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Governor Pat Quinn and U.S. Treasurer Rosa Gumataotao Rios mingled with minority and female business owners and University administrators last night at a Quadrangle Club reception.
The event came ahead of today’s diversity in business symposium, aimed at developing relationships between the University and minority- and women-owned businesses.
Speaking at the reception, Quinn touted the potential for change a large university can have in what he referred to "as a noble cause."
“Great universities like the University of Chicago can spawn diversity with their purchasing power,” Quinn said, commending the University for its commitment to charter schools and to graduating talent.
“Diversity is about talent,” Quinn said in an interview. “Historically, there have been barriers blocking minorities from getting these opportunities. Events like these break those barriers.”
Dozens of minority and women business owners were gathered for the upscale event, aimed at providing a forum for the relationships that hadn’t flourished as administrators would have liked, said Nadia M. Quarles, the University’s director of business diversity.
“I was hearing from University leaders that they didn’t know minority-owned businesses, and from minority businesses that they didn’t know how to get in the door,” she said, adding: “We hope that they continue networking after today.”
For his part, President Robert Zimmer said working with businesses other than ones owned by white men is central to the University’s mission. “For UChicago, this is not additional or at the margin,” Zimmer said. “We want dedicated exposure [to these businesses], out of which actual action will hopefully grow,” he said.
“There is a huge gap between the businesses that are getting the business and those that comprise the city,” said Suzanne F. Stantley, founder of the Black Expo Communication Development organization. “This event is about letting businesses make connections and to allow organizations to meet these buyers.”
Stantley said Zimmer’s speech showed he was serious about working with minority-owned businesses. “When you have the commitment from the president of the University, the initiative becomes much more serious in its effort to bring in businesses that they would not already hire,” she said.
Fourth-year Yahira Cruz and third-year Aliya Bagewadi, both members of the student advisory board at the Office of Multicultural Affairs, were the first students to be invited to the event.
University trustee John Rogers, CEO of Ariel Capital Management, said it can be hard for business owners like him even to be heard by organizations that talk about business diversity but offer only certain contracts. “Usually, you see the person in the booth talking about increasing diversity,” he said, referring to booths at conventions. “But if you’re not in construction or in janitorial services, they tell you to go away.”
Quinn was positive about minority-owned businesses, but he didn’t limit his remarks to promoting minority- and women-owned businesses: “We’ll put a fence around our borders and make sure our Nobel Laureates stay in Illinois.”