Recently, Auburn alumnus and now Apple CEO Tim Cook visited campus to speak on inclusion and diversity with the Auburn Family.
Throughout the discussion, answering questions from both Vice President for Inclusion & Diversity Dr. Taffye Clayton and the audience, the distinguished Auburn alum expressed his views on most everything from language barriers to religious discrimination.
When concluding the conversation, however, there was one major area that was never properly brought up, something very well known about Cook that was not even addressed.
In 2014, Cook made international headlines by publicly coming out as gay, being the first chief executive of a fortune 500 company to do so. Since then, he's become an outspoken advocate for LGBT+ rights, foremost leading by example within Apple.
Despite these momentous achievements in representation, his formal introduction contained no mention of them. Listening to the prepared talking points and student questions, only a few at best had indirect reference to those marginalized such as gender, sexual and romantic minorities (GSRMs), but nothing explicitly so.
As a gay student and member of Spectrum, Auburn University’s Gay-Straight Alliance, this lack of crucial visibility is disappointing.
While a successful business leader who has done much to embrace differences and challenge discrimination, it’s imperative to know that one of Cook’s most essential perspectives when it comes to inclusion and diversity is as someone of a GSRM. His thoughts on the topics from Thursday are nonetheless excellent and should be heard by all those here at the University, though I believe there was a potential for a very meaningful message to an especially relevant group that was unfulfilled.
A missed opportunity to truly connect with those of the Auburn Family who share commonalities with Cook that nobody else does. Although he graduated years before Auburn's LGBT+ group was officially founded, it's unquestionable that a closeted southerner like Cook would participate in an organization that has helped hundreds of Auburn students live authentically and stay true to themselves in a way no other community could.
If there's another Tim Cook coming out of Auburn, I can guarantee they're a member of Spectrum.
That being said, visibility is essential. I hope more active steps can be taken in the future to ensure more interaction with influential figures and in discussions which reflect institutions.
The significance of minorities being able to see and even meet their icons who they share a very special common identity with cannot be stressed enough. It's those experiences that change lives and shape futures.
Dylan Clark is a freshman majoring in public relations and political science. He is director of social affairs in Spectrum.