Discussing race, identity, and power among colleagues can be a tough hurdle for any group, but the new Berkeley Haas School of Business ten-week, student-led seminar entitled “Dialogues on Race” is leading students to a more welcomed environment to do so.
The Race Inclusion Initiative surveyed MBA students and found that despite the fact that the vast majority “believes that understanding racial dynamics is a key component of effective leadership, less than 50 percent say they are comfortable talking about race.”
“Dialogues on Race” co-facilitator Liz Koenig, MBA ’18, believes, “The ability to reflect on identity and power is a core competency, certainly for being a leader of any kind, or a manager of human beings. My hope is that we get to a place where this is considered core to the fabric of any MBA program.”
Koenig, co-facilitator Om Chitale, MBA ’18, and faculty sponsor Assistant Professor Drew Jacoby-Senghor, “actively recruited a broad cross-section of students,” which ultimately yielded a 60/40 racial and ethnic breakdown similar to that of the US. “We didn’t want to end up in a situation where there was anyone who felt like they had to speak for a group,” adds Koenig.
Students who participated in the seminar were prompted to share reflections about when they first began to understand their racial identity, as well as “past experiences talking about race, and hopes and concerns for the class.” Anne Kramer, MBA ’18, offers, “We were there to understand differences and then have a dialogue about them.”
As someone who identifies as both black and Pacific Islander, Erin Gums, MBA ’18, and VP of Diversity of the MBA Association, explains that she had “thought about and talked about race her entire life—but was not having those conversations with her white peers.”
“Issues of race and racism are so complex and messy—there’s no one approach or one good way to solve it. If it were that simple we would have figured it out by now. There are many roles we need people to play to address systemic issues,” Gums said.
She adds, “I have chosen to be in the business world and be a business leader, and I have chosen to play a role in pushing for a less racist society. My fluency with these topics is going to be greater than that of people who have just started thinking about these issues for the first time in their lives, and that’s okay.”
Adrian Williams, MBA ’18, remarked on the evolution of the seminar’s goals over the ten-week span. “At first it was giving people practical, tactical tools on how to attack issues of diversity and inclusion outside of the classroom. Over time, we realized some of the issues were a lot more nuanced than we thought. It also became apparent that I had some blind spots that required me to think through some of my arguments.”
Of the seminar’s overarching goals, Chitale concludes, “Businesses have power and influence in society. If we can get business leaders to be open and vulnerable on ideas of identity and power and privilege, I truly believe that’s going to have an impact on society.”