MBA students Sandy Chang and Kai Dai may have had different coming out journeys, but both aim to create a welcoming LGBTQ+ community at Ivey as Class of 2024 Reaching Out MBA (ROMBA) Fellows.
As ROMBA Fellows, Chang and Dai serve as ambassadors to the LGBTQ+ community on campus and take an active role in LGBTQ+ initiatives. In addition to receiving financial support through the ROMBA Fellowship, they have access to exclusive leadership programming. And such programming will come in handy as both strive to make an impact at the School through the Ivey Pride Club. Chang is Vice President of the club and Dai is a member.
Chang, who only came out as bisexual less than three years ago, is hoping through initiatives at Ivey to break down stereotypes about the LGBTQ+ community, empower allies, and build an even more inclusive environment at the School. When she first came out, she recalls people telling her that she was “just confused,” or “wasn’t gay enough.”
“Since I’ve only recently come out, I worried that the gay community would think I wasn’t experienced enough to speak for the community. But then I realized that the mass media has created a stereotype of what a gay or a straight person looks like and there are so many people who are just in between,” she said. “I realized there’s no right or good way of being gay and by expressing myself, maybe I can help to erase the stereotypes and that might help my peers as well.”
Although Chang wasn’t specifically looking for an MBA school with diversity criteria or affiliation with ROMBA, she said the fact that Ivey is a partner school stood out for her.
“It showed me that Ivey cares about its students and cares about diversity,” she said. “And later, when I joined the MBA cohort, it proved to be true.”
Creating a safe and supportive environment at Ivey
Dai said he’s grateful to have an opportunity to connect with members of the LGBTQ+ community around the world through the ROMBA fellowship. He hopes to draw from his past experience to create a safe space at Ivey for the LGBTQ+ community and allies. Although he identified as gay at a young age, he said he always felt like a minority in the groups he was in. So at age 26, while living in Beijing, he and some friends established a gay bar to bring the LGBTQ+ community together.
“I was always trying to find a home for myself so I wanted to create a safe space for the gay community to communicate with each other and establish a connection. And now I want to use my previous experience to help the LGBTQ+ community at Ivey to feel comfortable and have an opportunity to express themselves,” he said. “A lot of people feel lonely or feel they are the minority so I think it’s very meaningful to have programs that bring people together.”
In particular, he hopes, through ROMBA, to help organize events focused on preparing the Ivey LGBTQ+ community to deal with difficult experiences in the workplace, such as discrimination.
“We need to help students to transform from their student identity to their employee identity because although as classmates, we support each other, there won’t necessarily be the same level of support in the workplace,” he said.
Chang, who grew up in East Asia, said she never spoke about her sexuality until coming to Ivey and she appreciates the inclusive environment at the School. She told how she accidently outed herself during the first week of class by identifying her partner as female and was surprised by the support shown by her cohort.
“I’m not used to talking about this, but Ivey has supported me and given me a safe place to discuss it,” she said. “I think it’s crucial for people to be very genuine and open. If you show your true self, you’ll have a better chance of finding a good fit.”