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Strength through Stories: The 2021 Tuck Diversity Conference

This year’s Tuck Diversity Conference student co-chairs weigh in on what this year’s theme, “Strength through Stories,” means to them. DivCo will be held October 1 – 3, 2021.

A premier business school event, Tuck’s annual Diversity Conference (DivCo) brings together prospective students from all backgrounds, and from all over the world, for a weekend of community-building, networking, mentorship, and rich programming delivered by Tuck’s administrators, impressive alumni, and world-renowned MBA faculty.

Themed “Strength through Stories,” the 27th annual Diversity Conference will be held both in-person and virtually this year with keynote remarks from Dawson Her Many Horses T’10, SVP and head of Native American Banking at Wells Fargo. Events include “Our Stories,” a special edition of TuckTalks; small group dinners; alumni career panels; industry coffee chats; and tours of campus and the surrounding Upper Valley.

As we look ahead to DivCo, to be held October 1 - October 3, 2021, we asked the conference co-chairs—T'22s Amayo Bassey, Gissell Castellon, Jonathan Diaz, Xu Han, Andrew Hazel, Max Wang, Kevin White, and Cindy Yan —to share more about their personal stories, what “Strength through Stories” means to them, and what makes DivCo such a unique experience.  

Learn more about DivCo


Amayo Bassey

"Storytelling is powerful. It is a vehicle for change, a basis for empathy, a window into each other's' lives, cultures, experiences. It is through storytelling that one can understand how and why the other lives, thinks, rebels, creates, strives, endures."

Amayo Bassey T’22

I have resurfaced from trauma through communities of people who opened themselves up to me, who shared similar experiences and somehow made it through. I’ve been inspired by others’ triumphs and have pushed through by convincing myself that maybe that could be me someday. “I, too, can…” I see myself in others from the vulnerability that precedes and accompanies sharing their stories and it’s been through this that I have made strides overcoming personal and professional fears, anxieties, and hopelessness.

Storytelling is powerful. It is a vehicle for change, a basis for empathy, a window into each other's' lives, cultures, experiences. It is through storytelling that one can understand how and why the other lives, thinks, rebels, creates, strives, endures. Sharing our stories helps us realise how similar we all are, while also pointing out our unique pillars of difference. 

Diversity at Tuck and in the typical U.S. workplace is still not at an ideal state. A lot of minority populations are struggling in silence when in fact they are going through the same thing as many others. They internalize “their” failures and might not seek help because they feel alone or are gaslighted to believe they are imagining the prejudice and inequality they witness or face. Rather than run away from the problem, we hope we can help address it by encouraging people to share their experiences and use their voices to propel change on campus and outside Tuck.

Tuck is an amazing and special place, and I personally want to make it a more attractive place for prospective/future Tuckies from minority backgrounds and populations. I hope DivCo continues to be a platform to showcase the change we want to see. We hope this year’s DivCo can bring together participants, students, faculty, and panelists who, through their shared stories, can illuminate their struggles and triumphs and grant strength to audiences who have gone through or are going through similar experiences be them personal, professional, or academic. We hope everyone can gain some strength from the stories that are shared.

 

Gissell Castellon

"Strength through Stories is a reminder that we can all rise together and support each other as we write chapters of our lives."

Gissell Castellon T’22

When times are difficult, I find myself turning to generational stories. Stories of my parents—of my grandparents—of their time in Nicaragua during the civil war, of their time immigrating to America and their time working long hours to provide a future for my brother and myself. These stories remind me of the hardships we can endure and the strength that is in all of us to persevere. I needed that strength going to an out of state boarding school at 16. Those stories gave me comfort and endurance when I was feeling low and the motivation to keep moving forward.

My story at Tuck started with DivCo 2019. I had just started studying for the GMAT and was struggling with low practice scores. I was worried business school wasn’t the right path for me. Little did I know that I was about to embark on a transformative experience. Checking in and meeting my dorm host, Elisabeth Sum T’21, I was nervous as I waited for my interview. She listened to me ramble about why I wanted to go to Tuck, why I thought business school was right for me, etc. I’ll never forget how welcoming she was and how much time she dedicated to listen to my story. It gave me the courage and confidence I needed to kick-butt at my interview and enjoy the conference.

In the midst of the pandemic and learning to cope with a new normal, I found myself drawing on stories to give me the strength that I needed. I remember calling my parents in tears last Fall telling them that I would not be able to drive down and visit due to the COVID-19 spikes. I’ll never forget what my mom said, “If I went years without seeing my parents when I moved to this country—in a time without FaceTime and only relying on long-distance calling cards, you can survive a year without giving me a hug.” She was right. Once we all got vaccinated and the spikes were low, I was able to give her and my dad that long awaited hug.

Typing this post is so surreal to me, to be in the place of organizing an event that was so pivotal for me, and to be able to share my story with you, the next generation of Tuckies. Strength through stories is a reminder that we can all rise together and support each other as we write chapters of our lives.

 

Jonathan Diaz

"At DivCo, we aim to create an environment where people feel comfortable sharing the unfiltered stories of their identity and the experiences that empower them."

Jonathan Diaz T'22

Strength through Stories means recognizing that everyone is different and these differences manifest themselves in stories that we draw strength from. At DivCo, we aim to create an environment where people feel comfortable sharing the unfiltered stories of their identity and the experiences that empower them.

I grew up in a low-income household to immigrant parents from the Dominican Republic in New York City. Despite being in one of the most diverse cities in the world, I grew up in Washington Heights, a predominantly Dominican neighborhood, where my experience was as close to living in the Dominican Republic as you can get abroad. As a result, I went through all my K-12 schooling without meeting any White (non-Hispanic) or Asian peers. I wanted to leave my neighborhood and truly experience the diversity of the greater United States and found myself attending undergrad in central Virginia. I struggled with the culture shock at first, and chose to spend most of my time with fellow Black and Latinx students. After graduating, I realized that I did not spend as much time getting to know people from backgrounds different from my own as I could have and vowed that if I ever attended another institution of higher education I would challenge myself to embrace the diversity around me.

After a few years back in Washington Heights, I decided to apply for DivCo because the mission of the conference spoke to me. I attended DivCo in 2019 and remember being moved by the stories I heard that weekend. Everyone from fellow participants to Tuck students and faculty were candid and honest about their lives, the hardships they had faced, and recognized that vocalizing these hardships and how they overcame them helped them build both community and strength. I was so moved by the culture of reflection, the strength of the Tuck community, and the focus on diversity and bringing your whole self to work and the classroom that I immediately decided that I needed to apply to Tuck.

Now that I am half-way done with my Tuck experience I can say without a doubt that I made the right decision. The candid and welcoming students and faculty I met that weekend were the same folks that welcomed me with open arms when I joined the Tuck community last year. I have made friends from many different racial, ethnic, and socio-economic backgrounds and I know that these friendships are lifelong and that the experiences I am having at Tuck will make me a well-rounded and wise and decisive leader that will better the world through business.

 

Xu Han

"Tuck is a place that encourages us to become leaders who are collaborative and empathetic, which deeply resonates with me."

Xu Han T’22

At Tuck, I’ve learned the power of self-awareness and I truly believe that everyone has unique stories to share. Hearing and understanding those stories provides others with great strength. I was bullied severely in middle school and my core values and abilities were constantly challenged. Luckily, I did not give up on myself and emerged from a miserable experience as a much stronger individual. My experiences also made me even more empathetic to other people who are going through difficulties in life. Powerful learning comes from self-reflection, and I want to continue to reflect throughout my MBA journey at Tuck to find strength through others’ stories!

While preparing my application to Tuck, I was able to visit campus multiple times. One of those visits was to attend the 2019 Tuck Diversity Conference. I was amazed by Tuck’s collaborative and tight-knit culture. After that weekend, I knew if Tuck accepted my application, I would be so grateful and happy to spend my two years there. To me, a great leader is a person who is altruistic and dedicated to helping all team members succeed both professionally and personally. Tuck is a place that encourages us to become leaders who are collaborative and empathetic, which deeply resonates with me. Fellow Tuckies are so genuine and supportive! The mentality of “I am only winning when everyone is winning” is real at Tuck.

The curriculum at Tuck is well designed which helped me gain knowledge about business holistically. Career Services advisors and mentors are incredible in providing guidance. In addition, different career clubs helped prepare me for my interviews.

 

Drew Hazel

"To me, Strength through Stories speaks to the fact that we are all unique individuals with unique life experiences—we’ve all experienced different challenges that we’ve had to overcome and that made us wiser and stronger."

Drew Hazel T'22

To me strength through stories speaks to the fact that we are all unique individuals with unique life experiences—we’ve all experienced different challenges that we’ve had to overcome and that made us wiser and stronger. Sharing those stories helps to provide perspective and encouragement that uplifts our friends, families, and communities. Simply put, strength through stories is sharing who you are and allowing your personal story to inspire and strengthen others.

There were three specific things that drove me to choose Tuck: the intimate learning community, the robust curriculum, and DivCo. For business school, I wanted an intimate learning experience where I would be able to build rich and deep relationships. Tuck was one of the few schools that provided a tight-knit learning environment through residential living opportunities, small class sizes, and a small student-to-professor ratio. In terms of curriculum, I wanted a broad and comprehensive class offering with numerous opportunities to learn and study internationally. Tuck was the only school for me that checked all these boxes. The core classes provided the perfect balance of breadth and depth while experiential learning opportunities provided the customization I was seeking. The final decision point for me was DivCo. Through DivCo I was able to envision myself being at Tuck and living in Hanover. Coming from Philadelphia and going to a rural environment like Hanover was foreign to me and honestly scary. However, based on the genuineness and support that I felt from Tuckies at DivCo, I realized that I would have a strong community with me every step of the way and I have found this to be completely true.  

Tuck has been instrumental in my career journey. Coming into Tuck I knew that I wanted to pivot into strategy and consulting. What I didn’t know was how difficult and challenging this pivot would be. However, I was overly impressed with the mentorship and learning opportunities that I received by way of the Consulting Club and the core curriculum. A key concept that I learned in Professor Joe Hall’s Managerial Economics course made a huge difference in one my interviews and led to me receiving an offer. I’m a firm believer that the career support that Tuck provides cannot be beat.

 

Max Wang

"The authenticity and vulnerability in the storytelling process is powerful, and through reflection, as a listener, I became a stronger person. At Tuck, there is no shortage of amazing stories to listen to, and I feel privileged to be part of this community."

Max Wang T'22

Storytelling is powerful. Over the past year, I have been tremendously inspired by the stories of Tuckies I have met. During Tuck Launch, each Tuckie was paired with partners for River of Life where we shared the life stories that led us to Tuck. I was amazed that, despite our differences in nationality, cultural background, ethnicity, sexuality, and life experiences, my partners and I shared similar joy and challenges in life. The bonds we developed over our story-sharing experience was powerful and long-lasting.

Listening to others’ stories helps me realize there is so much that defines us beyond gender, race, and so on. In my early years as an expat from China who moved to Boston in 2011, I sometimes felt the urge to fit in and be “one of them.” It was through listening to powerful stories of people who overcame difficulties that I was able to find strength in my own story. The authenticity and vulnerability in the storytelling process is powerful, and through reflection, as a listener, I became a stronger person. At Tuck, there is no shortage of amazing stories to listen to, and I feel privileged to be part of this community.

I also love telling others my story. To tell a good story, even though it’s my own, I needed to be introspective and do some soul searching. Who am I? What is my goal in life? Tuck offers the perfect environment for me to consider these questions. The beautiful outdoors, talented students, and empathetic professors surrounding me all serve as amazing inspirations leading to that a-ha moment that becomes part of my life story.

That’s why the theme of this year’s DivCo, Strength through Stories, resonates a lot with me. We invite you to join us in Hanover and bring your stories with you—the joy, the tears, and beyond. Tuck is a safe place where we can truly be ourselves, and we want you to see yourself here. I will be happy to share more of my stories with you during DivCo, and I look forward to listening to your stories as well.

 

Kevin White

"Strength through Stories centers on the belief that it is only through accepting, embracing, and sharing our unique backgrounds and experiences that we truly begin to create spaces that are inviting, paradigm shifting, and a catalyst for change."

Kevin White T’22

Strength through Stories centers on the belief that it is only through accepting, embracing, and sharing our unique backgrounds and experiences that we truly begin to create spaces that are inviting, paradigm-shifting, and a catalyst for change. Transitioning from speaking about change to actively creating change will require each of us to bring our full, authentic selves to the spaces we enter—and having those spaces be incubators, with the proper support and systems in place, to help foster that vulnerability.

Raised in metropolitan Atlanta, I was fortunate enough to spend my formative years in neighborhoods that supported my personal growth and embraced the collective history of African Americans in the United States in a manner that inspired and challenged me to achieve more.

Not until attending college was I confronted with an environment where I was, visibly, the minority. Over the next 5 years, I would be consistently reminded of that. If not for a strong sense of self and a community that both understood the shock I was experiencing and recognized its impact, I would have remained relegated to a state that was both diminutive and unhealthy.

It is in navigating this experience that I continue to work to create and advance spaces where the global majority and/or the historically excluded can transition from merely surviving to thriving.

For me, this is what Tuck’s Diversity Conference is all about: Showcasing the work happening in our community and affording potential students a closer look at a community that is committed to creating a space where everyone has the opportunity and support needed to thrive—while they’re on campus and for years beyond. 

 

Cindy Yan

"I have the strength to share my story because of the vulnerability and courage I’ve seen from my friends and Tuck classmates. I am joining as a Tuck DivCo co-chair so I can create spaces where all our stories can be celebrated."

Cindy Yan T’22

I am the combination of all my ancestors before me. I carry their stories with me wherever I go, in my face, my name, and my voice.

Growing up as an Asian American woman in California, I was constantly conflicted between my Chinese and American identities. The American education system in California barely mentioned Asian American history. The media rarely showed an Asian family. When I went to museums, I rarely saw my history and Asian artists represented.

Not seeing representation and absorbing the language of the people around me conditioned me to hate myself. I grew up with comments like “Your food smells,” “Ew, I can’t believe you eat chicken feet,” “Cantonese sounds ugly,” “Your grandma shouldn’t speak Chinese in America, she should learn English,” and “Your eyes are so small you can use floss as a blindfold.”

So, I tried to “whitewash” my identity to protect myself from hate. I code switched between my identity with others and my identity with my Asian friends and family. However, with the rise of hate crimes against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in 2020-2021, I realized no matter how much I try to alter my identity I will never fully belong because my physical features “other” me in white America.

I vowed to myself that I would reclaim my identity. I would dedicate time to unlearn what I’ve been conditioned to believe and relearn to love my identity as a Chinese American woman.

I have the strength to share my story because of the vulnerability and courage I’ve seen from my friends and Tuck classmates. I am joining as a Tuck DivCo co-chair so I can create spaces where all our stories can be celebrated. The DivCo programming includes opportunities to hear and share stories with students and alumni. May the stories at DivCo inspire you as other peoples’ vulnerability has empowered me to share my story.