Apple CEO and Auburn alumnus Tim Cook speaks to students on diversity and inclusion

Published: April 10, 2017
Updated: June 22, 2017
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Apple CEO and Auburn alumnus Tim Cook spoke exclusively to Auburn University students April 6 as part a visit to The Plains. His lecture, "Conversations with Tim Cook—A Personal View of Inclusion and Diversity," was hosted by the Student Government Association.

More than 350 students attended the event, where Cook was asked questions from Auburn's Associate Provost and Vice President for Inclusion and Diversity Taffye Clayton, as well as from students in the audience.

Cook began by telling students the world is more intertwined and global than ever. Therefore, they need to have a deep understanding of cultures around the world in order to be successful.

"Having perspectives and having an understanding that people may be different from you is important. Not everybody has a Western view of the world. Not everybody has a Southern view of the world," Cook said. "I have learned to not only appreciate this but to celebrate it. The thing that makes the world so interesting is our differences."

For Apple, Cook says this mentality of diversity is vital in forming teams who work on projects from tech development to marketing.

"We believe that you can only create a great product with a diverse team," Cook said. "That is one of the reasons that Apple's products work really well because the people working on them are not only engineers and sciences, but artists and musicians. It is this intersection of the liberal arts of humanity with technology that makes products successful."

Cook explained that diversity in his teams means more than its traditional definition.

"We believe that diversity is not only the things you can see when you look at people, but it's the invisible things as well. We take a very broad view and say diversity of life experiences," Cook said.

He continued by emphasizing the importance of embracing other cultures and having a global mindset.

"If you're like me, you will always prefer home. It's the feeling I get when I come here to Auburn," Cook said. "However, that doesn't mean that I don't love understanding how the Italians, Japanese or Chinese live. There are some great people in the world. Getting out and understand other countries, being intellectually curious is incredibly important."

Cook then discussed American free speech, highlighting the importance of American civil liberties and how they define American culture and ideals.

"My own view is if you think about what it means to be an American, the first thing I think about very quickly is freedom," Cook said. "I think as citizens, we should take the broadness possible definition. That means, allowing for a lot of things that we don't like or agree with, because we need to challenge our own thinking and allow for the possibility that we're wrong sometimes."

Tying this advice into the political tension on many college campuses, Cook said that students from both ideological spectrums should listen and engage in healthy and respectful debate.

"I know on campuses there is this tension between conservative and liberal, and I would encourage students everywhere to, instead of tension, for the liberals to listen to the conservatives and the conservatives to listen to the liberals. And actually show the country that not only can ideologies exist but if they interface, they can come up with incredible ideas and move forward," Cook said.

Cook told the audience he believes each generation has the responsibility to enlarge the definition of human rights.
"Sitting here today, you and I wouldn't be on stage, and several of you in the audience wouldn't be in the audience if people before us hadn't worked hard to define human rights," Cook said. "I feel a tremendous responsibility to really reflect on what I can do to help enlarge the definition of human rights."

SGA President Jacqueline Keck said the event showed students' willingness to engage in a discussion on inclusion, diversity and equity.

"It is students who are going to move this conversation forward," Keck said. "We encourage students to take what they've heard in this talk and spread it to different groups on campus."

Auburn University is a nationally ranked land grant institution recognized for its commitment to world-class scholarship, interdisciplinary research and an undergraduate education experience second to none. Auburn is home to more than 29,000 students, and its faculty and research partners collaborate to develop and deliver meaningful scholarship, science and technology-based advancements that meet pressing regional, national and global needs. Auburn's commitment to active student engagement, professional success and public/private partnership drives a growing reputation for outreach and extension that delivers broad economic, health and societal impact. Auburn's mission to educate, discover and collaborate drives its expanding impact on the world.