Manning School Student Leaders Share Their Experiences in ‘Lifting Our Voices’ Discussion

Elysé Masandi speaks during the Zoom panel discussion
Elysé Masandi, a rising senior business administration major, makes a point during "Lifting Our Voices," a virtual panel discussion on social justice and racial equality hosted by student leaders from the Manning School of Business.

By Ed Brennen

As part of her human resources internship this summer at Brooks Automation in Chelmsford, Elysé Masandi belongs to a social impact team that is working to diversify the company’s hiring process and create programs that raise employees’ awareness of cultural issues.

Masandi, a rising senior business administration major, spoke about the importance of the work during a recent panel discussion on social justice and racial equality hosted on Zoom by student leaders from the Manning School of Business.

“These conversations don’t just stop here at the university — they continue when we graduate and enter the workforce,” said Masandi, who was joined on the student panel by rising seniors Kanya Derisme and Victor Souza and rising junior Easmond Tsewole. 

More than 40 faculty and staff members from the Manning School took part in the “Lifting Our Voices” discussion, which was moderated by rising senior Greg Montemurro.

The conversation is part of a broader universitywide effort to combat racial injustice, an issue that has sparked protests across the country and around the world following the killing of George Floyd.

The panelists shared their experiences as students of color and suggested ways to advance diversity and inclusion initiatives across campus. They agreed that in order to have more sincere communication about social justice and racial equality, people need to listen to one another and acknowledge unconscious biases. 
“We should have honest, good-faith conversations so we can truly get to understand one another and support one another.” -Business student Easmond Tsewole

“We should have honest, good-faith conversations so we can truly get to understand one another and support one another,” Tsewole said. “It’s going to be uncomfortable at some points, but this is an issue that’s been around for centuries in our country. And right now, there’s a calling to actually deal with the issue.”

As future business leaders, the panelists also stressed the importance of addressing systemic racism in society.

“There is racism in marketing, in the financial industry, in management,” said Derisme, who is president of the student leadership organization Joy Tong Women in Business (formerly Manning Women in Business). “As future business leaders, we have to have that conversation. What are some of the big companies that we’re being referred to doing about these issues?”

Last summer, Souza was selected for EY’s Launch Internship, a national program that gives underrepresented minorities experience in a Big Four accounting firm. 

“It was a great program that made me feel so welcome,” said Souza, who encouraged students of color at UML to connect with similar organizations and programs where they feel comfortable talking about their experiences.

“We are fortunate that UMass Lowell does a great job in terms of trying to create a safe environment where you can share your opinions,” said Souza, who is president of the Manning Leaders Council. “My experience as MLC president, working closely with Dean (Sandra) Richtermeyer, has shown me that we are way more inclusive than people can imagine.”

While there are well-established multicultural organizations on campus, Masandi said it’s important to create new programs for students of color and their allies. That’s why she is starting the Black Business Student Association this year.

“We need to see people like us,” said Masandi, whose concentrations are in management and international business. “We need to know there are people like us in these great positions in the business world. We need to see ourselves.”

The panelists encouraged faculty members to facilitate more conversations in their classes about race and its impact on business. Derisme suggested integrating the topic into the Business Ethics and Organizational Behavior courses, which are required for all business students.

As the hourlong discussion came to an end, faculty members thanked the students for taking the initiative to host the event.

“This has been an invaluable and inspiring conversation for motivating necessary, meaningful action,” Asst. Prof. of Management Erica Steckler wrote in the Zoom chat window. “I am energized to continue listening, learning and acting.”

“Thank you for taking the time to share your voices with all of us,” added Spencer Ross, assistant professor of marketing, entrepreneurship and innovation. “I’m grateful for this conversation.”