Kendrick Vaughn is a champion in diverse thinking and inspiration to Americans of all races, ages, and genders. As an African American graduate of West Point and Berkeley Haas, Vaughn has keen insight on diverse thinking in and out of the classroom that can be useful for all leaders in the workplace. If you want to incite change, read on to learn about how Vaughn’s family history, time at Haas, and military career have shaped his approach to diverse thinking.
Travels and Lessons of an Army Brat
Kenny Vaughn comes from a long familial line of African American military personnel. His great grandfather served as a noncommissioned officer for the Quartermaster Corps in World War II, his grandfather served in the Army Air Corps in World War II, his uncle graduated from West Point, and his father graduated from West Point and served in the military for 25 years.
As a result, Vaughn was an army brat and traveled a lot as a child. He lived in other countries like China and Germany. In the US, he went to four different high schools across three states. Moving around during high school introduced him to a large variety of people- ranging from poor minority students in Alabama to future Ivy Leaguers outside of Washington, D.C.
Meeting and leaving so many people during his teenage years forced him to make friends quickly and learn how to maintain those friendships for years after. Since he never knows when his and his friends’ paths will cross again, Vaughn finds maintaining relationships to be an important endeavor in life, and he has been keen to do so during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Once it was Vaughn’s time to go to college, he felt a natural draw to West Point because of his father. Vaughn viewed his dad as the benchmark of success and wanted to be like him. So, he went off to West Point. There, he met his wife and gained a very structured military and academic education. He graduated in 2008.
It was not until the COVID-19 quarantine that Vaughn realized the profound impact and bravery that his great grandfather and grandfather had for joining the military. Unlike other men, they were not welcomed home and given military benefits like the GI Bill. After speaking with his father about this fact, Vaughn understood that they served in spite of their unequal treatment in order to help every other African American.
From West Point to Berkeley Haas
After graduating from West Point, Vaughn felt that it was time for a change. He began searching for the next step in his professional growth. He found himself watching videos of the deans of top business schools like Stanford and Harvard. He eventually stumbled upon a video of Dean Rich Lyons, the Dean of Berkeley Haas.
While watching the video, Vaughn found himself captivated by the content and energy of the dean. Vaughn quickly began researching Berkeley Haas online, where he found defining principles of the school. Some of the defining principles that caught his eye were “Questioning the Status Quo” and “Confidence Without Attitude.” These principles stood out to Vaughn because of their structure and content.
By the end of 2013, Vaughn ended coming to Days at Haas and visited the campus with his entire family- wife, children, and mother-in-law. While he was there, other MBA students played with his children and professors talked to his family about intellectual topics. He was especially impressed by the humility surrounding these people, and Vaughn knew that Haas was the place for him.
Applying Lessons Learned at Haas to Diversity Admissions at West Point
After Vaughn graduated from Haas in 2016, he returned to West Point to be a Director of Diversity Admissions. In this position, Vaughn was in charge of reaching out to underserved communities around the country and spread the word about the United States Military Academy.
Though Vaughn is paid for his work, he views it as a passion project that he would do for free. He firmly believes in the importance of helping underserved communities gain access to quality education. During his work, he has uncovered countless students who did not think they were good enough for a school like West Point simply because of the barriers in their way.
Vaughn’s wife was one of those people who were told to reconsider her West point dream because of the barriers. Without much background on the school, his wife went to her guidance counselor for advice on West Point, and the counselor told her to reconsider her college ambitions. Luckily, she ignored the counselor and applied anyway. Vaughn wants to help other students to be more like his wife by tearing down the barriers and helping them get the education they deserve.
Vaughn quickly learned that his time in Haas was beneficial to his work with the Diversity Admissions. More specifically, he saw how Haas’ basis of “Be the best you can be” and emphasis on the success of all motivated him to help underrepresented students find their way to West Point.
Be the Best You Can Be
While working in Diversity Admissions, Vaughn used what he learned during his time at Haas. He especially found Haas’ basis of “Be the best you can be” to be beneficial for his work. During a work meeting that overlapped with George Floyd’s funeral, Vaughn used the “Be the best you can be” mentality to speak out about his agony over the racial inequality in America.
During the meeting, Al Sharpton’s eulogy played in the background as people shared their experiences with the program. Instead of going with the flow and saying what was expected of him, Vaughn said it was not a good week for him and spoke about how it could have been him, his father, or his uncle in Floyd’s place.
This brutal honesty demonstrates that being the best you can includes being vulnerable and standing up when you see injustice occur. Vaughn could have easily gone with the group, but his time at Haas gave him the confidence and integrity to be the best, even when it was awkward or vulnerable.
Focus on the Success of All
More so, Haas taught him that success is not defined by any individual success. Instead, it is defined by the success of all. This mentality allowed him to approach this new position with the goal of finding success for as many people as possible, regardless of race, income, or gender.
Vaughn urges for this mentality to be spread beyond West Point and Haas, though. Only when Black and other minority lives are treated as equal will America truly be the land of equal opportunity.
Vaughn’s Advice for Leaders in Workplace
To become a champion for diverse thinking, Vaughn advises leaders to look in spaces where they already wield influence. In other words, if you work in housing, look for ways to make housing more affordable. You do not have to participate in riots or look externally to make a change. Simply use the influence and space you already have.
More than that though, Vaughn advises using your influence to start conversations with friends and family. The current climate is full of polarizing language, which discourages communication across party lines. When you hear someone speaking incorrectly or insensitively though, say something in a respectful and informed manner. Those conversations will trickle down and out into the world.
Being able to hold respectful and informed conversations starts with education. Look through documents, read books, and talk to people different from yourself. Then, encourage other people to do the same. Educating yourself and others will provide you with a context for the situation, which can help you better untangle the knot.
Additionally, Vaughn advises going above and beyond in our conversations to really connect with people. Ask people how they are doing. When they respond “fine,” ask again. Asking a second time invites the other person to be honest about their stress and situations. And, considering the current state of affairs, they probably have something they would like to share with someone.
Having these conversations may be awkward or tough, and you may even slip up at times, but they will open dialog for change and allow you to unite with people different from yourself. As a result, the African American community and other underrepresented populations may experience support from the nation as a whole, inciting change.
Kendrick Vaughn is an inspiring image of diversity thinking in action. From his military background and time at Haas, Vaughn learned valuable lessons about what it means to be a champion for underrepresented groups. He believes that by being the best you can be and starting conversations with one another, he and anyone else can make an impact on the climate of America.
With this in mind, it’s your turn to incite change. One way that you can use your influence is by commenting below and sharing the article. Comment what you have learned, relatable experiences you have faced, other educational sources, or questions. These things are crucial to continuing the dialogue and educating as many people as possible.