Huskers came together to celebrate the grand opening of a space dedicated to furthering diversity and inclusivity in the College of Business at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln. The college’s Diversity and Inclusion Gathering Space — nicknamed DIGS — serves as a hub for conversation, inclusive programs and gatherings to help all students feel they belong in the Nebraska Business community.
“One of our guiding principles established by our 2018 strategic plan is Be Inclusive. We want students, faculty, staff, alumni and business partners to genuinely feel they belong here at the College of Business. This space provides a platform for renewed collaboration where students can co-create the experiences that will help them grow as future business leaders,” said Kathy Farrell, James Jr. and Susan Stuart Endowed Dean and professor of finance.
The space went under construction in fall 2020, and its programming began online due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Leading up to the grand opening, diversity and inclusion-related business student organizations began holding their meetings in DIGS, and new furniture arrived.
Early adopters of the space included students who served as pilot members of the Inclusive Business Leaders, a first-year scholarship program that supports underrepresented students’ academic, social and career goals to cultivate a more inclusive environment. During a project in the pilot, senior marketing major Ambi Anuh-Ndumu pitched to name the space. Out of many options from the group, a favorite emerged and received approval from Farrell.
“We were honored to name the space so that the space’s purpose rooted in inclusive excellence is presented in a more approachable way,” said Anuh-Ndumu. “By calling it DIGS for short, we’re saying to students it’s yours to come hang out. It’s your space to build connections, have conversations and decompress after classes.”
In addition to strengthening the community, the space provides an inviting place for students to go for help and student resources. Anuh-Ndumu sees this as one of the space’s biggest benefits for students, especially students of color.
“I want to provide these students with a sense of belonging and show them that any struggles they may have do not need to be faced alone. There are resources and people at the College of Business always ready to help,” said Anuh-Ndumu. “That’s why DIGS is important. It provides a space where you can come as you are as well as build your community here on campus.”
Harrison Lloyd, an international business and economics major from Pflugerville, Texas, is passionate about building inclusive spaces on campus after not initially feeling included at the College of Business.
“Early on, there seemed to be a lack of representation of the LGBTQIA+ community in the college,” he said. “I questioned my place in business and wondered if people would take me seriously in a business setting. I joined efforts to form the Pride in Business student organization last year, and in the process, I felt relief. Having representation and opportunities to find community in inclusive spaces allows students to focus on their academics and hopefully lessens the doubts of whether or not they belong.”
Lloyd, who now serves as president of Pride in Business and vice president of the Business International Student Association, encouraged students to be an active part of the community-building process.
“My advice to other Huskers looking to make an impact is to show up and be inclusive. Building the sense of belonging for yourself and others is an active process. Introduce yourself to your classmates, make others feel comfortable and be welcoming to all. Not all impacts have to be large-scale to be meaningful,” he said.
Marco Barker, the university’s vice chancellor for diversity and inclusion, challenged everyone in the Nebraska Business community to utilize the space as an opportunity for the institutional mission of inclusive excellence to be realized.
“It will encourage and facilitate learning, growth, participation and success among all students, while ensuring that those who feel marginalized or represent minoritized identities know for certain that they matter, and our success is wrapped in their success. That is inclusive excellence,” said Barker. “It is an opportunity for the College of Business to do more. This is not an end, but a beginning. This space means that I am expecting even more leadership from the College of Business. This space carries with it, a responsibility for the college’s faculty, staff and students to leverage its presence and think of innovative and creative approaches to elevating inclusive excellence.”
In 2020, the college expanded its strategic plan to focus on diversity, equity and inclusion. To establish goals and priorities, 14 business faculty, staff, students and alumni were named to the Inclusive Excellence Advisory Board. Since then, a number of initiatives launched to help realize these goals, including the new Inclusive Business Leader scholarship program that launched this fall and a diversity and inclusion leadership certificate program offered through the college’s Center for Executive and Professional Development. DIGS provides space to work toward these goals where the college’s community to co-create experiences and engage in conversations that may not happen in any other place in Hawks Hall or in the most inclusive classrooms.
“Success in our journey requires commitment and action from all of us. This is an endeavor where we have to be intentional, commit every day to be and do better, and lead by example. It’s imperative to our mission,” said Rik Barrera, associate dean of operations, inclusion and chief of staff.
Farrell stated how important it is to have courageous conversations. She shared how three students came to see her after she became dean and talked about some of the challenges they face.
“In talking about what we should do to help, they said, ‘There is no place here for us to feel like we’re included.’ They felt like they had to leave the building and go over to the Jackie Gaughan Multicultural Center. At the time, we were fully utilizing all the space inside Hawks Hall, but when an opportunity for space arose, we remembered that conversation. That was the beginning of the idea behind DIGS,” said Farrell. “Sometimes when you have a conversation with somebody, they might not react to it immediately, but that conversation is really important because it can make meaningful change.”
She encouraged students to engage in these conversations, listen and remember them because they can have a lasting impact.
“We want our students to lead the future of business by initiating positive changes in their workplace, communities and beyond. It starts here with the college experience,” said Farrell.
Located in HLH 102, DIGS is open during regular Hawks Hall building hours. To learn more about the college’s commitment to inclusive excellence and upcoming events, visit: https://business.unl.edu/inclusion.