All-Inclusive Embrace

All-Inclusive Embrace

Assistant Dean of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Heather Caruso reflects on UCLA Anderson’s expanded week-long Embracing Diversity initiative

Q: Embracing Diversity started out as a weekend conference for prospective UCLA Anderson students from diverse backgrounds, and expanded this year to a week-long series of events for the entire Anderson community. How did that come about and why is it so important to the school?

Assistant Dean of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Heather Caruso

As I was getting acquainted with the Anderson community last year, I found myself having conversation after conversation with people who had significant personal interest in diversity issues. Each one of them wanted more opportunities to develop those interests, and to channel them into informed, actionable ideas and goals. Many of these community members knew that we have been running an Embracing Diversity conference for the last few years, but they saw it — rightly — as primarily an outward-facing event, one reflecting our deep desire to draw more people to Anderson for the conversation. I wanted us to create an event that would serve those in our community who have already arrived eager to have that conversation, not only with one another but also with insightful speakers. My goal was to support the Anderson community’s eagerness to develop more substantive and skillful ways of navigating diversity issues, and to help us recognize that eagerness in one another.

Like many of our peer institutions, we strive to be a thriving, diverse community. Finding a sustainable way to do that has proven challenging — for society as a whole, as well as for institutions of higher education. This is not going to be something we achieve by just tweaking earlier approaches a bit, or by deferring the difficult issues until obvious answers become available. To make progress, we will need to make time for the inherent complexity of the issues — to set ourselves up for deeper consideration and more layered collaborations with others as we seek insight.

We can’t do this with a single talk or even a full-day conference. In organizing Embracing Diversity Week, I made a deliberate decision to create not only fascinating events, but time between the events for more conscientious consideration of and conversation about the speakers’ content. It is only with that kind of space that we can truly do justice to our community’s interest in fuller and more actionable engagement with diversity issues.

Aaron Walton, co-founder of powerhouse multicultural and global advertising firm Walton Isaacson

Q: It was a week of dynamic speakers and events. What were some of the highlights in your view? What are some key takeaways?

That is really hard to answer. I genuinely have to call out each one as energizing, challenging and insightful. Sunday’s session on entertainment industry diversity had perhaps my favorite closing thought, about the power of narrative in entertainment: how we can produce more universally engaging and socially responsible content by ensuring that our narratives about underrepresented groups are not about one-dimensional stereotypes, but about people with depth and nuanced characters.

On Monday, ConsejoSano gave our students a great demonstration of how digital technologies and behavioral science are a powerhouse duo in providing health care to multicultural populations. Tuesday’s chat between advertising superstar Aaron Walton and Dean Tony Bernardo gave us a fascinating look at how bold creative disruption can go hand in hand with a humble, uplifting appreciation of others. Hearing from Dr. William Towns on Wednesday, we witnessed a model leader in the impact investing space, one dedicated to a responsible, ethical and self-improving work process in a space where practical challenges can make many individuals short-sighted, presumptuous and deaf to inconvenient feedback. On Thursday, I was struck by how the panel with Andrea Mack (Riordan Fellow ’91, ’94) and Sue Toigo deftly interweaved concrete advice to individuals with encouragement for broader waves of change. They provided our students strategic guidance — for example, how to connect with mentors — and inspired a sense of possibility for a more purposeful, more diverse future in financial services.

The energy in our closing conference was possibly my favorite, boosted in particular by Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences COO Christine Simmons’ remarkable way of fully owning her success while powerfully and sincerely promoting the same for others. The week allowed time for all speakers to make their unique voices heard but, perhaps even better, I think many of our attendees felt that the week helped them to be more heard in our community as well. I don’t know that I could have asked for people to take anything better away from the week than that.

Q: What does it take to produce a week of events like this?

I honestly think that Anderson’s dedication to community is the most vital advantage we had in putting the week together. As with all major events, there were unexpected hiccups and mini-crises that cropped up along the way. In each case, members of our community came forward to provide ideas, alternative resources, extra hands, you name it. I am perhaps most touched by the sheer faith that everyone showed when investing their time in event prep. Because we’d never done a week like this before, everyone was working toward an idea, a vision, rather than a more known quantity. I think it even caught a few people by surprise — just how big the idea became, and how impactful it was to be in the rooms where it all played out.

That faith, and the openness to an amazing experience — that is a gift that I am particularly grateful to see here. It inspired some amazing creativity and innovative problem solving, some generous schedule-shuffling and resource sharing, and a million other micro-kindnesses in the spaces between. That’s what it took, and I think it is a uniquely Anderson advantage to have been able to mobilize all of that so well and quickly across the campus for this first-time effort.

Q: How does it all tie in to our mission to become a more equitable, diverse and inclusive community at Anderson?

Embracing Diversity Week was always meant to be a beginning, a kickoff. It is an event to honor the vital complexity of diversity issues, and to give our school time to tackle that complexity with the best possible tool, community. The week gave us time to question advice and to seek it, to consider new role models and to take responsibility for our impact and, most of all, to engage across all of the groups in our school to inform our next steps in advancing equity, diversity and inclusion. We can better recognize one another as partners in creating a thriving, diverse community here on campus, and in creating such workplaces when we leave. We can now better understand what it may take to offer one another the dignity to define our own identities, the insight to communicate effectively across cultures, the courage to both hear and offer feedback when mistakes are made, and the kindness to share success even as we break through barriers ourselves.

Putting all of this understanding into action is the next key step, to be followed by further reflection and learning to keep the momentum. And with 2019 honoree Mellody Hobson coming to our John Wooden Global Leadership Awards in December, and then our Velocity Women’s Summit the following month, and additional events after that, I expect to see that momentum build toward greater equity, diversity and inclusion all year long.