Values that Hang

June 26, 2017
Hall of flags at Fuqua School of Business

From Andorra and Azerbaijan to Zambia and Zimbabwe, Fuqua’s hall of flags represents every color of the rainbow and just about every nation on the planet.  

The school has a stockpile of 210 four-by-six foot flags and each year, the display reflects the national identity of every member of the student body. No matter how grey the weather, the hall is always bathed in a party of primary color. But the flag display is about more than that.

Over the last 20 years it has grown to include Native American nations, branches of the U.S. military, the rainbow flag of the LGBTQ community, and the Peace Corps.

“We’re trying represent those dimensions that reflect who we are as a community – identities that include where we’re from but also reach beyond it,” said Fuqua Dean Bill Boulding. “The fact that we can reflect the richness of that identity is really important. When I walk through there, I’m struck by how that identity is so remarkably diverse that it takes so many flags to capture the breadth of our community.”

Dilnaman Sachdeva first saw the flags when he visited the school with his family as an admitted student to the Master of Management Studies program.

“This was the first time I saw a flag of the Sikh faith in the United States and I felt eternally proud,” said Sachdeva, who graduated in 2017. “I remember showing that flag to a few of my international friends and explaining to them the belief system and culture of my religion. They returned the favor by showing me -- and describing -- their own. Fuqua values the cultural significance of diversity and the flags are a reminder of how we should embrace it wherever we are in the world.”

The flag display began as a gift from the Daytime class of 1987, with one flag for each country represented in the class. Thomas Keller, Fuqua’s dean at the time, was working hard to broaden the global scope of the school. The looming reunification of Germany and the subsequent establishment of a single European currency put international business in the spotlight. Keller worked to introduce international content into all courses at Fuqua and also oversaw the school’s first program for managers from the former Soviet Union; the opening of Fuqua centers in Brussels and St. Petersburg; and the launch of the Global Executive MBA program.

“There was lots of interest in international business issues and by 1995, Fuqua was a key innovator in the ‘place and space’ model of international business education,” said Margaret Trauner, the school’s associate dean for library services.

"Students wanted them on the graduation stage too."

Meanwhile, the flag display grew to represent the students in all programs at Fuqua, adding flags as students came from more and more countries. It ougrew the east mallway and spread into the west corridor. Then it developed beyond the permanent hallways installation.

“Because they loved it so much in the hallways, students wanted them on the graduation stage too,” said Colin Tjalma, the school’s facilities director.

That was in 1996. Carter Beard, a member of the Daytime class that year, donated the 30 or so slightly smaller flags needed for the ceremony. Beard’s family business is Annin Flagmakers, the oldest U.S. maker of flags and, coincidentally, already the supplier of the Fuqua hallway flags. Beard agreed to continue donating flags for future classes and any the school needed for the hallway, including replacements.

 “With all that Fuqua has given to me over the years, it’s the least Annin can do,” said Beard, now the president and CEO of the firm. “It’s a fun tradition and I enjoy keeping it going.”

Liz Finnegan, a 2017 graduate of Fuqua’s Daytime MBA program, said the “explosion of color” and what it represents stood out as soon as she arrived. She later learned the display’s reputation extends far beyond the school. A student at the London Business School who had never even been to Durham told her that all he knew of Fuqua was that a friend and Fuqua grad said how proud he was that the Georgian flag was hanging here.

“To many students it seems like the everyday, but to some others, it's a recognition from the school that their unique identity matters and is valued,” she said. “That sticks with people.”

Phil Thomas first saw the display when he came to Fuqua to interview for the Global Executive MBA program.

“Diversity is something all business schools claim,” he said. “But seeing the length of the corridor and the sheer volume of flags made me realize exactly how broad the Fuqua network would be and how enriching the experience would be -- to learn, be challenged and to gain a deeper understanding of an unparalleled range of cultures.”

In 2007, students asked to add Native American flags and banners for the military, religions and other organizations.

“I was impressed to see our tribal flag, for the Lumbee Nation, represented there,” said Regina Chavis, a student in the Weekend Executive MBA program. “As soon as I saw the display I felt a sense of inclusion, possibility, and diversity. It's an eye catching visual of how beautiful celebrated differences can be.”

"It felt great to have Fuqua recognize that."

Kristina Nguyen said she was elated to see the Peace Corps flag on her first day at Fuqua.

“My two years serving in the Peace Corps were some of the proudest and most powerful moments in my life, and it felt great to have Fuqua recognize that,” said Nguyen, who graduated from the Daytime MBA program in 2016.

Nguyen’s parents fled Vietnam as teenagers.

“At graduation, you could see my family's excitement at seeing the South Vietnamese flag. It’s different from the current Vietnamese flag, and remains so important to the culture and history of Vietnam before communism,” she said. “I never would have guessed that the hall of flags would play a role in both my first and last days at Fuqua.”