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Breaking Down Barriers in Academic and Professional Environments: Joel Vazquez '16

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Image of Vazquez over Hornbake Plaza

As a diversity and inclusion talent manager at Venture for America, Joel Vazquez '16 uses the knowledge and experience he gained at SPP everyday. In his role, Vazquez actively acknowledges and breaks down systemic barriers that work against overlooked communities and prevent them from having equal access to start-up and entrepreneurial resources. 

Vazquez attributes his interest in advocacy to his own identity as a Filipino-American and member of the LGBT community. He understands first-hand the challenges that accompany being a queer person of color, and he has seen others face the same or similar barriers as well, he says.

“I have often had to face different challenges both within the workplace and personally that have made me feel less than, says Vazquez. “Empathizing with different challenges that different groups of people often go through developed my passion for inclusivity.”

In addition to his identity and personal life, Vazquez’s undergraduate experiences piqued his interest in promoting diversity. During his sophomore year, Vazquez became a Rawlings Fellow. This program taught him to consider both how programs and opportunities impact communities and how to create positive change. 

Vazquez says he also values his experience as an undergraduate teaching assistant, in which he learned how to communicate with and lead a diverse group of students. The classroom challenged him to create effective spaces for discussion that allowed students of all backgrounds to participate. Vazquez continues to apply these important lessons in his current role. 

“I encourage conversations about how we are evaluating people and making sure that we are really bringing out their best selves, as opposed to approaching it from a place of how the person fits into our culture,” explains Vazquez. “It's more: So how can they contribute to the overall culture of the organization or class and how are you bringing those attributes out 

Vazquez encourages everyone to approach diversity, equity, and inclusion from the perspective of building up others and allowing space for overlooked groups to voice their perspectives. Within both a professional and academic setting, Vazquez encourages students to evaluate who is leading the discussion and decision-making process and consider ways to advocate for others. 

“When you are managing a team, who are you building up?” questions Vazquez. “Who are you letting express their ideas? Who are you really developing and whom might you be ignoring? You should be delegating out different kinds of assignments and challenges that could further help build their professional development.” 

Vazquez reminds students to explore opportunities that may not directly relate to their intended career path, but that could develop important transferable skills. 

“When it comes to educational and professional programs, instead of focusing on what kind of career this experience can be applied towards, which can more so be an angle about how you approach classes, think about what kinds of skills and values can be learned or gained from the programs, “says Vazquez “Keep an open mind and see what those programs can lead you to do.”

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