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Kaleidoscope Experience prepares BIPOC students for the workplace

Kaleidoscope Experience, a three-panel series hosted by the Career Center, the Office of Intercultural Life (OIIL), the Multicultural Alumni Network (MCAN) and TRIO, was held from May 4 through 19. Described as developmental opportunities for emerging professionals of color, the panels featured a host of Carleton alumni and employer partners, who discussed how they have experienced diversity in the workplace. 

RJ Holmes-Leopold, director of the Career Center and overseer of the events, stated that the events “are intended to give domestic BIPOC students an opportunity to reflect on how their identities contribute to their experiences in the working world, connect with BIPOC professionals in fields of interest, and engage in a supportive community focused on professional advancement.”

The series was a direct product of the conversations happening among the Career Center staff about inclusion, diversity and equity. Student Career Assistants (SCAs), in particular, were in conversation with BIPOC student organizations throughout the Fall and Winter Terms. Through surveys, feedback groups and informal conversations about how the Career Center can support the students’ career exploration and advancement, the idea for Kaleidoscope Experience came into fruition.

After gathering the students’ responses, the Center decided to center the panels on the experiences of professionals of color from a variety of professions and work settings, from the arts to advocacy.

Holmes-Leopold emphasized the importance of professional panels like Kaleidoscope Experience, because they “allow Carls to see people who look like them, have experienced the world in similar ways, or are engaged in the line of work the students are interested in pursuing, across all industries of interest.” 

Chad Ellsworth, the Program Director of Employer Relations at the Career Center, stated that a primary goal is “for students to learn strategies to discern and evaluate employers’ commitments to inclusivity, diversity, and equity in the workplace across a variety of fields, while also learning about how they can advocate for themselves and develop support systems as they navigate their careers.”

The panel on Thursday, May 13, titled “Inclusivity, Diversity, and Equity at Work: Navigating the Workplace” featured a dialogue between BIPOC professionals; moderator Sam Ndely, Director of Employer Inclusivity at the Center for Economic Inclusion; and audience members via Q&A. 

Panelists from a host of professions—the arts, technology, for-profit and nonprofit settings—talked about how their organizations have addressed the issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion.

At CAPI USA, where Kristina Doan works as Director of Public Policy, “we have around 3,035 employees and probably 90 to 95 percent of our staff are immigrant refugees, or from communities of color,” Doan said. CAPI USA has also grown to embrace “the concepts of equity, diversity and inclusion in our hiring practices, how we onboard folks in pay scale, pay ranges, and also in our partnerships, and how we go about elevating other nonprofits that are also serving underrepresented communities.” 

The panel also discussed the importance of finding a diverse group of mentors and creating community through both networking and in the workplace. 

Philip Xiao ’15, CEO of Homi, described the impact finding a mentor through the Carleton Alumni Network had in his professional and personal life. “Kira became like the older brother I always wanted, he would take me out for dinners after work and show me the ropes,” said Xiao. “That was the relationship that really helped me get from the ‘Carleton bubble’ to how the real world works.”

As the panelists talked about their obstacles, Kealoha Ferreira, Artistic Associate at Ananya Dance Theatre and Co-Leader at the Shawnigram Institute for Performance and Social Justice, mentioned that though she is part of a diversified company that “has a practice of really holding artists in their wholeness of identity and where they’re at in their journey,” concert dance is a white-dominated field. 

For Ferreira, “an important lesson that took a long time to learn was how to be an artist on my own terms and to value the virtuosity, value the gifts, the talent that is specific to me, and also as a collective, as a concert dance company, that is specific to us.”

“We don’t have to bend to the dominant narrative of beauty or what is on trend… It seems so easy to say, but it’s so hard to actually start to build that practice for yourself. And it’s a practice, because we are immersed inside of a particular dominant culture, right? You have to be at a daily practice of affirming yourself.”

One audience member asked a poignant question: “We often talk about doing things the right way. But that usually means doing things the ‘white’ way. How do we bring our authentic selves into that environment?”

Leonard Searcy, Director of Community Outreach at Black Tech Talent, responded, “The whole ‘white way is the right way’ has just been a way of playing it safe, thinking that’s how we get accepted… To answer that question, I would say just bring you, just be your most authentic self with your artistry.”

By the end, the panelists’ message was clear: self-affirmation and acceptance of others’ identities is one key to success in the workplace, and beyond.

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