In 2019, Dan McMahon entered Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business as a first-year student. He thought the program would be “super straight” and that he would find difficulty being his whole self as a bisexual man at school.
Four weeks into his opening term, McMahon trusted his first study team to respect his story and his being and came out to them.
“It was like a weight was lifted off my shoulders,” said McMahon.
From there, he went on to forge strong relationships with his colleagues and eventually became his class’s president of Out@MSB, the official affinity club at McDonough School for LGBTQ+ MBA students. During his time at MSB, McMahon also shared his personal story to roughly 100 peers in an annual event the school hosts for individuals who have unique stories to tell called ‘Identity Stories’.
McMahon has since graduated to pursue a successful career in the technology industry. From his story one could easily assume that all out people at McDonough have positive experiences at the school. Upon closer inspection, I found intricate, mixed stories that involved everything from wanting to belong and hiding to holding ambitions to become role models and hopes for more inclusion at school.
According to several students at both McDonough and other graduate schools at Georgetown University, many on campus joke that the MBA program is the “straightest” graduate program in terms of students’ general perception of sexual diversity. But this is typical for most MBA programs across the board and not specifically to Georgetown University, based on national surveys and data.
In fact, Georgetown University earned high marks on the Campus Pride Index this year, which evaluates LGBTQ-friendly policies, programs, and practices. Campus Pride, a nonprofit that focuses on LGBTQ inclusion in higher education, singled out Georgetown as one of the top 10 religious schools living up to LGBTQ-inclusive values.
Annual surveys by Reaching Out MBA (ROMBA), a nonprofit that hosts the biggest annual conference of LGBT+ MBAs in the world, have shown business schools average about 1.5 to 3 percent of students who openly identify as LGBTQ+. This lags the national average of about 11.8 percent, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
This is partly the reason why some students choose to keep their sexual identities shrouded at school and find belonging outside of campus, say several current and former students at McDonough.
“Business school can be a ‘boys club’ where people will display microaggressions,” said one recent MBA graduate of McDonough, who identifies as a bisexual man. These “microaggressions” included flexing one’s masculinity in one way or another.
“I felt gross (because of their behavior) and didn’t want to hang, but it was hard because some of these people are central to the MBA environment,” the graduate added. He asked not to be identified as he is not publicly out. “A lot of people who acquiesce to this culture see DE&I as a chore and a show. It’s not the school; it’s insidious because it’s on an individual level.”
One second-year MBA who also identifies as a bisexual man attested to the same, pointing out there are many “straight-passing” students at McDonough whose actual sexual identities are not heterosexual.
“I think the business, professional aspect keeps people from being honest with themselves,” he said, adding that’s why he’s sought solidarity in groups outside of Georgetown.
And not everyone chooses to engage with school events related to their sexuality. “There wasn’t much marketing around events for people with different sexual identities last year. And some people just don’t choose to be out at school,” said a recent female graduate from the part-time MBA program who identifies as bisexual but has chosen to remain anonymous. “I prefer to keep my business and school life separate from my private life,” she added.
There has been no shortage of events that LGBTQ+ students at MSB can participate in. Even in a virtual environment last year, Out@MSB hosted Drag Bingo for Valentine’s Day, a send-off brunch for graduating MBAs, a queer spirituality panel with two guest speakers from Temple Israel and the United Church of Christ, a pride walk, and a screening of the movie ‘Carol’.
In a statement, Out@MSB said one member of the MBA program who is not out attended the queer spirituality panel which the club saw as a win and added it hopes the next class will have the opportunity to host more public, in-person events during the current academic year.
I, too, am hopeful for the MSB community as some of the new first-year students who are publicly out have brought with them energy and ambition I hope they will pass down to the next class.
“I was worried about coming to Georgetown as it’s a Jesuit institution,” said Joey Gonzales, a dual-degree student who is currently in his first year of the MBA program and identifies as gay. “But now [as] I’m going through the most demanding time of my life, I have a group of people who are supportive around me – regardless of identity.”
“Everyone embraces cura personalis,” added Gonzales, referring to the school’s central tenet in Latin, meaning “care of the whole person”. “I also want to maintain an attitude of service. How do I give back to [People of Color]? LGBT people?”
Another first-year, Ross Dairiki, said he’s excited to apply himself to boosting diversity at McDonough as a double minority being out and a person of color. Dairiki has plans to host a yoga event at the school, taking advantage of his professional career as a founder of a yoga studio in San Francisco. He will also be contributing to the school as a student interviewer for the next batch of MBAs at McDonough.
The school has also been continuing its efforts to boost diversity and inclusion in its student population. Serafina Smith, Director of Diversity and Partnerships for MBA Admissions, said McDonough has updated and included more options within the gender question in its application process for students to opt-in and self-identify if they wish.
“We have a multi-prong holistic application process that allows students to share how their attributes, experiences, background and values make them who they are and how they will contribute to our community and program,” said Smith. “The application alone cannot capture it all, but our one-minute video essay and interviews are additional supplements that help us to connect the dots and meet and hear from the candidate directly.”
As a student ambassador involved in the admissions process at McDonough myself, I know first-hand the changes that are constantly made to ensure the admissions are inclusive of all students, regardless of their background or identity. These efforts include frequent assessments of student interview questions and how those interviews are conducted.
Prospective and newly admitted students should come in ready to be their authentic selves and treat others like they would want to be treated, says McMahon.
First-year MBA student Doug Adams, an out gay man whose ambitions currently lie in real estate and marketing, echoed this sentiment. “You’re less productive when you pretend to be someone you’re not,” Adams advises future students at McDonough.
“And anyone who is a part of the LGBTQ+ who aspires to have a successful and unique career post-MBA should also keep in mind that they can serve as powerful role models that young LGBTQ+ people can look up to for guidance and inspiration,” Adams adds.
Christine Kim (McDonough ’22) is a former Reuters correspondent and communications specialist from Seoul, South Korea. As a journalist, Christine covered issues like North Korea, global financial markets, and central bank rates. She also handled global communications for Samsung Electronics prior to business school and plans to focus on strategy and crisis management post-graduation. In this monthly column, Christine will highlight lesser heard voices and diverse experiences at Georgetown’s MBA program.
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