A Common Thread in Commerce: Celebrating Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging at McIntire

"Relationships matter, and being able to learn from and with our students, listen to them, and then create something together is wonderful," says Katherine Lawrence, McIntire’s Associate Director of Student Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. "Ultimately, we want to build their capacity to go out into the world and become the empathic, culturally competent, business leaders we know they can be, and it’s great to watch that develop during the time we have with them."

Katherine Lawrence

Katherine Lawrence

“Creating a sense of belonging doesn’t just happen because we want it to; we have to be intentional and build multiple avenues and touchpoints,” says Katherine Lawrence, McIntire’s Associate Director of Student Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion.

Since she’s joined the Commerce School, Lawrence has been driving and overseeing many impactful efforts in her area of focus. Many of the activities have been new opportunities she has created, developed, and promoted, with the intention of engaging groups and individuals across McIntire.

Most anyone who endeavors to build a community will tell you that those aforementioned avenues and touchpoints need to be cultivated and cared for in order to make any kind of difference. But these efforts concern the School of Commerce, a place where Lawrence and her peer staff and faculty members—as well as its high-achieving students—have demonstrated a determination to make McIntire better each and every day.

Celebrating, Connecting, and Respecting

As part of McIntire’s Student Services, Lawrence has led new initiatives that span the School community, such as the McIntire Mingles, facilitated collectively by her dynamic colleagues on the Student Life team. The hourlong monthly gatherings, which typically have over 300 attendees, have been bringing together the entire Commerce School faculty, staff, and students to meet up for a snack, often to recognize an important cultural or heritage event.

“We have celebrated Hispanic Heritage Month, Diwali, Global Diversity Month, Lunar New Year, and Black History Month, just to name a few,” she says. “We work hard to coordinate our menu to reflect the celebration and invite students with these backgrounds to share what it means to them and [information about] the communities they come from. It is awesome to watch and hear students share memories, talk about the food, see the decorations, and feel themselves and their heritage reflected in that way.”

Starting in the fall of 2022, Lawrence has partnered with McIntire’s Office of Undergraduate Admission and the UVA Office of African American Affairs (OAAA) each fall to co-host a Black Friday event at OAAA, with the support of students from the Black Commerce Student Network. “It was important for us to have a strong presence of faculty, staff, and students show up to that event to meet, have students see us, and talk more about both the B.S. in Commerce Program, as well as the minors and the pre-experience master’s programs,” Lawrence says, noting that she’s looking forward to holding the event again in the fall of 2024.

Ensuring a sense of belonging for McIntire students comes from essential programs like the DEIB Welcome Series, once they receive their admission to McIntire in their second year. “Students are introduced to myself, current third- and fourth-year student leaders, affinity groups, staff, and other resources that help to create smoother transitions for students, especially those from historically marginalized backgrounds,” Lawrence says, pointing out that it represents one piece of a larger programming strategy fostering student support in addition to connecting with individual students or small groups to advocate for more specific needs. Other events include the annual First-Generation Student Breakfast, various events such as hosting Iftar for Muslim students during Ramadan, and the efforts of the Student Community Action Committee.

Lawrence says her commitment to DEIB efforts has also allowed her to closely collaborate with affinity student group leaders to ideate and launch events while “keeping a finger on the pulse on what is happening in each of their organizations.” She’s supported students in the Asian Student Network, Black Commerce Student Network, Latinx Student Network, and Pride at McIntire, and fosters an environment for new affinity groups to develop and fill a need for students.

“Co-creating events and programming with the student affinity groups has been awesome. We have fantastic student-leaders with clear visions and ideas of how they want their organizations to engage with McIntire, prospective students, and the UVA community. Together we have been able to put on events like the Welcome Back Luncheon at the beginning of the school year, where we hosted a lunch and with students from underrepresented backgrounds to create individual connections with staff, faculty, and students while building community and introducing them to McIntire’s student-led affinity groups in the first week of the semester. It looks to create positive social connections, networking opportunities, and an increased sense of belonging.”

The McIntire community gathered to enjoy the DEIB Welcome Lunch in August.

The McIntire community gathered to enjoy the DEIB Welcome Lunch in August.

Additionally, Lawrence serves in a consulting role with other student organizations and student-facing units at McIntire. “This can look like discussing trends, challenges, or opportunities they may have in their current units or organizations; conducting a workshop to help them reach a certain outcome; or it could be reminding them that I am here as a resource, available to support them to reach their goals,” she says.

Advancing Other DEIB Efforts

As Lawrence aims to continue building relationships and shape programming with students, she credits all of her interns over the past three years with helping to promote Schoolwide diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging efforts.

“Zaakirah Fofana (McIntire ’23), Jayhan Weeks (McIntire ’24), and Marlee Morgan (McIntire ’25) played significant roles. We have worked hard to build a constant flow of educational content, graphics, and an inviting presence on McIntire’s internal website. We want to have a space that students can refer to if they have questions about a particular topic, celebration, or event, and so we update that information regularly,” she says.

Zaakirah Fofana

Zaakirah Fofana

Fofana’s experiences with McIntire’s DEIB efforts were beneficial in helping her gain exposure to the customs, norms, and beliefs of her classmates and professors. “I’ve been able to learn the worldviews of other cultures by becoming familiar with both their history and current events. Understanding and interacting with people from different backgrounds open new perspectives, which is an essential skill that I want to carry with me to the professional workspace,” she says.

Being part of DEIB initiatives at the Comm School has sharpened Weeks’ skill set and approach for collaborating with diverse groups of people as well. She’s learned a lot as an intern.

Jayhan Weeks

Jayhan Weeks

“Education is the most effective tool for truly understanding and sympathizing with others. Supporting various affinity student groups that have vastly different needs, from marketing collaborative events to helping to support the recruitment and onboarding of  new presidents and executive board members, has given me much experience in working towards different goals with different types of people—and in the most effective ways possible,” says Weeks. “Though highly inclusive events are great, as it is always great to foster connections between people who may have less in common on a surface level, more intimate ones within affinity groups are equally as important.”

Fofana recalls one impactful event that she and her peers organized in spring 2023, the inaugural “Snap and Chat,” which invited students to have a professional headshot taken while they networked with other students. Collaborating with affinity group presidents and Lawrence, the planning process gave her experience overseeing organization, division of labor, estimating costs, and establishing a budget.

The results were positive all around; Lawrence notes that turnout for the event comprised first- through fourth-year students, as well as many members of the School’s Commerce Cohort.

Marlee Morgan

Marlee Morgan

For current intern Morgan, working in the DEIB Office affords her the opportunity to work on a wide variety of initiatives that engage McIntire students while allowing her to understand her peers more deeply. “I get to learn about the experiences of so many fellow Comm students and collaborate on projects that help highlight their passions and identities. What makes this internship so rewarding is, after we plan such intentional events and highlighting special occasions, we get to witness the joy of familiarity and excitement on students faces as they see our work brought to life, making them feel seen, heard, and appreciated for being a student at McIntire,” she says, pointing out that she feels fortunate to work alongside “two great people, Kat and Jayhan,” sharing their goals to make McIntire a better place for everyone who is part of the Commerce community.

Taking DEIB from Comm School to the Office

Heavily involved in easing the transition to UVA for first-generation, lower-income (FGLI) college students, Sambriddi Pandey (McIntire ’22), an FGLI student herself, says that interning with McIntire’s DEIB efforts as a student provided a way for her to contribute to the McIntire community more personally while preparing her for her professional life.

Sambriddi Pandey

Sambriddi Pandey

“My work on Grounds outside of McIntire was focused on the FGLI community, and my internship at McIntire allowed me to focus on this community alongside other underrepresented groups,” she says. “We were given a lot of free range when it came to planning and hosting events and initiatives, and it was a real privilege to see our ideas come to fruition.”

She recalls organizing an FGLI breakfast with McIntire faculty and staff during the week of National First Gen Day, which was that much more special for her. “As a first-gen student, it really made me proud to see McIntire partake, and I know this sentiment was shared by many of my peers who attended,” Pandey says.

Her internship has made her more eager to get involved in pitching and planning initiatives today. “Understanding the historical context of many matters connected to DEIB has been very valuable, especially when it comes to helping inform others,” she says, detailing content she created on related matters to enrich events she had been a part of at the Comm School.

“For example, during one of our Monthly Morning Mingles, we honored Diwali. Prior to the event, we featured information on the holiday on MyMcIntire [the McIntire School portal], including verbiage about the celebration on flyers, and during the Mingle, we served drinks and food related to Diwali and highlighted student-submitted stories on what the day meant to them,” she says. “Many students reached out to express how special the event was, as it was their first time seeing part of their culture being honored in an academic setting. Responses such as this were incredibly rewarding and are a testament to the large impact that Kat Lawrence is having on the McIntire community through her work in the DEIB office.”

Reflecting on the internship experience, Pandey says it remains one of the greatest highlights of her time at McIntire: “I owe such gratitude to everyone in the Student Services office and Kat Lawrence, in particular, for always being extremely accessible and our biggest cheerleader.”

A Future Belonging to All of Us

For Fofana and Weeks, their dedication to current DEIB initiatives remains strong.

Fofana, who graduated in May, used her last days as a student intern to share her positivity. “I am looking forward to putting more smiles on the faces of students, professors, and staff by building enduring connections throughout the McIntire community. Also, I am excited to be working with more students interested in DEIB and spreading that light to help our ongoing movement for change!”

Now a fourth-year, Weeks has grown in her role in collaborating with organizations and helping them to promote their “fun and beneficial events,” all the while learning more about each of them in the process, “and becoming closer with more members of the McIntire community.”

Lawrence says that getting to know Comm students through DEIB, hearing about their lives and why they chose McIntire, has been extremely rewarding.

“I feel exceptionally privileged to work with them during the exciting times and even more so, during the challenging times,” she insists. “Relationships matter, and being able to learn from and with our students, listen to them, and then create something together is wonderful. Ultimately, we want to build their capacity to go out into the world and become the empathic, culturally competent, business leaders we know they can be, and it’s great to watch that develop during the time we have with them.”

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