Darwin Conner, AG22

School: Graduate School of Arts and Sciences 

Degree: Master of Arts in Diversity and Inclusion Leadership 

Home: In the literal sense, it’s New York City. In a more interpretive sense, it’s my family and friends. 

What drew you to your field of study? 

I worked in a law firm as an attorney for 20 years prior to starting my master’s program. Throughout my career, I have always been involved in diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) initiatives—from being the target of DEI programs, to running such programs, to chairing a DEI committee, to my current role, in which I serve as chief DEI officer at a global, multinational law firm. When I started splitting time between my law work and efforts to build an in-house diversity program, it hit me: the latter is where my passion really lies. I realized that if I was going to run a DEI program in a professional capacity, I needed to fill out my knowledge base, and that led me to Tufts.   

But my interest is further rooted in personal experience. Law firms have historically poor performance when it comes to DEI. For example, by the time I made partner, I was one of a handful of individuals from racially and ethnically underrepresented communities at my firm.  A very small percentage of Black attorneys in particular achieved partnership at large, general practice, national law firms. Moving through those spaces and understanding the issues that weren’t being taken into account—I knew that those were the problems I wanted to help address.  

Your best piece of advice for people who aspire to run DEI programs, as you’re about to do? 

Consciously take steps to move outside of your comfort zone. At the start of the program, Professor Rob Mack, who is also one of the chief diversity officers at Tufts, said to our Diversity and Inclusion Leadership class, “When I give you an assignment, I don’t want you to retreat into the areas in which you have a ton of personal experience.” Of course, that’s the natural inclination, and you have to fight it. Personally, I knew a lot about race and related issues, both historical and current ones, but in order to maximize the value I was receiving from the program, I needed to tackle topics I was unfamiliar with. As Professor Mack told us, doing so takes more work, but it’s much more rewarding, and it gives you expertise in areas you need to understand as a DEI practitioner.  

What most surprised you about yourself during your time at Tufts? 

A friend asked me, “Do you think going through this program made you a nicer person?” That question really struck me—I had to step back and take some time to think about it. I considered all the different ways of building empathy I’d learned, the knowledge I’d acquired about a range of identities, and the vocabulary I picked up. I realized that my time in the program really did make me a nicer person—and that that evolution was unavoidable. You have to become a nicer person when you go through this program. You listen to your classmates’ perspectives, you learn about the ways in which people are marginalized, and you develop a deeper understanding of the many hardships different communities endure, and it just happens. And that’s the way it should be—after all, if you were to boil the academic experience down to its most essential element, shouldn’t a deeper understanding of others be it?  

For full Commencement 2022 coverage, please visit now.tufts.edu/commencement-2022.

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