Graduate Blog / Graduate Life

Babson Breaking Barriers: How Two Students Started a Tradition

Flora & Mark
Flora and Mark celebrating the successful completion of the forum!

Long before the poll results were announced, before our students began to rally behind one another to recover from an election gone wrong, two of our very own were planning an event that would disrupt “business as usual” here on campus – in the best way possible.

Flora Ekpe-Idang and Mark Gagliardi, both full-time students in the second year of the MBA program here at Babson College, had been working on creating Babson’s first-ever Adversity in Diversity Forum. The event was a collaboration (Babson’s specialty!) between the Black MBA Association (Flora, President) and OUT Network (Mark, President). An idea that initially sparked in the Spring in light of a Signature Learning Experience (SLE) and an undergraduate student petition on diversity and inclusion, this forum involved sensitive topics and difficult questions that often get swept under the rug in business schools. Topics included any kind of “ism” you can think of: from the misconceptions of immigrants, to sexual identity in the workplace, to the widening wage gap, why black lives matter, and why companies should care about all of this.

Countless hours of work had culminated in an event that exceeded even the highest expectations of its creators. And at the debrief meeting, Mark kicked it off by shouting “We started the diversity forum!” And we all applauded.

Flora & Jennifer

Flora with keynote speaker, Jennifer Gilhool

But this was no easy feat. Mark & Flora used all of their resources – all of their entrepreneurial spirit – to pull this event together with help from other student clubs and campus departments. Flora even tweeted to Jennifer Gilhool to get her attention, and she ended up being the forum’s keynote! They garnered over 20 speakers from around the country who were active and involved in their respective areas of passion. Flora said it best when she described the energy at the event: “The panelists were on fire!”

And throughout the day, attendees were encouraged to share their thoughts through several different outlets, including social media, written reflections, and text-to-poll platforms. Flora and Mark wanted to ensure that everyone felt their voice was heard.

But even among the celebration, the hugs, the hopes for future dialogue to come, there was a somber undertone to our discussion. With the political tidal wave that had washed over us all, many of us were unsure of where our country stood and what the future of this forum looked like. I can’t echo Mark’s comments enough. Now, more than ever, we need to have our voices heard. We need to stand together in solidarity. We need to support one another. “We are at a time right now where we cannot drop the ball. We need to bring it to light.”

We will not let the words and actions of a few taint the solidarity of the many. We will stand tall, proud of our school, and proud of each other. Flora summed it up well when she reiterated the purpose of their efforts:

“I want to make this something where people can feel free to speak their mind and we can talk it through. Everybody should be able to speak freely.”

Stay tuned for more diversity discussions to come. They are, now more than ever, the most important conversations we’ll ever have.