If you receive an email from Arianna Robinson, you can’t help but notice her signoff: “In Community.” Robinson means it. Both in her role as assistant director of business operations for the Ray C. Anderson Center for Sustainable Business and beyond, she has dedicated her efforts to creating a community where diversity, equity, and inclusivity are not only embraced but also put into practice.
Robinson’s resolve to champion inclusion and progress is evidenced in her numerous accomplishments and awards. She’s done the hard work of promoting equity and championing diversity in organizations and society through generating awareness and collaboration.
This dedication to improving the human condition has now been recognized at the Institute level. Robinson is the latest recipient of the Georgia Tech Staff Diversity Champion Award. Annually, the award is given to one faculty member, staff member, student, and campus unit. It recognizes those who have worked to advance a culture of inclusion and belonging in communities from historically underrepresented backgrounds at Georgia Tech.
Some of Robinson’s accomplishments include supporting the creation of the Blacks in Business (BiB) MBA student organization in 2016. As an MBA student, she saw the need for representation of Black students in the MBA programs, and she continues to serve as an advisor for the group. Robinson also serves as an advisor to the Scheller MBA chapter of Net Impact, an organization that seeks to organize leaders to use their skills and careers to make a positive impact on the world.
Robinson is a member of the Scheller College of Business Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (DE&I) Council for which she is co-chair of the minority-owned business subgroup. One of her goals is to identify businesses owned by minority Scheller students and alumni, with the goal of creating a directory accessible on the school’s website. She created the Scheller DE&I Book Discussion Group and has helped to lead deep discussions into antiracism and the issues faced by Black and brown people.
She was a part of the Institute’s 2021 Inclusive Leaders Academy and is a recipient of the 2017 and 2021 Faces of Inclusive Excellence Award. She has helped to create an awareness of and actions for Scheller’s academic units by examining diversity representation in faculty and identifying areas for improvement, including performance reviews and career goals.
We sat down with Robinson to find out more about her and what inspires her to champion inclusion and lead by example as a part of the College and Institute community.
If you had to describe yourself to someone who didn’t know you, what would you say?
Well, let’ see, in terms of the identities people are familiar with, I’m a daughter, sister, friend, colleague — and most honored to be a mom. I show up in the world wholeheartedly. I’m a compassionate, empathetic person who tends to lean into my own vulnerability, which I hope gives other people permission to do the same.
In terms of my values and passions, I am unapologetically passionate about racial equity and social justice! A self-described aspiring JEDI Warrior (Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion), I advocate for the dismantling of barriers that obstruct peace and prosperity for all, but especially Black and indigenous people.
I’m also a huge advocate for mental health and spiritual well-being being thought of as basic human rights that should be taught with other fundamentals at every level of education. Because without well-being, nothing else is sustainable. (A couple months ago, I wrote an article on this subject: “The Future Belongs to Those Who Can Keep Their Minds.”) I believe that our purpose in life is to spiritually awaken to ourselves in pursuit of peace, love, joy, courage, wisdom, compassion, and creativity. I seek to (re)define success by these measures.
Where did your passion for building inclusive practices or spaces stem from?
I’m a biracial Black woman. Is there anything else to say? 😊 No, for real, actually, I was adopted at birth into a multiracial family with Caucasian parents who did not want me to miss out on knowing my culture and history, and therefore, who I am. They were adamant and diligent about making sure that I was proud of being Black. For all my life, I’ve carried that sense of self with me.
What does “community and belonging” mean to you?
For me, “community and belonging” speaks not only to feeling included but also to knowing that you matter. In order to create a sense of community, we must be able to bring our authentic selves to spaces. I was blessed to have worked with an organization, Be Present, Inc., which is committed to advancing personal and community well-being based on the strength of self-knowledge. (Incidentally, this is where I picked up the “In Community” email sign-off.) I’ve been able to expand my own mental and spiritual health practices on top of the learning and experiences I had there.
What advice do you have for people who are feeling like they don’t belong?
First, we need to acknowledge that there are plenty of unwelcoming spaces (and people) and that we need to hold institutions responsible for the systemic oppression they inflict (often masqueraded as “culture”). I don’t believe that feeling like you don’t belong is necessarily something that individuals need to or can do anything about, so I try to help people learn the difference between feeling unwelcome versus feeling unworthy. For the former, unfortunately, lots of people don’t have the option of walking away or removing themselves from marginalizing spaces (usually out of necessity for a job or other opportunity), so I would advise that they find and maintain a way to differentiate between how they are being made to feel at work and how they feel about themselves. To that end, for the latter, if people feel unworthy, looking inward to uncover the limiting beliefs that they are perpetuating about themselves will be critical for movement past those feelings.
How can we as individuals work to make our peers feel more welcome?
Well, there’s always the good old Golden Rule. Increasing our own levels of consciousness about ourselves is the best way to stay grounded in how we want to interact with others. If I have lost touch with treating myself with kindness, I will not be able to tap into that to give it to anyone else consistently. The best way to make anyone feel welcome is to be connected to your own sense of belonging in a space and because what it looks like for us will differ from what it looks like for others, we need to be open and empowering to others to feel connected as well.
What does a more perfect Georgia Tech look like to you?
As a large institution, Georgia Tech has many policies, procedures, and practices that have been developed for the masses or for the convenience of those who deliver services. At times, there seems to be little interest in making things more flexible for those on the receiving end. We have lots of opportunities to do a better job of 1) acknowledging that issues and inequities exist and second, and 2) being open to solutions. It’s time to stop the “this is the way we’ve always done it” train.
As the founder of Scheller’s DE&I Book Club Discussion Group, what were your goals in starting the club?
I founded the book discussion group because it is a great mechanism for the necessary and often uncomfortable conversations about issues faced by marginalized groups. As someone who advocates for institutional change, I recognize that systems are maintained by people. Therefore, each person participating in the group is a potential disruptor to those systems. When it comes to DE&I activities, book groups can be seen as performative. However, in our space of higher education, just one staff member who is enlightened about an oppressive process they have perpetuated with students, staff, and/or faculty can positively impact potentially dozens to hundreds of people, if not more. So, I’m honored to have created a space with the potential for that type of insightful reflection and personal growth.
What are your hobbies?
Reading! Advancing my mental and spiritual well-being by meditating, chanting, and watching videos. I love being in nature – preferably on or at least near the water. And I still try to go outside and play with my friends as often as possible!
What makes you happy?
Knowing that there is unlimited potential for living a fulfilled life. I have spent most of my adult life in “survival mode” – a mindset of scarcity and lack. I am thoroughly grateful to have pulled myself out of that. I am happy knowing that I have the ability to reorient my children from that survival mindset, and I hope to be an example to many others as well.
Do you have a favorite quote or mantra you live by?
The following quote from Tracee Ellis Ross is one of my very favorites and a life goal: “I hope that people feel like themselves when they’re around me and feel safe to be themselves when they’re around me. And maybe that makes people think it’s me that they love, but it’s really themselves that they love.”