As a preview for the upcoming Women of Color Leadership and Empowerment Conference, being held Thursday, June 23, 2016 at Harvard Law School, Color Magazine will publish a series of Q&A stories with the Executive Speakers for the event.
Our fourth interview is with Georgianna Melendez, Director, Office of Diversity & Inclusion at the University of Massachusetts Boston, who will be speaking on Embracing the “Yay” Sayers.
1. Can you tell us more about your positions as the Chief Diversity Officer and Title IX Coordinator at UMass Boston? What are the most rewarding parts of your jobs?
As the Chief Diversity Officer for UMass Boston, my role is to ensure all members of the university community have access to all aspects of university life and are included. There are over 17,000 students and over 4,000 employees that come from 149 different countries, with a large diverse local population that brings a diversity of experiences and lenses that enrich our community. I find harnessing that diversity through programing and collaborative work very satisfying. In addition, though not as appealing to many on the surface, the compliance part of the role, ensuring that discrimination is addressed, represents an opportunity for social justice when the need arises.
- How did you hear about Color Magazine’s Women of Color Leadership and Empowerment Conference? What is it about the conference that intrigues you?
I have attended past conferences and have always walked away with some new insight that I could apply to my thinking and practice. In a world where the messages push women of color to think that biases and discrimination do not exist or only exist because we talk about it—hearing from professionals who have been there and have developed strategies for growth and moving beyond the rhetoric is empowering. It is energizing and validating and it always helps me grow.
- Please tell us more about the session you’re holding for the Women of Color Conference. What are your goals? What do you want others to walk away with?
We are surrounded by all kinds of influencers in our daily lives. We have champions, sponsors, admirers, and friends. Even within this group of influencers, there are naysayers and “Yay” sayers. I want participants to walk away with a sense that we need to spend more time with our “Yay” sayers, listening and soliciting validation and encouragement…to let those relationships feed us. The naysayers will always be there and they serve some function in our lives, but the “Yay” sayers need to dominate our time.
- What do you enjoy doing in your spare time? What else are you passionate about?
Spare time? (smiling) I always look for activities that fill me. Sometimes this is volunteering in some way. Often it is spending time with my family. In addition to working full-time, I am a doctoral student getting ready to write my dissertation. My go-to activity on my own time is acrylic painting. It is new to me and I find that I am in love with learning new techniques, the composition of a painting, and the colors! The joy I get from this turns me back into a pre-schooler. We all need that kind of joy in our lives.
I am passionate about lifting people up and working to make sure the marginalized have a voice. Every career choice has been about this goal. Whether it was working with and on behalf of survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault, or it was about creating visibility for groups who have traditionally been pushed back and away from the table, it is always about leveling the field and ensuring a world that is inclusive and safe.
- Who and/or what inspires you?
I am inspired by people of all walks of life who know themselves and who exist in the world on their own terms. Even in the face of oppression, somehow, there are those who manage to be their authentic selves. I have had the privilege of a variety of mentors in my life, both formal and informal, who have led by example.
I am inspired by people I have worked with who have gone through traumatic events that would cripple most people and who have moved through their trauma to pursue their dream—to become the parents, workers, and friends they knew they could be. Everyday acts of small heroism also inspires me.
- How will you help to inspire other women of color career-wise?
I will never forget the individuals who helped me along in my journey. I thank them often through working with others who need the same types of support, encouragement, and sponsorship as they go through their journey. It is important that we help people make the connections they need and give them feedback they may or may not want that is intended to help them grow. We also need to identify opportunities even when someone is not looking for them. I hope to be that kind of leader for other women.
The Women of Color Leadership and Empowerment Conference takes place on Thursday, June 23, from 11 A.M. – 4:30 P.M., at Austin Hall, Ames Court Room -Harvard Law School. For tickets and more information click HERE.