Alia Thompson talks about Cultivating Change in Isenberg and being a BOSS
Isenberg is known for producing game-changers in the business world. Alia Thompson, a senior sports management and economics double major, is no exception — If you need something from Thompson, you’ll have to put time on her "booked and busy" calendar and call her if you need something. On Sunday night, you can find her either in the W.E.B DuBois library hiding on the media floor, helping someone fix their LinkedIn profile, or creating social media content for UMass Athletics.
On top of all this, Thompson is the president of the Advancement of Diversity in Business (ADB) club on campus. ADB is a club that strives to give students from diverse backgrounds step-by-step guidelines and knowledge on how to excel in Isenberg, as well as propel them through their years in college by developing a mindset that drives creation, motivation, and excellence in their everyday life.
What is ADB’s origin story?
According to Thompson, in 2018, the president and founder of ADB, Jonathan Bekele (J Bek) felt the need to create a club that focused on diversity and inclusion in Isenberg, as the only similar club at the time was the Association of Diversity in Sport (ADS).
"ADS was a place that people of color (POC) in the business school would flock to," Thompson says.
J Bek wanted a club that was inclusive to other majors and students outside of Isenberg. He then talked to their former advisor and now interim Dean of Diversity and Inclusion Neferrtiti Walker and started the road in chartering ADB.
"ADB’s focus is about helping POC and minorities succeed in the business world," Thompson says. ADB holds workshops on professional development, personal brand building, learning how to sell yourself with the best elevator pitch, informational interviews, and networking opportunities.
"ADB is a place where POC can be safe and talk about being a student in a predominantly-white business school that sometimes needs reminding that students of color have to work twice as hard to prove themselves in professional settings," she says.
What are some challenges you have faced?
One challenge ADB faces is outreach and recruitment, as the club is still very new. ADB is constantly trying to get their name out, not just on campus, but with recruiters and major companies as well. Creating this recognition strengthens the club and creates a network of professionals that members of the club can connect with.
"We work with corporations that are really pushing the envelope to be more inclusive and diverse" Thompson says. "Diversity was a 2019 buzzword, and ADB wants to change that by making sure that people really prioritize 'inclusive' in 2020."
ADB proposes people stop using quotas as measurement of diversity and challenge their members to not only push this narrative in Isenberg, but throughout UMass Amherst and their prospective companies.
“Diversity is being invited to the party; inclusion is being asked to dance.” — Verna Myers
Has there been any push back?
"Change is inevitable," Thompson says. Some people are easily accepting and champion it, while others resist. At first, some didn’t understand the purpose and importance of the club — and Thompson notes there are those that still don’t. Change is hard for everyone, but a quote by Thompson’s mother has always stuck with her: "It’s okay to be a dinosaur; just understand that dinosaurs go extinct."
ADB is not just a club, but a resource for people to speak their truth. "We welcome everyone regardless of their major, gender, ethnic background, sexual orientation, and even if they’re not in Isenberg. Our founder wanted to make sure that people understood that," Thompson says.
"Business isn’t just about numbers and money. Business is about people, and if you don’t know how people operate then you really don’t know business."
What are the future plans for the club?
ADB is always thinking bigger and would like to host more speaker series, which they currently hold every year. This year’s featured the founder of ADB Jbeck and the president of advertisement agency MullenLowe, Kelly Frederickson.
Frederickson is a champion, ally, advocate and is a leader in the ad/marketing industry. She inspired the members of the club to constantly be their authentic selves, as that is what will propel them through their careers. Many members left feeling driven, motivated, and positively influenced. ADB is looking to hold more speaker series in various industries to cater to everyone in the club.
What are your proudest accomplishments in ADB?
"My proudest accomplishment would be, now being the current ADB president and former Marketing Coordinator," notes Thompson. "As a black woman, I am often overlooked and undermined by this alone."
Thompson wants to create change for women like herself, but also minorities in general. Previously, she planned an event for an ADB discussion panel on diversity in baseball as she had worked for the Boston Red Sox during their 2018 season. There, she met staff who really cared for diversity and inclusion.
Through that opportunity, Thompson now has influential mentors and advocates who are cultivating change and paving the way for minorities to succeed in the sports industry. She wanted to share her experience with others, as there aren’t many people of color in the front office. Working with the Boston Red Sox, though, she learned about the rich history baseball has with the African American community, and then held a panel to show that there is a place/room for minorities and women to success in baseball.
As Thompson continues to create change and live her busy life, she leaves us with a quote from Emmy-award-winner Viola Davis: