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A Day in the Life: Student Success Manager Kayani Turner (She/Her/Hers and They/Them/Theirs)

Written by Bannon Puckett on Jun 14, 2021

Related content: Diversity And Inclusion, 2U HQ

This story is a part of our “A Day in the Life'' series that highlights the career journeys of 2U employees across the world. Throughout June, we’re celebrating Pride Month and featuring members of 2Q, the company’s Business Resource Network for LGBTQIA+ employees and allies.

As a Division 1 college volleyball coach, Kayani Turner spent every weekend from August through December on the court. When the season ended, her work didn’t slow down. “Most weekends from January to July were filled with recruiting trips,” explains Kayani.

A former athlete herself, Kayani loved being a coach. But after ten years of nonstop travel and tournaments, she was ready to retire from life on the road and finally “sit down somewhere.”

When Kayani saw an open role at 2U, she didn’t think twice before applying. “I’m a lifelong learner,” she says. “Education was very important to my parents. My mom knew from a young age she wanted to be in the medical profession and understood what kind of education was needed to get her there. My father was born and raised in Jamaica and came to the states when he was a teenager. His family always emphasized the importance of a formal education, especially once living in the U.S.”

Today, Kayani is a student success manager at 2U and couldn’t be happier with the trajectory her career has taken. Read on to learn how she found community and clarity on the job—and why she calls working at 2U “the most authentic walk of my life to date.”

Ready to seize the day and take on the world

Why did you join 2U? What is it about the company that sparked your interest?

2U’s Guiding Principles caught my attention very early on—in particular “Give A Damn,” “Relationships Matter,” “Have Fun,” and “Make Service Your Mission.” During my job hunt, I specifically remember seeing an unofficial “no asshole policy” somewhere on the web and thinking that 2U must be very intentional about who they invite through their doors. That’s really important to me. People are important to me. It’s vital for me to feel like I’m of service and making a difference in people’s lives, and that’s ultimately what 2U strives to do on a large and small scale.

How would you describe your role as a student success manager at 2U?

The first word that comes to mind when I think about my role is “service.” It is my responsibility to be of service to the team of student success advisors I have the pleasure to work with—supporting them in ways that align with their passions and development, and in ways that assist them in helping students succeed.

Winning big with colleagues at the "2U Boo" Halloween carnival

What do you find most rewarding about your job? And out of everything you’ve done at 2U so far, what are you most proud of?

One of the most rewarding parts of this role is knowing that the work we are doing has incredible potential to positively impact people’s lives. I also really enjoy being a people manager and witnessing growth and development on a regular basis. The unlimited paid time off is a nice bonus, too!

I’m most proud of the relationships I’ve been able to build during my time here. I’ve met some really amazing people who have been incredibly supportive of me on my journey, both personally and professionally.

If you are comfortable doing so, share with us your “coming out” story.

I don’t have a “coming out” story. Straight people do not “come out as straight,” therefore I felt like I didn’t need to “come out” to people. Instead, I decided when and where I felt comfortable enough with people in my life to “let them in” to the details of my gender and sexual identity. This allowed me to take more ownership of who I am and show up in spaces as me, take it or leave it, rather than hoping the people I came out to accepted me.

Everyone’s journey is different and valid—this is just mine. I welcomed in some immediate family members early on in my journey, and over the years have chosen to let other folks in as well. While I will always show up for young people, as a resource and support line, my gender and sexual identity is not a broadcast for cisgender/heterosexual consumption. Every single day, I walk deeper into my authenticity—and the freedom and power I feel inside is unmatched.

At 2U's Company Meeting in Las Vegas with colleague Mohammed Ndatsu

Why did you join the 2Q and Black Engagement Network (BNet) Business Resource Networks (BRNs)? What have been some of your most memorable highlights so far?

I wanted to join both BNet and 2Q as an opportunity to connect with people who would share similar experiences as me. Being the only Black person in a room—let alone the only Black queer person—can feel very isolating. These BRNs provide a necessary space for 2Utes to make connections with others: a place where I feel seen and celebrated.

Without a doubt, a major highlight of my participation within the BRNs is from this past February’s Black History Month events. It was an honor collaborating with BNet leadership, panelists, and former 2Ute Harper Hill to have a much-needed conversation about what it means to be Black and queer in the workplace (and beyond). Intersectionality is real, and it brought so much joy to my heart that BNet provided the space and opportunity to share the panelists’ stories with the 2U community. I look forward to hopefully continuing these kinds of conversations in the future.

Representing at a #BlackLivesMatter protest

This year’s theme for 2Q Pride Month is “Color Me Proud.” How does this theme specifically resonate in your work at 2U and/or your life?

This theme feels like an opportunity for me to continue to walk in my authenticity. Working at 2U has been the most authentic walk of my life to date. The ability to show up as my full self at work is unmatched. “Pride” would not exist without Black queer and trans lives. Being Black and queer is revolutionary, period—and I intend to live that truth.

In addition to Pride Month, June also features Juneteenth. What does this observance mean to you? How do you plan on celebrating this year?

To me, Juneteenth is an opportunity for me to sit with my ancestors. To empathize with their pain. To thank them for their resilience, bravery, and strength. To tell them, “I’ve got it from here. I will make you proud. I will live your dream.” You may hear Juneteenth also referred to as “Liberation Day.” Liberation is what my ancestors deserved, desired, and fought for. While I do celebrate this day, it often comes with feelings of sadness, anger, and grief. Many years have passed, and African-Americans are still working to feel truly liberated in this country.

The work and contributions of African-Americans in this country are countless and deserve to be recognized and celebrated often. This year, and every year, I plan to rest on Juneteenth. Resting as a Black person in this country is not only needed, but also it’s a form of resistance to the inherently racist and exploitative status quo.

A photo of young Kayani from the archives

What is your perspective on the subject of intersectionality? What are the challenges of living and expressing your “realms of identity,” collectively or independently?

My pure existence is at the intersections of being a Black queer womxn. I literally do not exist separate from these identities, and I intentionally show up wrapped in them in every way. The status quo and least marginalized group of people has always been cisgender, heterosexual men. Any combination of identities outside of that status quo is subject to—and experiences—systemic discrimination in today’s society. The layers to intersectionality are quite plentiful, so it can be a daunting task to peel them back. However, it’s critical to understand that the more intersections one holds, the more intentional we need to be about ensuring their voices and experiences are validated, heard, and prioritized and that their needs are met so that they may also thrive. Until then, we have fallen short in any quest for inclusivity and equity.

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