“My daughter learned to walk in a homeless shelter.”
So begins Stephanie Land’s bestselling memoir Maid: Hard Work, Low Pay, and a Mother’s Will to Survive, the inspiration behind the widely-watched Netflix series by the same name. This arresting book and the accompanying series helped spur a nationwide conversation on the prevalence of poverty in America, an ironic reality of one of the wealthiest nations on earth.
Many Goizueta faculty, students and staff were also tuning into this conversation. One of them was Assistant Professor in the Practice of Accounting Allison Kays. Kays, who is currently co-chair of the DEI committee along with her colleague Allison Gilmore, director of admissions and student services of Goizueta’s PhD Program, saw an opportunity for Goizueta’s “Read Watch Listen Experience Learn” program.
A Welcoming Space for Difficult Conversation
Formerly known as “Common Read,” the “Read Watch Listen Experience Learn” program provides a forum for self-education and a welcoming space for honest dialogue for those seeking to be allies of marginalized communities. Through books and other media, faculty, staff, alumni, and students explore a range of topics including understanding stereotypes and unconscious bias, becoming effective allies, and developing anti-racism mindsets.
“Read Watch Listen Experience Learn” began four years ago after the murder of George Floyd rocked the nation. In the wake of the news, several Emory faculty and staff banded together with the goal of bringing the issues of racism, prejudice and privilege to the forefront of conversation. When the Goizueta DEI council was formed a year later, the council took ownership of the program and elected to invite students to that conversation as well.
In addition to Kays and Gilmore, the organizing team now includes Managing Director of the Business & Society Institute Brian Goebel; Director of the Goizueta Business Library Susan Klopper; and Professor Emeritus of Accounting, Grace Pownall.
In fall of 2020, the initial book group invited staff and faculty to join them in reading “Whistling Vivaldi: How Stereotypes Affect Us and What We Can Do” by Claude Steele, a social psychologist’s examination of how “stereotype threat” interferes with our own development and sense of identity. In 2021, the cohort read “The Sum of Us: What Racism Costs Everyone and How We Can Prosper Together” by Heather McGhee, which explores the communal, global benefits of coming together across race to build an equitable future. The group dissected Pamela Newkirk’s Diversity Inc.: The Fight for Racial Equality in the Workplace in 2022, which delves beyond well-meaning corporate buzzwords to illuminate what strategies are actually effective in improving access and opportunity for all.
“Goizueta faculty and staff know that what happens in the ‘ivory tower’ of academia is not insular from what’s going on in the rest of the world,” says Kays. “The conversations we have or don’t have around topics like equity and access shape the experiences of the students who walk our halls and their mindsets as they move into the real world. At Goizueta, we’re helping to prepare the next generation of movers and shakers; we want them to be aware of the lived experiences of others, and to be committed to building a better and more equitable society wherever their careers land.”
Chief of Staff and Associate Dean of Engagement & Partnerships Julie R. Barefoot has participated multiple times over the years.
“This program is a great opportunity for staff and faculty to discuss important and meaningful topics whose understanding can be enhanced through facilitated dialogue,” says Barefoot. “I leave meetings with a deeper appreciation for the knowledge and compassion of my Goizueta colleagues and with ideas of how I can make a positive impact in our community.”
Evolving with the Times
The program was rebranded this year to improve accessibility for those who can’t easily make time to read a book, incorporating other opportunities to engage by listening to podcasts or watching videos.
This year offered two books for participants to choose from: Poverty, By America written by sociologist Matthew Desmond, a work of academic nonfiction, and a work of narrative nonfiction by journalist Andrea Elliott: Invisible Child: Poverty, Survival and Hope in an American City. Participants were also offered a list of several podcasts featuring each author across various channels and shows. For those who preferred to watch content, the cohort selected the miniseries Maid on Netflix.
So far, this multi-modal approach has paid off. Kays reports that several people, particularly students, were so moved after listening to the recommended podcast that they emailed her, asking if she could order the e-book on their behalf.
Pam Tipton, senior director of custom programs at Emory Executive Education, was also a fan of this arrangement.
“I appreciated the multi-media approach to this year’s program, which allowed me to listen to each of the podcasts and presentations while keeping up with my ‘Healthy Emory’ habit of getting in walks!” says Tipton. “I was also able to use the digital download of ‘Invisible’ Child to read certain passages on my own.”
Faculty, staff, and students gathered in small groups to unpack the many perspectives of poverty they’d examined through the books, podcasts, and TV show, as well as shared experiences from their personal lives. They also enjoyed a panel discussion moderated by Professor of Organization & Management and Associate Dean for Culture and Inclusion Giacomo Negro and featuring Professor of Political Science Michael Rich, Jay and Leslie Cohen Assistant Professor of Religion and Jewish Studies Dr. Kate Rosenblatt, and Senior Associate Director of Financial Aid George Lunkin.
Ashli White 26MBA says, “As a first-year graduate student at Goizueta, I was excited about the opportunity to participate in this semester’s program! I chose to watch the limited series ‘Maid’ and found myself captivated by the emotional and moving journey of the protagonist. It was a beautifully curated yet heartbreaking illustration of the intersection of poverty and domestic abuse.”
“Poverty is such a big problem,” says Tipton. “While it could be viewed as ‘not my problem,’ we all learned new ways we can take even small steps to address systems that perpetuate poverty in our own back yard, whether that entails changing our purchasing behaviors, becoming more active in the political and process conversation, or volunteering our time to support those experiencing poverty.”
On top of offering multiple avenues to access the topic, the “Read Watch Listen Experience Learn” program also added a volunteer service event this year, as many participants yearned to go beyond learning and take immediate action in the community. This year, two cohorts volunteered on two separate weekends at Food for Lives, a nonprofit run by Emory alumni, which prepares homemade vegetarian meals and distributes them to homeless people in Atlanta.
“The ability to take the program one step further by participating in community outreach together is an amazing way to come together with the Goizueta community and create meaningful impact for the cause we’ve taken time to learn about,” says White.
The “Read Watch Listen Experience Learn” program has two primary aims: The first is to further people’s understanding of DEI issues in society. The second is to build a sense of community across the school.
“Too often, students, faculty and staff default to their respective silos,” says Kays. “Our discussion groups allow members of the Goizueta community to come together and bond over their passion to make the world a better place. I think it can be really powerful for members of our community to come together and interact in new ways. The panel also allows us to collaborate meaningfully with other departments at Emory. We hope people feel more connected to one another, that they feel they work and study in a safe place where we support each other in one another’s growth.”
“It was wonderful to have staff, faculty and students from different backgrounds sitting around a common table discussing our insights,” says Tipton. “The discussion questions prompted a thoughtful conversation that teased out unique perspectives from our group.”
Plans for the Future
Each year, a small group of faculty and staff within the “Read Watch Listen Experience Learn” community gather to brainstorm ideas for next year’s topic and media, which are then brought back to the DEI council for feedback. Next year, the team is considering focusing on women in the workplace or the LGBTQ community.
On explaining why Kays chose to become involved with the program, she emphasizes that while her expertise lies fundamentally in accounting, she is ultimately an educator.
“I believe in the power of education, especially for expanding knowledge of DEI,” says Kays. “It’s an important topic that is frequently misunderstood. Storytelling has a unique power to shift hearts and minds.”