Dean of the College of Business and Economics Anti-racism is:
“Acknowledges and accepts differences (gender, race, ethnicity, color and sexual orientation) among people. It is fundamental for creating an inclusive environment that celebrates these differences.”
Lived Experiences Lead to Awareness of Societal Inequities
Foundational values are instilled in the formative years of one's growth.
For me, this began at home, growing up in a family where my parents insisted upon equal and fair treatment of everyone. Growing up in a secular India, I celebrated every religious occasion with friends from different religions.
But, we also suffered from the challenges of a caste system that prevailed in most Indian societies, highlighting the inequitable treatment of people for being born in a lower caste. These experiences are critical to who I am today and my view of diversity, inclusion, equity and social justice.
While the core values were instilled during my formative years, awareness of the inequities in our society and their impact on minority groups in our community became apparent only through lived experiences.
An event that had a pronounced effect on me and highlighted the issue of racism in the U.S. involved one of my mentors who is African American. He was a dean at a former university I worked at. We discussed the importance of having a “talk” with his teenage son about how to behave if he gets pulled over by police. I fully appreciated the gravity of this conversation later when we as a nation became witnesses to many Black lives lost and the Black Lives Matter movement.
These and other experiences led to the heightened awareness of my responsibility as a leader to identify ways to address the issues of diversity, inclusion and equity in our society. Specifically, I focused on learning and bringing awareness to the impact of inequitable policies on our communities.
Examples include our partnership with the Foundation for a Healthy St. Petersburg, a nonprofit that focuses on health inequities, and my involvement and leadership of the “Grow Smarter” initiative, a partnership between the St. Petersburg Area Chamber of Commerce and the City of St. Petersburg to support diverse economic growth.
St. Petersburg has a complicated history with racism. South St. Petersburg is populated mainly by African Americans and has not been part of the city's recent economic growth. As chair of the “Grow Smarter” steering committee, I facilitated the development of a clear mission focusing on equitable economic development. Support from the leadership of the chamber, city and community partners was critical in achieving this focus on equity for future economic development strategies in the city of St. Petersburg.
Our engagement with the community included research support from our faculty with organizations such as Unite Pinellas (with a focus on a just, fair and equitable Pinellas County) and One community (with a focus on economic growth for south St. Petersburg.) As a state university, I firmly believe we must support community partners advocating an equitable and inclusive society.
My commitment to diversity, inclusion, equity and social justice is fundamental to who I am as an individual. As a leader, I have demonstrated my commitment to these core values through organizational policies and community engagement.
Sridhar (Sri) Sundaram is a professor of finance and dean of the College of Business and Economics at Cal State Fullerton. Sundaram holds a master's degree in accounting, an MBA and a doctorate in finance. He has received faculty recognition awards in teaching, research and service and is an active researcher.