Eyes On A Changing World, Indiana Kelley Strives For Greater Diversity

First-place winners in last year’s National Diversity Case Competition, hosted by Indiana Kelley. This year’s competition will be held January 15-16, 2021. IU Kelley photo


The major new initiative announced this fall is The Commons, which will welcome not only Kelley School students, faculty, and staff, but those from IU-Bloomington as a whole and Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, as well. The schools are billing it as an effort to foster better understanding in this academic year, with all degree-seeking undergrad, grad, and online MBA and MS students invited to participate.

The first activity, a school-wide reading of How to Be an Antiracist,” by Ibram X. Kendi, will be capped by a panel discussion hosted by Dean Kesner on September 30.

“I hope that The Commons will achieve an open, honest dialogue with our students,” Kesner says. “What we’re doing is once a month, we’re either reading a common book, and the first one coming up is this end of September here. We’ll have the dialogue about how to be an anti-racist, Ibram Kendi’s book, and then the other activities will include either listening to a common podcast or watching a common film, a documentary, or something like that.” The key, she says, will be students coming together in open and honest dialogue “about what we’re learning about ourselves and about each other.”

“The conversation that I’m going to lead as dean is just the first step in it,” Kesner says. “What’s going to happen after that is that the various programs will adopt further activities, further initiatives, that will be a continuation of what we do with the thing that I lead once a month.


A pandemic is a challenging time to launch any new initiative or program, particularly one like The Commons that seemingly would be better served by in-person gatherings and live face-to-face communication. But even in a virtual world, there are advantages to having the kind of community conversation Kesner and the Kelley School are seeking.

In fact, the dean says, in some ways virtual is preferable.

“We’ve learned a couple of things about the virtual environment,” she says. “Sometimes it’s better to do things in person, and you have a closer connection. Then you can do lots of activities, experiential kinds of activities. But let me say that we’ve learned a few things about where virtual environments are actually helpful. For example, we know that things like academic advising and career coaching actually work even better in a virtual environment. Our recruiters are telling us, ‘If I have to come there and interview in a mask, I’d rather do it virtually online. I think I can do just as good a job.’ And I believe that to be truth. So when it comes to The Commons or when it comes to other diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives, what we’ve found is that we can get some really prominent speakers to come forward, and they don’t even have to be here physically. And they do an amazing job.

“I’ll give you an illustration. So on Friday, September 11th, we hosted an event for our faculty. This was not for students, but our faculty. We had 293 faculty join. There were another almost 50 faculty that are going to review the recording because they had to teach during that period, so they weren’t available exactly when the recording happened. But 293 faculty members joined. We had three very prominent chief diversity officers, including the chief diversity officer at Eli Lilly and the chief diversity officer at Deloitte, and what they were talking about is not only how faculty should recognize the case for them embracing diversity in their classroom — in their curriculum in their individual courses — but also curricular-wide. And not just because it’s the right thing to do, but because of the business case. But more important than that, these recruiters were talking about how they want to recruit students that have certain skills and competencies when it comes to cultural diversity and awareness.

“And so we were asking questions like, ‘If we want to be a school of choice, what are the kinds of competencies and skills we need to be embedding in our classrooms so that you want to come and recruit from us?’ So it was a very frank and honest conversation about how our faculty must embrace diversity, equity, and inclusion and embed it in their classrooms specifically and in the curriculum overall. And it was extraordinarily compelling. Would we have been able to do that as easily in a non-virtual environment? No, because we were pulling speakers and people from all over in order to participate in this really informative session. So, virtual environments have some benefits for us.”


Kesner says Indiana Kelley faculty meet with students regularly, sitting down with student leadership groups every two weeks “to hear them and to act as quickly as we can.” In such a rapidly evolving environment with national and world events shaping and reshaping the cultural conversation, Kesner adds, “we want to make sure we’re on top of things and we’re hearing things. Above and beyond that, we’re trying to really highlight things in our history that make our diverse population proud of what has been accomplished, so that they can take pride in that.

“So for example, outside of our school, on the road outside, coming up, we’ll be hanging banners about some of our African-American alums who have achieved monumental accomplishments throughout their career. We’ll be hanging banners for the first graduating class at the Consortium more than 50 years ago. So their old pictures when they were students here will be hanging there and we can celebrate the accomplishments they’ve had since.

“We will highlight our Black alumni, we’ll be highlighting our women, we’ll be highlighting our alums of other more diverse backgrounds — all to showcase that we have had a lot of diversity in our history. Let’s not forget that. Let’s build on it.”


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