September 13, 2018

GUEST ROOM | Dean Walsh Describes Hotel School Diversity Initiatives

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In response to “‘The Best People Are Not All White’: Some Hotel School Profs Concerned by Lack of Diversity

This past May, and, most recently, last week, I had the opportunity to meet with Cornell Daily Sun reporter Meredith Liu ’20, to review with her our comprehensive diversity and inclusion initiatives and programs at the School of Hotel Administration and, broadly, at the SC Johnson College of Business. This issue is extremely important, so I appreciated being able to meet with her and to clarify our strategic focus. While in our discussions we acknowledged the challenges that our school and most business schools face, we were also able to share the critical ways in which we are reaffirming our commitment to, and expanding our efforts to, create a truly diverse and inclusive community.

One of our school’s fundamental core values is to be a community that is supportive of and inclusive to all. That is foundational to hospitality, and our school’s stakeholders fully embrace this guiding principle. One of the key ways we support this value is through selecting a diverse and vibrant student population, one that represents all identities, including underrepresented minority students. In part, we accomplish this through generous grants we have secured, such as the one with The Hilton Foundation, which helps to fund recruitment and support efforts for underrepresented minority students. In addition, this fall our admissions team will lead significant recruitment efforts in major U.S. cities to connect with those underrepresented and first generation high school students (and their counselors) who are interested in learning more about SHA and Cornell.

Once our students arrive in Statler Hall, our goal is to provide them with a comprehensive support system as part of a fully welcoming community. One of our student-supported organizations, the National Society of Minorities in Hospitality, a non-profit organization founded at SHA, continues to help provide a network for minority students of African, Asian, Hispanic and Native American descent. The NSMH has grown to nearly 100 collegiate chapters in five regions, and the SHA chapter is a leader among them. In fact, our school is hosting the regional conference next month, which will attract over 250 students from 30 schools.

Beyond this, and through the efforts of our faculty and student-services team, we work to provide an infrastructure of support to underrepresented minority students throughout their academic and social experiences at the Hotel School and Cornell University. For example, each summer our students actively participate in the pre-experience summer program (PSP), which provides important preparation for the year ahead.  We also provide ongoing programming and opportunities to engage with fellow students and alumni. Our alumni of color panel discussions are held each semester and cover topics such as: achieving academic success, securing internships and leveraging industry resources. We also strive to bring diverse alumni to campus. This semester, our Dean’s Distinguished Lecture Series will welcome Thomas J. Baltimore, Jr., Chairman and CEO of Park Hotels and Resorts, a distinguished leader of color. All of these efforts are holistically aimed at building a welcoming and warm environment of support and success for all our students, one that provides a visible, inspiring and mentor-supported career path ahead.

In alignment with Cornell University’s plans to dedicate $60 million over the next five years to hire and retain diverse faculty, we are dedicated to building a diverse faculty within SHA.  As Liu pointed out in the Sun article, we adhere to a “faculty search directive,” which requires that if a search committee cannot find a qualified underrepresented minority candidate, we need to show that the result followed a substantial effort. As with all searches throughout the SC Johnson College of Business, last year our candidate lists were reviewed and approved by the college’s associate dean for diversity and inclusion. As the dedicated college diversity officer (CDO), the associate dean serves as an ex officio member of every faculty search committee and ensures that our searches meet our goal of sourcing diverse candidate pools. In addition, the University Office of Faculty Development and Diversity provides a wide range of resources to support faculty, including training for comprehensive searches. We recognize that, like all of Cornell, attracting, supporting and retaining underrepresented faculty of all identities is an ongoing challenge, and there is much more work to be done in this regard.  Strengthening the diversity of and work experience for all of our faculty is one of the school’s and the college’s ongoing goals, and a key focus for the year ahead.

At the School of Hotel Administration, we strive to create and sustain a diverse, inclusive and supported learning community. In fact, as I recently shared with our faculty, staff and students, we want our school to be a model for the entire university, a place that embodies and symbolizes hospitality for all. We are working to achieve this in profound ways through supporting the many identities of our diverse community members, including student-colleagues and educators, as well as symbolic ones, through the visual imagery we create throughout our school. We are so proud of our accomplished students, our deeply committed faculty and our supportive alumni. We will continue to tap into all of our collective resources and, building from a place of commitment and care, will provide an ever-increasing diverse, supported and supportive place of learning and growth; one that showcases why our school is the thought-leader for our industry, and one day, we hope, the model for all educational institutions.