First-ever DEI panel held in WCBA

By Scott Chittock II

To promote diversity, equity and inclusion at Youngstown State University, local professionals spoke to students, faculty and staff during a panel event as part of a Diversity Celebration Week on April 11 in Williamson Auditorium.

This was the Williamson College of Business Administration’s first diversity week and panel, put on by the WCBA DEI Committee. 

Elyse Gessler is a lecturer in the Department of Communications and the faculty advisor for the WCBA DEI Student Advisory Board. During initial discussions about DEI in the WCBA, Gessler said the board learned many individuals wondered about how DEI applied to them.

“We decided — first and foremost — the best thing we could do was identify how DEI does intersect with all business students, and that is in the professional workplace,” Gessler said. “We were just sort of looking for an opportunity that would provide education for every single member of the WCBA community.”

Gessler said speakers were chosen from local businesses that YSU has worked with in the past.

Speakers discussed and answered questions about DEI in the professional setting, as well as their experiences related to equity in the workplace.

One of the speakers was Derrick McDowell, owner and founder of the Youngstown Flea. He said diversity means celebrating differences, accepting other people and creating a safe space for everyone.

“I’m a man of faith and I believe that these differences were created for a reason. To showcase the wonder about not being the same,” McDowell said. “Creating an environment that’s safe, that’s intentional, that allows me to show you my differences in comparison to you and yours and the environment around me — I think that’s how I like to interpret diversity.”

Sarah Chill, education outreach director of Ursuline Sisters Mission also spoke at the panel.

Chill said diversity means working with people from a variety of backgrounds, understanding how the experiences of others differ from your own and creating a positive environment for everyone.

“The first reason [DEI] matters is because we only know our own experiences,” Chill said. “The second reason it’s important from a business standpoint, is it influences your work culture.”

Vicki Vicars, the director of Mission Equity and Resilience for Ursuline Sisters Mission, was in the audience at the panel. Vicars said the panel is important for allowing businesses to share ideas on how to approach DEI.

“It’s good for other organizations [and] for other businesses to share their best practices to understand why they are doing this work regarding diversity, equity and inclusion,” Vicars said. “It’s important for us to share our story about how we’re making that work here.”

Gessler said DEI is important for providing different perspectives, creating a sense of belonging and making everyone feel welcome at YSU.

“Whether you’re a student, you’re a faculty or staff member or someone who might be a prospective Penguin someday, we all want to feel that we belong to this university,” Gessler said. “Part of that starts with the idea of DEI … that way we can be successful, functioning and happier members of the larger university community.”

Karrington Griffin, director of supply chain diversity at the Youngstown Business Incubator also spoke at the panel. Griffin said diversity makes people human and is key to societal growth.

Gessler said she hopes diversity celebration week will become an annual event at the WCBA.