Facing Race, at school and work
Post by Carly Moore, class of 2015.
After four years, Babson students can expect to find themselves transformed by an education that challenges the ways they think about business, culture and society. Along with their degree, Babson graduates should emerge with a greater awareness for both the self and others, ready to gracefully tackle the biggest problems facing society and business. Supposedly, they are ready for the world.
That’s what I had been conditioned to expect — and for the most part, Babson had delivered. By the beginning of my senior year I had worked with major corporations and tiny startups, traveled all over the world, and taken a wide range of intensive courses in liberal arts. But there was one huge facet of current events that I hadn’t yet come across in my formal education, which was modern race issues in the United States.
The first time I started paying attention to race was the summer of 2014, because Michael Brown was shot to death in Ferguson and national media covered the following uproar. From the polarized conversations happening on TV, I couldn’t understand why a single man’s death ignited this firestorm of protests on local and national levels. I felt sheltered, uninformed, and disconnected from how these issues played out in people’s lives, mostly from the inherent consequence of my geographic location. I grew up in rural northern Michigan, where the vast majority people are white. Babson College was far more diverse than where I grew up, but the percentage of black students still tops out at only 5%.
While Ferguson dealt with the chaos of protests, riots and managing media, I was taking advantage of a lazy summer at home before my senior year began. Extra free time became dedicated to reading everything I could find about what was happening — news articles, blog posts, even full books. I learned about discriminatory practices that had persisted well beyond the civil rights movement, ways their effects compounded over time in a self-perpetuating cycle, and how people are still fighting for changes today. The gaps I uncovered in my knowledge left me infuriated with myself, my education, and society as a whole. I was ashamed at my ignorance, confused as to why I hadn’t learned about racial justice issues like redlining and mass incarceration sooner, and determined to take responsibility for my own education beyond the classroom.
At that point, I was getting ready to go back to school and pondering both how to learn more and identify appropriate ways to help beyond my own self-educated bubble. I wanted to avoid unwitting complicity in structural racism, and I also wanted to seek ways I could engage others who might be timidly holding back from joining the conversation. By reaching out to the Glavin Office of Diversity & Inclusion, I was able to partner with Katrina Fludd, Babson’s Manager of Multicultural Programs. As an alumna herself Katrina is intimately familiar with the historical lack of dialogue about race on campus and passionate about working with students on these issues.
Katrina and I attended Facing Race, a bi-annual racial justice conference in Dallas, Texas put on by Race Forward: The Center for Racial Justice Innovation last November. The inclusive, collaborative conference offered hundreds of workshops, presentations and panels from experts in their field on a wide range of race-related topics. The diverse crowd of attendees spanned occupations, from students like myself to educators and political organizers, leaders from media and business, writers, artists and more. Through the lens of racial justice, I learned about issues like internet freedom and censorship, drug laws and minimum sentencing requirements, and historical legacies of black Southern culture. I was blown away by the energy, passion, and fierceness of everyone there fighting for equality in their own specific niche, yet supporting each other in this movement. Still feeling like an outsider and bombarded with new ideas, I quietly absorbed every interaction like a sponge. I felt most inspired in ways to exercise my own impact during a session on organizing white people in support of racial justice.
The Facing Race conference was the beginning of a much larger shift for me, with lessons I’m still learning and applying in my postgraduate life. Now that I live in San Francisco and work in the tech industry, I have the opportunity to affect change in my new community and organizations. Tech has arguably created better workplaces in some ways – I am lucky to appreciate perks like greater flexibility and unlimited time off in my role now. Yet the industry remains at the center of criticism towards workplace diversity issues. Many other Babson alumni like myself will also go on to industries and positions where they’ll find choices between maintaining an imbalanced and unjust status quo or making deliberate changes that contribute to greater equality. The choices may not be obvious, and they will likely be complex and difficult. That is why we need to have more meaningful engagement on campus about these issues before students move on to the workforce and beyond.
My biggest motivation to open myself to the world came from a sheer refusal to remain passively ignorant any longer. I would ask everyone in the Babson community to look around for a fresh perspective on racial justice from new voices, challenge internal biases in themselves and others, and seek ways to have respectful conversations advancing today’s race issues. It’s important to pause and think about who’s not in the room, whose voices aren’t being heard, and why. This conversation is not only for those who feel adverse effects directly, but a human conversation we owe to each other, a conversation in which we all have so much to gain.