People of SU

Representation Matters

Written by Tina Potterf

November 16, 2023

Netflix alums strive for inclusivity.

Alums Alex LaCasse, ’10, and Kabi Gishuru, ’08, are making meaningful change and amplifying diverse voices through their work at Netflix.

When you settle in to binge watch the latest buzz-worthy series or plan a movie night from the comfort of your couch, if your streamer-of-choice is Netflix, chances are you are enjoying content that a Seattle University alum is very familiar with, playing a role in the creative process, helping to bring a diverse slate of stories— via TV and film—to life.

Much goes into making these stories a series or film. But this is more than just entertaining content—it’s about diversifying what’s on the screen to be representative of a global audience and to help curate an experience that features storylines and subject matter that is reflective of that viewership. Behind the scenes is the important work of creating tools and resources to make this all possible. 

Beyond the entertainment side of Netflix, the importance of authentic representation carries over into the hiring practices of the company. This, too, is influenced greatly by another Seattle University alum. 

Meet Alex LaCasse, ’10, and Kabi Gishuru, ’08, who are enacting and amplifying meaningful change at Netflix, with LaCasse working on the film and TV side and Gishuru in the workforce/ recruitment side of the company. And, as if in a moment of serendipity, the two learned they were both graduates of Seattle University during a chance meeting at the Netflix headquarters in Los Angeles. They became fast friends. 

“I had just started at Netflix and was in the LA office. Someone introduced us and we got to talking and we were floored when we figured out we both went to SU,” Gishuru says. “The Seattle U connection was foundational in our bond.” 

LaCasse concurs: “So much of our connection and bond is rooted in Seattle U and the Jesuit system of values. I think most alums feel this instantly when they meet—there’s just so many commonalities in how we approach life and people.” 

In his role as Director of Inclusion–Content and Studio Operations, LaCasse helps advise executives in charge of what ends up on screen. 

“In my work with our incredible film and TV executives, we talk a lot about the importance of representing our members across the globe in meaningful and multidimensional ways,” says LaCasse, who is in his fifth year with the company. “We strive to create films, series and games content that appeal to all different tastes and interests and people. This includes, of course, communities that have been historically underrepresented on screen.” 

LaCasse continues: “We know that TV and film have a direct impact on how people see themselves and how we see each other. What an opportunity we have to not only entertain people but also to perhaps bring them closer together.” 

As a director of talent acquisition, Seattle native Gishuru was brought on four years ago to build out a diversity recruitment program. She had extensively worked in building similar programs in her previous position with rideshare company Lyft. 

“It was about building something from scratch and doing it an industry-leading company like Netflix,” she says. “We were able to do great work, which has led to building the global team we have today.” 

The path that led both LaCasse and Gishuru to Netflix started at Seattle University. Wanting to attend a school not too far from his home in Lake Forest Park, north of Seattle, LaCasse learned more about SU when he applied for the Sullivan Scholarship, which brought him to campus for a day and, in his own words, “I instantly fell in love.” While his plan initially was to major in biology with sights on becoming a pediatrician, he took a women’s studies course and “was enthralled.” He also was looking at journalism, something he studied in high school, and ended up majoring in the two disciplines. During his time at SU LaCasse also became involved with the Children’s Literacy Project, working at Bailey Gatzert Elementary. That experience, he says, changed the course of his career. 

“I became very interested in working with young people and as a result transitioned my focus from journalism to working in education,” says LaCasse, who following graduation went to grad school at Loyola Chicago, where he earned a Master of Education and went into the education field full-time, first in Chicago and then New York City. It was in NYC that LaCasse went from teaching to working at a nonprofit focused on educating K-12 public school leaders on LGBTQ+ inclusivity. This included working with queer-identifying young people who were eager for support and insight into what was possible for them after high school. In 2014, he returned to Seattle to teach literature at St. Joseph School. 

Then Netflix came calling after he applied for a program manager role on the inclusion team. At first LaCasse thought that it was a mistake when he got a response from the company. 

“I think it’s a testament to how Netflix thinks about people. That even an educator, someone who has spent their life teaching young people, has something valuable to add. So I took the call and was so impressed with the intention and thoughtfulness at the company,” he says. 

When LaCasse started at Netflix, there was no dedicated team focused on inclusion and diversity in the workplace. He was hired largely to change that. 

Seattle University played a pivotal role in not only his educational growth but also in his personal development, says LaCasse, something that carries over into his work in ensuring creating content at Netflix that is authentic. 

“Before I came to Seattle U I wasn’t out but it was the Jesuit environment that allowed me to live authentically as a queer person,” he says. “I felt so supported by faculty and students and my spiritual advisor Jerry Cobb, S.J. Seattle U allowed me to become who I am today in more ways than one. This might surprise people. But there is something so special about that place. Not only is there a large queer student body but there are proactive efforts to make it as inclusive as possible for LGBTQ+ and other underrepresented students.” 

When it came time to look at colleges, Gishuru was very familiar with Seattle University—she grew up attending Catholic school—as her dad, grandmother and uncle are all alums. She also liked the thought of being close to home but still living independently on an urban campus. Like LaCasse, originally her major was biology as she was eyeing pre-med with aspirations of becoming a doctor. That changed when she hit chemistry. A good writer, she shifted her major to English literature with post-graduation plans of attending law school. 

With that goal in mind, after graduation she worked for a time as a legal assistant, figuring out what sector of law interested her. A desire to work with underserved communities led to a professional shift from law to nonprofit community-based work—specifically, in youth development and afterschool programming. From there she made the transition out of the nonprofit world into tech when she joined Lyft, building a recruitment team and strategies intentional about pipeline diversity. Her work at Lyft caught the attention of Netflix, which recruited her four years ago and today, she oversees three talent acquisition teams doing work globally.

Through her service-learning experience at SU, she gained firsthand knowledge of the positive impact and importance of social justice and it stirred in her this longing to give back. She also knew the value of feeling like you belong and are represented, both of which Gishuru says she found while living on the African American Studies floor in Bellarmine and through her involvement with the Office of Multicultural Affairs and Black Student Union. 

“As a student of color, a Black woman, I loved living on Bellarmine third floor. It was an incredibly diverse floor and there was thoughtfulness put into creating spaces for us,” she explains. “It gave me a community of resources and exposure to different opportunities that would grow and build my leadership skills. When I think about my passion to provide access to resources for all people—resources that will aid in folks’ success—I can’t help but believe that much of that passion was birthed at Seattle U.”

It was her involvement in the community as a student that put into focus social and economic disparities, something that she has been a champion to change in every professional role leading to and continuing with Netflix. 

“Over half the U.S. Netflix workforce identify as underrepresented. We’ve come a long way in diversifying our teams and still have more work to do,” she says. 

Training, recruiting and nurturing future talent is also important to Gishuru. Her team built a boot camp with students from HBCUs (Historically Black Colleges and Universities), providing technical training and mentorship opportunities to set students up for success to one day work at a place like Netflix.

“I am playing a small part in the lives of people who look like me. Being able to open doors is a privilege,” says Gishuru.

Gishuru’s advice for future graduates unsure of what career path to travel on? Do what you love. 

“It might take time to figure it out,” she says. “I went from the legal sector to nonprofits to tech to a hybrid of tech and entertainment at Netflix. I am a big advocate of building networks. You can’t get anywhere alone.”

Both LaCasse and Gishuru agree that there are parallels between SU’s culture and the philosophy of Netflix, including how their classes encouraged the examination of systems and to interrogate those systems that don’t allow access for everyone. 

“That examination of systems is something that we do every day at Netflix. Our roles are really to open up new possibilities for the industry,” LaCasse says. “If you see an opportunity to create a more equitable space or industry, you do it. Netflix encourages this. I felt the same way at Seattle University—to go forth and set the world on fire!”

This story originally appeared in the Fall edition of Seattle University Magazine, out now. Want more content like this? Check out the issue in its entirety.