MIAMI, Fla. — Over the past two years, 36 alumni from the Cornell University Nolan School of Hotel Administration have come together to develop and fund a program designed to attract more disadvantaged and underrepresented Black students to study hospitality and tourism. This Cornell alumni group calls itself DREAM (Dedicated Recruitment for Hospitality Educational Equity, and Mentorship), and has initially raised $130,000 to seed AHED, led by the Chaplin School of Hospitality & Tourism Management at Florida International University (FIU).
Based on extensive interviews conducted with academic leaders of 23 North American universities, the DREAM group was established to create a pathway for underrepresented minorities to pursue undergraduate hospitality management degrees to become future hospitality leaders.
In addition, there is an outsized gap in Black representation in the hospitality industry, especially in leadership positions. According to the Castell Project, a division of the American Hotel & Lodging Association (AHLA), that tracks the progress of minorities within the industry, African Americans represent 17.5 percent of the total workforce in U.S. and Canadian hotels, but just 1.6 percent of the industry’s executive leadership. One part of the solution is to intentionally support and grow the number of Black students in undergraduate hospitality programs.
“By addressing the specific priorities and concerns of Black students and their families, the odds of getting them to enroll, study, and begin a career in hospitality leadership are greatly enhanced. This is particularly true when recruiting candidates facing socio-economic barriers,” said Dan Fenton, director of Global Tourism and Destination Development, JLL, and member of the Cornell Class of 1981. “Our research clearly demonstrates that intentional recruiting needs to occur out on the road in the classrooms, living rooms, and communities where the potential students reside. This is a key strategy in the AHED approach to the intentional recruiting program.”
The feedback received from hospitality program educators helped to define the features of the AHED intentional recruiting program for underprivileged Black students:
- Recruiting potential applicants at high schools, community colleges, and community centers
- Meeting with parents to overcome the negative perceptions of the hospitality industry
- Guiding students and families through the application and financial-aid process
- Providing focused scholarships to improve financial accessibility
- Steering and mentoring accepted students through key decisions on housing, course selection—and throughout their four-year journey
- Fostering sponsorship and allyship within academic and student-life programs
- Connecting students and graduates to hospitality employers that are committed to supporting the program and a diverse management team.
“During our discussions with university leaders, it became evident schools have struggled with administrative, legal, and governance hurdles that have prevented them from implementing an intentional recruiting program on their own,” said Christopher Hunsberger, COO, Appellation Hotels, and fellow member of the Cornell Class of 1981. “They believe the independence of AHED is a way to change by increasing the enrollment of Black hospitality students, and ultimately to realize the full potential of this massively underrepresented source of talent. As we see our federal courts further undermine race-conscious college admissions, it becomes more important for industry leaders to step up to address this critical issue.”
“The initial response to the formation of AHED from industry leadership has been overwhelmingly positive, building our confidence that this intentional and focused initiative is long overdue and broadly embraced,” said Michael Cheng, dean of FIU’s Chaplin School of Hospitality & Tourism Management. “We thank the DREAM team and recognize that financial support is key in ensuring equity and diversity throughout every level of the hospitality business up to and inclusive of senior leadership and C-suite.”
AHED provides an independent collaborative platform sought by university program leaders. In turn, universities must do their part by providing guidance for those Black students that meet admission requirements and enroll in hospitality management programs. “Intentionality does not end with the recruitment process. Universities must follow through by developing systems designed to ensure the success of Black students as they enter the campus, throughout their academic career, and beyond,” said Fenton.
“The Cornell alumni group is a strong example of authentic commitment, and we believe the results of their actions will enable AHED to produce meaningful change. We commend the DREAM group for their vision and consistent support,” said Brian Barker, FIU Hospitality’s first endowed Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion (DE&I) Professor and director of AHED.