“You Must Have the Courageous Conversations:” Texas Engineering Black Alumni Share Stories, Insights on Promoting Lasting Change in DEI

February 11, 2021

In celebration of Black History Month, the Cockrell School of Engineering hosted a panel featuring some of Texas Engineering’s most accomplished and dedicated Black alumni leaders: Tejuana Edmond (B.S. ChE 1998), Milton Lee (B.S. ME 1971) and Dr. Chad Wilson (B.S. ChE 1997). The Feb. 2 event was moderated by Alexander Tekle, a senior in the Cockrell School and current president of UT Austin’s chapter of the National Society of Black Engineers. Over a hundred people tuned in.

During the Q&A-style event, panelists talked about their time as students, how they navigated unique challenges in their careers and how they are working to promote lasting change in their communities. The conversation was honest and vulnerable as they shared personal stories of struggle — and triumph — experienced throughout their journeys as students and professionals.

Edmond recalled early memories in her career when she was acutely aware of imbalances and underrepresentation in the corporate world.

“One thing was clear,” she said, “Black people, Brown people and women were definitely underrepresented in this [corporate] space. There was always a perception about which roles I belonged in based on the box people put me in. […] Having to defend myself and my worth has been a thread throughout my career.”

Wilson echoed Edmond’s sentiments, sharing his struggles as a resident during his medical school rotations.

“My own perceptions and what I demanded from myself as a Black man led to burnout,” he said. “I gave myself no room to fail. No room to not be able to do everything everybody else could do. I had to outperform people at every turn. And, because of that limiting perception I placed on myself because of my race, I devalued myself.”

The conversation soon panned outward to focus on a more societal and cultural perspective of racial and gender inequalities. A common theme emerged: To move forward, we must find common ground.

“You can’t limit your community to people who look just like you and think just like you. Look in the mirror and recognize the person looking back at you has inherent value,” Wilson said. “The ‘isms’ — racism, sexism and other prejudices — need to be fought on a strategic, macro scale, and as individuals we must try to have as good of relationships as possible in our own spheres of influences on a micro scale. We must find common ground.”

As our society continues to strive to be more inclusive and have the courageous conversations needed to move forward, the panelists shared their thoughts on how to address DEI issues in the workplace and how to remain active, influential advocates for change in communities.

“You have to leave things better than you found them by having the conversations like we’re having today,” Lee said. “When you don’t [have these conversations], I think you’re letting yourself down, and you’re also letting down your organization. When you have those opportunities to be a person of influence, take advantage of them.”

For more information on the panelists and to hear the entire conversation, visit youtu.be/CwClEf14VlY