Story by JHAREIL HUTCHINSON
When Julie Paredes-Pozas first came to the David Eccles School of Business at the University of Utah, she was expecting to be in a warm and welcoming environment. Coming from East High School in Salt Lake City, she was surrounded by people from different backgrounds and cultures. Paredes-Pozas is a first-generation Latina student, in her second year. Starting her freshman year of college in the middle of the pandemic, she would be attending classes in person in the fall, but she was in for a big change.
“The first few days were overwhelming,” Paredes-Pozas said, because she was one of two women in the classroom. “As a woman of color, I keep expecting the business school to address diversity and inclusion or the lack therefore of at the business school. Every time I attend a panel or discussion about diversity, I am disappointed by the results because the topics are merely tiptoed around,” Paredes-Pozas said.
This story seems to have been the case for far too long. According to a simple Google survey of student involvement and engagement at the business school, 63 students said it is lacking in terms of diversity and inclusion. However, 37 students said they don’t see a problem with diversity within the business school.
While the school says it fosters an environment for inclusion and increasing culture, many students have said they don’t feel safe or feel like they belong because of their skin color. “There have been many times where I have been the center of attention for wearing my [face] mask and being put into a group of students who did not want to help or associate with me because I was wearing one,” Paredes-Pozas said.
Bethany Crowell, the director of business intelligence at the David Eccles School of Business, said she was unable to provide more information about certain groups and identities. She did, however, supply aggregate data, saying that it could help paint a general picture
The business school began tracking ethnicity in 2003. The bars in the graph represents the disproportionate ratio between white students and students of color. Although the college prides itself on diversity, equity and inclusion, it is still lacking in that area. Over the years, the percentage of white students enrolled in the business school has gone down but has had consistent numbers since 2012.
In 2014, the University of Utah opened a campus in Asia, located in Songdo, Incheon, South Korea. While international students are not all from the Asia campus, it has a great deal to do with these numbers. Students who live on the Asia campus are required to spend two years at the Salt Lake City campus and can finish their degree in Salt Lake. From 2012 to 2016, the U’s international student enrollment percentage was above 10%.
While white and international student percentages are leveling, the Hispanic enrollment has continued to rise, while Black enrollment has been less than or equal to 1%.
The business school did not begin keeping track of gender until 2003. It has been dominated by male enrollment, with a steady 70% over the last 17 years. With the current and consistent trend that is shown in the graph, the numbers may stay the same moving forward.
While one could look at these numbers and not be surprised, one could also beg to differ. In recent years the business school has tried to increase diversity, showing improvement to equity and inclusion, especially after the death of George Floyd and the events that followed.
According to the David Eccles School of Business website, under Equity Diversity and Inclusion, it says, “The David Eccles School of Business is committed to fostering an inclusive culture by embracing diversity and equity in all its forms.”
In 2021, the business school hosted many workshops and panel discussions about diversity, equity and inclusion. The workshops were an opportunity to have uncomfortable conversations for those who are looking to learn more about what they can do to not only help those who feel misrepresented, but also help students feel like they belong. With the panels, the business school also has resources such as counseling and peer mentors available to students of color.
The business school offers many scholarships and professional mentors to those who come from underrepresented communities. Opportunity Scholars and First Ascent Scholars both play a big role in helping many students of color continue their education. These scholarships allow students to also be paired with a professional mentor, to help them learn the ropes of college life and society as a whole.
The U also requires students to complete training modules on areas such as diversity and inclusion, mental health, sexual assault and alcohol. Some students report that it is easy to skip past the material and earn the credit needed to pass the modules. The courses are roughly 20-45 minutes and feature a pre and post training quiz.
“I think they’re pointless because of how easy you can bypass them. You don’t actually have to work or read to actually get the credit so people just put it off and don’t pay attention to the topics covered,” Paredes-Pozas said about the modules. The modules have videos and questions relating to personal feelings and experiences, which can be triggering.
The business school as a whole could have more meaningful workshops on looking to provide a safer space for those who feel underrepresented in their field, Paredes-Pozas said. The university and business school host “inclusion week,” where students and staff both learn about safe ways to engage, respect and find an aspect of community.
“When you voice a problem, there are many resources and people available for help and support but, when it comes to solving the problem and getting rid of it, the resources and people begin to lesson because of institutional rules such as professors being on tenure,”Paredes-Pozas said. One of the problems the business school has is not directly addressing the obvious race and diversity issues that many students face when in class.
Paredes-Pozas has one piece of advice for the business school. “I just wish students and faculty would listen. I’m silent on certain issues because many of the students wouldn’t understand because they don’t have the same experiences as me. Moving forward, I hope we can have better conversations about diversity and look to improve the atmosphere, where students feel valued and important.”