UVA Darden Welcomes Former Airbnb Global Head of Diversity and Belonging Back to Faculty, Announces Fund for Global Connection and Belonging
By Dave Hendrick
The Darden School Continues to Make Sustained Efforts in the Areas of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging
The University of Virginia welcomed a familiar face back to the faculty ahead of the 2021–22 academic year. Melissa Thomas-Hunt, a former professor, senior associate dean and global chief diversity officer at the Darden School of Business, has returned as the John Forbes Distinguished Professor of Business Administration at Darden with a joint appointment at UVA’s Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy.
Thomas-Hunt returns to Darden from Airbnb, where she served as global head of diversity and belonging and led strategy and execution of global internal diversity, inclusion, equity and belonging programs for the company’s 5,000 employees.
In addition to rejoining the faculty at UVA, Thomas-Hunt will help lead a new initiative to support research in the areas of diversity, equity, inclusion, connection and belonging. Airbnb in May announced it will donate $1 million over the next five years to establish the Airbnb Melissa Christian Thomas Hunt Research Fund for Global Connection and Belonging at Darden.
Thomas-Hunt will lead the research effort and continue to serve Airbnb as a senior adviser for connection and belonging at the company. In addition, she will serve as a special adviser to Darden Dean Scott Beardsley and Batten Dean Ian Solomon, and will work in concert with Darden Global Chief Diversity Officer Martin Davidson on the School’s diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives.
“In addition to her excellent teaching, research and thought leadership, Melissa brings true leadership to Darden’s effort to create inclusive excellence and a sense of belonging to everyone at the School,” Beardsley said. “I look forward to her counsel and the great impact she will make helping Darden live its value to be an inclusive community that enables its outstanding, diverse members from all over the world to collaborate and excel.”
Thomas-Hunt served on the Darden faculty from 2009–17, teaching courses in the areas of leadership, team dynamics and negotiation. From 2016–17, she held the role of global chief diversity officer at Darden before taking a position as vice provost for inclusive excellence at Vanderbilt University.
“We at Darden are incredibly grateful to Airbnb for its commitment to advance knowledge in this critical area and its strong support of Melissa as she transitions back to Darden,” said Beardsley. “Airbnb’s generous gift is a building block for Darden’s aspiration to create a new Initiative for Inclusive Leadership, Equity and Leveraging Difference that aims to serve as a hub for academic scholarship, pedagogical innovation and applied social action.”
Darden plans additional fundraising to help establish the new initiative.
Darden Initiative for Inclusive Excellence Gaining Strength
Thomas-Hunt’s return to the Darden faculty comes as the School continues to make sustained efforts in the areas of diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging.
To analyze and address the issues of racial injustice and affect change as an organization, a Racial Equity and Inclusion Working Group was created in 2020 to recommend a prioritized set of initiatives. Prominent alumni and leaders were assembled through the Dean’s Diversity Advisory Council and the Senior Business Leaders Forum for Action on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion to spark ideas and innovations for accelerating progress. Together, they outlined concrete initiatives intended to strengthen and bolster diversity, equity and inclusion on Grounds.
Advancements include new resources to bolster the experience of Darden’s diverse, global community; a commitment to attract talented, diverse students from across the globe; and faculty thought leadership on diversity, equity and inclusion, including new courses and more diverse protagonists in Darden cases in the classroom.
Recent, specific initiatives include:
- AccessDarden, a need-based scholarship program intended to help attract talented students from all walks of life and socioeconomic backgrounds, was launched. More recently, the Darden School Foundation announced the Breakthrough Scholars program, specifically aimed at attracting and supporting women and under-represented racial minorities interested in a career in private equity or venture capital. The latest Darden School Foundation scholarships are part of a larger push toward inclusive excellence. The Foundation expects to announce more details on a new scholarship initiative to support the effort later this year.
- Darden hired two key positions: a senior director and an associate director for global diversity, equity and inclusion in Admissions, ensuring key points of contact for prospective students from underrepresented backgrounds.
- The Darden School Foundation is actively seeking an associate director of diversity, equity and inclusion to join the alumni engagement team.
- The School struck a partnership with Admit.me Access, a pre-MBA membership program providing guidance and support to under-represented racial minorities and women interested in business school. The partnership includes engagement opportunities for candidates to learn more about top MBA programs, including an alumni mentor program.
- The Darden Annual Fund last year added a new Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Initiatives designation, allowing Darden supporters to directly support efforts to build an inclusive culture of excellence. To date, roughly $350,000 has been raised by donors to support this critical work.
Consistent with its mission, the Darden School will continue to chart the progress of efforts to increase global diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging as part of its commitment to excellence and to develop future responsible leaders from all walks of life.
The University of Virginia Darden School of Business delivers the world’s best business education experience to prepare entrepreneurial, global and responsible leaders through its MBA, Ph.D., MSBA and Executive Education programs. Darden’s top-ranked faculty is renowned for teaching excellence and advances practical business knowledge through research. Darden was established in 1955 at the University of Virginia, a top public university founded by Thomas Jefferson in 1819 in Charlottesville, Virginia.
Director of Media Relations
Darden School of Business
University of Virginia