7:53 p.m. PST January 29, 2016
Tayah Butler of the University of Oregon said to ask any student at the 2016 Diversity Career Symposium if they had experienced a “stereotype threat,” and every single person would have a story.
A “stereotype threat” is a psychological obstacle presented when someone is the only minority in a situation, and they fear they are less capable because of that, she said. The person feels they will fulfill a negative stereotype, so their performance and capabilities suffer.
That’s what the symposium was meant to address and, ultimately, change.
“This is an opportunity for students who otherwise may not feel engaged, or who may feel they don’t fit in to be in a place where everyone wants to engage with them,” Butler said.
The symposium is an annual, day-long career development event for college students and alumni who identify with communities that are traditionally underrepresented in professional settings, particularly students and alumni of color, military veterans, those who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender, and those with disabilities.
The free event, held Friday at the Salem Convention Center, was hosted by Oregon State University and the University of Oregon. Though it was the fourth year of the conference, it was the first time the schools worked together on it.
“Preparing students for their future is mission-critical for our state universities,” said Pamela Knowles, executive director for industry relations at Oregon State University. “By working together for the benefit of our students, Oregon State University and the University of Oregon can provide the right opportunities for professional development with the end goal of getting a job or an internship.
“The (symposium) will not only offer this opportunity to students, but also will allow employers to be a part of developing young professionals through workshops and placement.”
Participants had the opportunity to attend workshops on networking and job searching and listen to panels of industry experts in fields such as health care, energy and sustainability, and business entrepreneurship and startups. The event also included workshops and panels geared toward employers.
More than 70 employers, including Adidas, Providence Health and Services, Portland General Electric, Wells Fargo and Apple Inc., participated. Intel was the key sponsor.
About 450 people were in attendance, with about 300 students in the mix. The halls of the convention center filled as the participants transitioned between sessions.
Some who participated in the event in years past as students had returned as recruiters and employers, Butler said.
Courtney Ball of the University of Oregon said it is important to educate future workers and employers not just about the importance of diversity, but how to facilitate inclusivity as well.
She said there is a difference between hiring traditionally marginalized people and making sure all are welcomed, supported and included.
Ronnie Casanova of the University of Oregon was part of the initial creation of the event when she first worked on a pilot program with 40 students and 40 mentors participating in a networking reception.
The all-day event, she said, was able to provide the students with far more opportunities to grow their professional skill sets and connect with potential employers.
“Employees are looking to increase their diversity,” she said. “This is a huge opportunity to facilitate that.”
Many of the panelists, speakers and employers present also represented traditionally marginalized groups, something organizers of the event said was key.
“There is such a need for diverse students … to see people they can identify with and network with,” Casanova said.
Alyssa Goessler, a senior at the University of Oregon, helped organize the event as an intern for the business center at her school.
It was her first experience with the symposium, but she said all worries she had “fell by the wayside” when she started seeing people’s faces and excitement at the event.
“There’s something in the air,” she said. “It’s buzzing.”
Representatives from both universities said each school has different programs that help support these students throughout the year, but the event fills a transitional gap to help students with internships, networking and future career opportunities.
Much of it comes down to acknowledging the experiences of these students and alumni and finding a way to improve the world, Butler said.
“Someone’s got to level the playing field,” she said. “If we all do as much as we can with what we can touch; we can make change.”