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Student Life

Finding a Sense of Belonging

by Rachael Sweetman

At Rice Business, our tagline is “You Belong Here.” This may mean different things to different people, but when I was looking for MBA programs, I wanted a place where I could be me, where I felt encouraged to speak up and could advocate for other members of my community. And this is what this tagline has come to mean for me.

As I write this piece, I feel my internalized biphobia rising up. I’m bisexual, but I’m a feminine-presenting woman in a relationship with a heterosexual man. This is known as “passing privilege,” meaning that my experience within our heteronormative society may be easier and less dangerous for me, since I’m often mislabeled as straight. Right now, I’m thinking, “shouldn’t someone ‘more gay’ be writing a piece for Pride Month and sharing their more difficult experiences? Am I a fraud, taking up the space that someone who has felt more discriminated against should have instead of me?” These feelings also came up when I thought about running for president of our Out & Allied club (O&A), and when I volunteered my time to be a session director and lead a panel at Reaching Out MBA’s Out Women in Business Conference.

In the business world, there’s more and more talk about how important inclusive and psychologically safe spaces are. Diverse teams that feel free to speak up and share their ideas deliver better outcomes that benefit the employees and the business. But in large and complex organizations, change to incorporate these findings can be slow. Many of us come to business school because we want to make a difference, we want the tools to have an impact in our future teams and businesses. I came to business school to continue building psychologically safe spaces for myself and my community everywhere I go. 

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Rachael and Megan

Before my first-year classes began, I signed up for the Rice Business Women’s Organization and their program that pairs incoming students with a second-year mentor. Excited to make new friends and looking for someone that I could confide in about being scared for this big change, I was so lucky to be paired with someone who would help shape my whole experience at Rice. My mentor, Megan, is non-binary and uses they/them pronouns. As part of the LGBTQ+ community, I had someone who was empathetic to my experiences and who created a safe space for me. Plus, leadership is at Megan’s core. They were president of the Jones Student Association, vice president of Out & Allied, became Coach Rice certified with the Doerr Institute, and at every opportunity they encouraged me to get involved at Rice. When I told my mentor that I was thinking about running for Out & Allied president, but that I felt that it should go to someone “more worthy,” they told me that I am worthy, that I’m the “B” in LGBTQ+, and that there are plenty of bisexual women and men out there who are feeling the same way. I represent a part of this community, and by following that path to leadership, I let others like me know that their voices are important, too.

I decided to run as co-president for O&A with my friend Abhimanyu, and in April 2022, we won a competition for $5k at Reaching Out MBA’s Leadership Conference where we pitched how best we could use the money to benefit our club and community. We competed on two pillars: inclusive facilities and policies, and allyship education. We cannot expect a more diverse student body if we don’t have the facilities and policies in place to support them and we need our allies – the majority of our student body – to help us feel safe and welcome.

My time at Rice Business will be brief, but with opportunities to support my classmates, whether as a second-year mentor to an incoming first-year, or to be a part of creating a space for our community and allies, I am making a difference here. Leadership opportunities are all around at Rice Business, you just need to listen to your peers who are cheering you on through your self-doubts, like Megan does for me. It could be as a president or board member of one of the many clubs on campus, or it could be simply speaking up about your perspective in class and showing empathy to a classmate experiencing something you never have before.

Rice Business’s slogan is “You Belong Here.” Think about what that means to you and how you can help make this ring ever more true for those who will come after you. 

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