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Star Sternie Recognized for Helping Promote Inclusion and Diversity within NYU’s MBA Class 

Hurnyak with NYU Stern Dean Peter Henry at last night's Academic Awards and Service Recognition Reception
Hurnyak with NYU Stern Dean Peter Henry at last night’s Academic Awards and Service Recognition Reception

Rachel Hurnyak is proof positive that good things sometimes come in small packages. The petite, soft-spoken president of NYU Stern School of Business LGBTQ student group OutClass was honored by Dean Peter Henry at an awards ceremony last night for her leadership and contributions to the school’s community.

Thanks to the efforts of Hurnyak and other Sternies, the New York City business school this year introduced numerous initiatives emphasizing diversity and inclusion—part of the school’s commitment to promoting “EQ” (emotional quotient) as an integral value within graduate management education.

“I wanted to come to NYU Stern because to me it represented the type of school that would be the best and brightest in terms of diversity and inclusion,” Hurnyak said in an early-morning interview with Clear Admit yesterday before heading off to Yankee Stadium for NYU’s school-wide graduation ceremony. (She did not yet know about the award she would receive later that night.)

Hurnyak, who identifies as a member of the LGBTQ community, was less drawn by the school’s proximity to Wall Street and its investment banks and more by its location within the Village, where the LGBTQ civil rights movement began in the 1960s, she says. When she arrived, though, she found that there was still room for improvement in terms of making the school a more diverse and inclusive place where everyone—regardless of sexual orientation, race, class or gender—could feel safe and supported.

Rather than waiting for something to happen organically or one person leading the charge for change, several groups—including OutClass, the Association of Hispanic and Black Business Students and Stern Women in Business—worked collaboratively to champion greater diversity and inclusion school-wide, Hurnyak says. “Together, we succeeded at getting Stern to a much better place.”

Expanding Allyship to All
As an example, Stern this year expanded “allyship”—a concept promoted within the LGBTQ community of inviting straight peers to serve as allies to LGBTQ community members—to be inclusive of all community members, a first among business schools. As part of Ally Week in April, a full 75 percent of the student body signed the Ally Pledge, promising to serve as allies to one another.

“The Ally Pledge historically has been LGBTQ-specific,” says Hurnyak. “We changed it so that it includes all people and calls for a promise to respect everyone, making Stern a safe space for everyone.”

“One of My Favorite Moments as a Human”
Current events and a forum called “Stern Speaks,” in which Stern MBA students share their life stories with their classmates, also helped unite the student body for path-changing discussions, Hurnyak says. In the wake of the Michael Brown and Eric Garner cases that rocked the country, 300 Stern students gathered on a Thursday night in December to hear three of their African-American classmates speak.

Another Stern student, in a blog entry for the Financial Times in January, recounted the event. “Those of us who attended had the privilege of hearing three brave classmates share their stories, all of which included personal encounters with both individual and institutional racism,” wrote Victoria Michelotti. “When the floor opened to the audience, people mustered the courage to ask uncomfortable questions. Honest and sometimes painful answers were given in reply. A dialogue had begun.”

That discussion—which was moderated by NYU Stern Professor Dolly Chugh, an expert on unconscious bias—is when Stern students really put everything on the table. “It was the first time organically our community said, ‘We are at a fork in the road and we have to choose between discussing the difficult topic and avoiding it,’ Hurnyak recalls. “It is one of my favorite moments as a human,” she says.

Dean’s Recognition
Last night, Dean Henry presented Hurnyak with her award at the Academic Awards and Service Recognition Reception. The prestigious service award was established by Stern alumni to recognize a graduating MBA with extraordinary service and contribution to the school and the university as a whole. Hurnyak’s classmates chose her as the recipient.

Today, during his convocation remarks at Stern’s graduation ceremony, Henry addressed the assembled graduates about leadership and community at Stern—including the school’s emphasis on EQ. He noted with pride initiatives such as Stern Speaks, the cross-collaboration of different clubs to strengthen the Stern community during Ally Week and the 75 percent student participation in the Ally Pledge. He also again praised Hurnyak’s contributions to helping the Stern community become more inclusive and diverse.

Hurnyak, for her part, seems more comfortable talking about what Stern has given her than what she has given Stern. “I often find in the LGBTQ community that lesbians and gay men forget that we need to be allies to our bisexual colleagues and our transgender colleagues,” she says. “The diversity trainings that we received this year will help me be a better ally to members of my own community, which sometimes people are shocked to hear is necessary.” As part of Ally Week, a gender-neutral restroom was instituted and opened on each floor of the Stern School, going well beyond a student-initiated request for a single restroom in the building.

Her time at Stern has clearly also made Hurnyak a greater ally to classmates outside of the LGBTQ community. “Now I am ready to dive into racial equality issues,” she says. Even amid triumphs with regard to marriage equality, recent events in Baltimore have made it impossible to ignore enduring racial inequality, she says. “This year really taught me personally that these issues are not exclusive of one another—they all relate to one another,” she says. “Progress in the LGBTQ community feels great, but I still can’t celebrate fully when we are taking steps backward nationally with regard to race or gender.”

Hurnyak’s growth and that of her classmates bodes well for business in general, she suggests. “The single greatest achievement during my time at Stern has been helping our peers practice talking about difficult topics—topics surrounding race and gender and transgender issues, sexuality, socioeconomic status,” she says. “To me that is an achievement because these Sternies will take those skills with them to their workplaces and their internships, and that will have a ripple effect for the rest of their careers.”

As these Sternies head out into the world, they will be able to leverage the kind of mindset that Stern helped them embrace. “As they make their business decisions, as they engage with their employees—they will make their companies more inclusive and diverse places, which will positively benefit those businesses and society as a whole,” she says. “I call that a ‘win-win.’”