“I Am Me”

The variety of different backgrounds, identities, and points of view represented in colleges across the country is greater today than ever before. This diversity carries with it several benefits for collegiate communities; it fosters not only the depth of thought that comes from a variety of ideas and viewpoints, but the cultivation of empathy and understanding that can only come from interacting with a diverse set of people – something vital to navigating a global society.

It’s easy to see why diversity is one of Smith’s greatest assets. As Diversity Officer, I am keenly aware of the necessity of cultivating the inclusive environment necessary for our community to truly thrive. That responsibility has been my primary focus from day one.

I remember when I first took the position of Diversity Officer and I began researching what exactly that would entail – what message I wanted to send to our community. I looked at other colleges’ pages on diversity and inclusion as well as academic journals and chronicles related to higher education for insight; I didn’t expect to find what I was looking for on Facebook:

I Am Me.

It’s the slogan designed by four African American young business professionals hailing from southern Virginia: Dominique Jones, Ron Davis, Brandon Wade and James Hairston.  These young business men founded a company called YCGTE LLC. What does it mean? “You can’t get this everywhere”; more specifically, you can find another soul like ME; and that’s a good thing!  Of the portfolio of t-shirts they design, one caught my eye: “I Am Me”.  This t-shirt was designed to create a grass roots, anti-bullying movement empowering young kids in their community to feel secure in who they are. It’s a simple affirmation, but it carries a lot of weight. I know precisely who I am, and I’m proud; that sentiment is incredibly powerful. Someone who takes the time to truly know and accept themselves realizes their value. They understand their narrative, have found their drive, and are prepared to devote themselves 100% to growing and pursuing their purpose. That message is what I want the Smith community to focus on over the next year. Smith should be an environment where you can exist exactly as you are, regardless of race, sexuality, or identity. We will do everything we can to empower members of our community who feel marginalized so that all can thrive – together. 

This coming year will be the beginning of a new period for Smith.  I urge you to take the opportunity to make this year a new start for yourself as well, to reflect on and examine yourself and what truly matters to you. Your path will be so much clearer when you do.

Who am I to myself, truly? Am I being true to myself right now? What is preventing me from being authentic? There are no guidelines, rules, or bulletpoints that can guide you to the answers to these questions. Your journey is your own – completely unique. 

Because of that, a lot of responsibility falls on you. It’s up to you to explore, inward and outward, to discover your passions and values. You’ll encounter some who won’t accept you for who you are; perhaps we can’t change them, but we can change our mindset. You have control over how you respond to discrimination, to hardship, to all the obstacles you’ll encounter as you grow; if you stay true to yourself, you’ll thrive. Never be apologetic for the person you are. Struggle can only break you if you let it.

But none of that means you’re alone; on the contrary, the Smith community is one of the most welcoming and supportive I have ever been a part of. I serve as a point of contact for anyone in our community who is struggling during their time in Van Munching, to help boost you over an obstacle or provide a sympathetic ear. 

It’s easy to get through life just by going through the motions. You can coast by in your classes, graduate, and find jobs, but you won’t see your full potential. You owe it to yourself to be your best possible person. To thrive, you need to do more than the minimum; you need to know who you are and what you value. You need to find your passion and push yourself to follow it. You need to know the value you have as a person, and how that makes you strong. 

You need to be able to confidently face a world that at times will knock you over and tell you to quit, and be able to say “No, I will not stay down.”

“I Am Me.”

Victor C. Mullins PhD
Diversity Officer | Undergraduate Dean
Robert H. Smith School of Business, University of Maryland
Interested in supporting a diversity business inspired by young African American men?  Purchase one of their Custom T-Shirts for your campaign! Help spread the message! Contact Dominique Jones at:  youcantgetthiseverywhere@gmail.com.

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