Fostering a culture of acceptance

Fostering a culture of acceptance

Antwane Owens (BSBA ’96) recalls a pivotal moment his junior year in high school. He knew he was college bound: His parents were college grads and expected him to be as well. But when the time came to explore options, a school guidance counselor asked whether he played sports.

“I said, ‘I play basketball, but not well enough to get a scholarship.’ Her response was that maybe I should consider a trade school. That conversation has always been a motivation for me,” said Owens. A high ACT score and strong academic performance changed the nature of those conversations.

TU topped his college list, though he knew it would be a financial stretch. On a recommendation from TU Vice President for Enrollment Management and Student Services Earl Johnson (BFA ’89), Owens applied for and received a full scholarship from the National Association of Black Accountants and Williams Cos. “That made it possible for me to attend TU,” he said.

What followed his time at TU was the ascent to a successful career and today, a seat on the Board of Trustees of the university that helped position him for that success. He has continued to support the university over the last 20 years, including serving on the Collins College of Business Executive Advisory Board and giving a Chapman Legacy Society gift in the name of his mother and father.

Owens received offers from four of the Big Five accounting firms and began his career at Deloitte, where he became the company’s first African American professional employee in Oklahoma to work as an auditor. His diligence was rewarded through his fast track promotion to senior auditor in less than 24 months.

Soon after his promotion, Owens entered The Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth for an MBA and earned his degree as the youngest in his class. Subsequent to graduating from Tuck, he held senior positions at a sports marketing start-up, Capital One Financial and the Boston Consulting Group before founding his own management strategy consulting firm, Excellence Through Insight, Inc. In 2016, Owens accepted a senior finance position at Amazon as a leader on the company’s North American free cash flow initiative and today is a leader on the company’s Whole Foods Market post-acquisition integration team.

Owens often reflects on the way diversity and inclusion have factored into his life and career, noting that in many settings, “There weren’t a lot of people that looked like me.” He was the only African American in his graduating class at Jenks High School to attend college. And though TU’s student body did not reflect the level of diversity that it does today, Owens says, “The welcoming culture that existed at TU in the mid-90s helped facilitate my integration into the fabric of the university, which supported my continued success.”

Fostering a campus of inclusion and acceptance factors significantly into TU’s five-year strategic plan, and Owens maintains a personal commitment to joining that effort. “TU’s campus looks very different now, as far as the level of diversity representing countries, backgrounds and ethnicities. We also have more focus on diversifying thought by including new perspectives and ideas,” he said.

Owens stresses the importance of the university community joining in the endeavor. “Diversity is everyone’s job, including the way we recruit students. President Clancy has made it a focus of his not only to identify that inclusion happens on campus, but also to rethink the way we recruit. You don’t achieve diversity by going to the same places you’ve always gone.”He says it’s important for TU to engage the community in discussions around diversity, which helps to pull down barriers that prevent people from getting to know one another. “What kind of difficult conversations are we having, particularly around conscious and unconscious bias? What drives racial inequality? Many organizations aren’t willing to have these hard conversations, but educational institutions have the responsibility to do just that.”

Owens notes that by making strides in diversifying its community, TU also can play a significant role in supporting the city’s initiatives when it comes to attracting companies and skilled professionals — particularly as U.S. demographics continue to shift. “If the emphasis is on quality of life, money becomes less of a driver. But, that’s a challenge when there hasn’t been significant progress over the last 20 years. If TU focuses on embracing different cultures and backgrounds, we can serve as an integration point for the city.”