This year, the Isenberg School of Management became one of the first undergraduate business programs to require students to take a diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) course.
The course—called Introduction to Diversity and Inclusion in Business—was first offered in spring 2023, through an effort spearheaded by Nicole Melton, department chair and associate professor in sport management, alongside then-colleagues Nefertiti Walker and Alaina Macaulay. It seeks to introduce students to foundational DEI concepts and best practices in business through discussions on allyship, inclusive leadership, unconscious bias, and a better understanding of the types of bias that exist.
The inspiration for the curriculum addition roots back to the fall 2019 semester, when the sport management department began to offer Diversity and Inclusion in Sport as an elective. While at the time, the course was open strictly to juniors and seniors majoring in sport management, Melton, Walker, and Macaulay began to recognize that many people in the Isenberg community had a genuine interest in the subject. From there, the trio decided to work to make the class an option for all Isenberg undergraduate students. Walker, now the vice chancellor for equity and inclusion at UMass Amherst and deputy vice president for academic affairs, student affairs, and equity for the UMass system, as well as a sport management professor, noted, “The course evaluations we got were really, really encouraging. Students were enthusiastic about it, students wanted a part two to the course, they wished they could take it again. They were excited about it and showed up to class and were engaged.”
During 2020 and 2021, with a heightened awareness of increasing DEI issues in society, Macaulay, now the senior director for inclusion and strategic engagement at UMass Amherst, brought the course to Janet Fink, associate dean of undergraduate programs, and Isenberg Dean Anne Massey to suggest making the course required for all students. Both Fink and Massey agreed that the course would positively benefit and impact all Isenberg students regardless of major, so steps were taken to begin upgrading Introduction to Diversity and Inclusion in Business to a requirement rather than just an elective.
“Business courses aren’t just about accounting, they aren’t just about marketing, they’re about everything that goes into a business and what goes into a business is the people and how they’re treated and how they react to those treatments,” explained Michala Seide ‘25, an accounting major and current teaching assistant for the course. “Professor Melton really, genuinely does a wonderful job giving people the space to be different and share their experiences. There are no right or wrong answers, it’s not a black or white type of class … You might not see the different perspective but always remember that I may see something someone else may not see and what we all see may impact different people in different ways.”
The school-wide elective debuted in the spring of 2023 with 80 seats, all of which were filled. Since being made a requirement, the course has expanded to 400 seats.
“I do think students really get a lot out of it,” said Melton, who has taught both sections of the course since its initial offering in addition to having taught sections of the sport management-based DEI class. “It really expands their notion of what diversity and inclusion are. A lot of times, people just think gender and race, but there’s so much more.”
She added that students have told her they find it enriching to see diverse perspectives. “From alumni to current students, the reaction to the course has been, for the most part, overwhelmingly positive. They just hadn’t thought about DEI issues from a business sense and how important it is in our work lives, how much work is part of our lives, and we want to be sure we are creating environments that are healthy and productive and showing how DEI works into that.”
In offering this course, Isenberg joins a select few business schools across the country, including the University of Michigan and the University of California Berkeley, that offer DEI courses to their students. In requiring the class, Isenberg strives for students to apply what was learned in this course to their future major-specific coursework.
“The course opens up the door to the conversation and I think that’s the biggest step,” said Liam Concannon ’26, an operations and information management major and teaching assistant for the class. He adds that making it a requirement for undergraduate students “has opened everyone’s eyes and now you have to be prepared and aware of how to go forward and plan.”
Regarding Isenberg’s efforts to educate students about DEI, Walker pointed out, “Overall, it’s the small individual things like this course that are going to change the way that people think about business. Having a curriculum like this is changing how people will view Isenberg. It’s not just a run-of-the-mill, rigidly structured business school. Isenberg is a collection of people with different views, and the traditional assumptions are challenged by having this course.”