Growing up as the granddaughter of a Holocaust survivor, I was acutely aware of what happens when individuals with privilege don’t speak up for what is right. Throughout my life, I’ve often thought about what my grandfather felt about his non-Jewish friends as he and his parents were forced to leave Germany with no telling of what stood before them. And I knew in this moment, as people I deeply cared about were being actively persecuted (as they have continued to be over the past 400 years), I needed to show up using my privilege as a white woman (while respecting and being sensitive to the pain and experiences of my Black classmates) to enact change in my circle of influence: the Fuqua community.
Following the murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, and in the wake of protests across the country, I reached out to my Black classmates who were disappointed in the lack of outward empathy and action by our peers. As I sat with this reaction, I thought about the words of one of my favorite Jewish philosophers, Abraham Joshua Heschel: “In a free society where terrible wrongs exist some are guilty but all are responsible.”
Much of the success of many U.S. institutions (in business, government, science, medicine, and education) can be attributed to the enslavement of Africans brought here against their will to work. While slavery was abolished in the U.S. following the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, institutional racism has resulted in the systematic disadvantaging of Black people and other people of color ever since. In the words of Heschel: generations of, “terrible wrongs”.
So as we sat with the question of what to do with our responsibility, my classmates and I banded together to create a student-led initiative in an effort to develop anti-racist businesses. Our aim was to create a safe space for our classmates to reflect on the ways in which they had propagated racism within the institutions they were a part of, as well as learn how they could show up as advocates and allies going forward. Given the global nature of the Global Executive MBA program, it was important that the curriculum be accessible to our classmates around the world, (in China, South America, and beyond) and support them in applying these lessons in their communities at home.
The result was the development of our Building Anti-Racist Business (BARB) program, which was built off of some of the ideas of Building Anti-Racist White Educators, a national organization based in Philadelphia, supporting the grassroots development of anti-racist educators. BARB was developed on the notion that it is up to us, current and future leaders of business and commerce, to shape the future strategies that will lead to a more fair, inclusive, and diverse workplace and broader inclusivity and fairness in the markets.
We brought together classmates for four sessions which forced us to identify and challenge implicit biases in our own practice, support colleagues of color in building anti-racist workplaces, and educate, engage and empower those around us. With the support of the program staff and Fuqua’s Office of Community Engagement and Inclusion, we met with dozens of peers around the world. Each week, we would read, listen to, and watch materials, hear testimonials from students within our group, and reflect on how we were processing the ability to show up and take responsibility.
While we all acknowledged that the work we did will not create change immediately, it enabled us to be a part of the important work being led by Dean Bill Boulding and Fuqua’s Racial Equity Working Group (REWG). Similarly inspired, some of our classmates developed Building Anti-Sexist Business (BASB), applying a similar model to reflect on how we change business to support gender equality.
As I graduated from Fuqua earlier this year, I was grateful to the administration and my classmates for joining me to right terrible wrongs, and am humbled to have witnessed Team Fuqua show up to support the global fight to bring about real change and develop more inclusive and equitable business globally.