Three ECs report on their experience of being part of the pioneering Dean’s Anti-Racism Taskforce (DART).
The murder of George Floyd sparked national outrage and critical conversations about race and systematic racism in the U.S over the summer. It was also a wake-up call for HBS to put renewed focus on addressing racial equity “both within and beyond the School.” The Dean’s Anti-Racism Taskforce (DART)—co-chaired by HBS Chief Information Officer Ron Chandler, Senior Associate Dean for Community and Culture Jan Hammond, and Senior Associate Dean and Chair of the MBA Program Jan Rivkin—was launched on July 1 to put focus and resources towards four key areas: advancing anti-racism education and research, supporting the School’s Black community, engaging the broader business community, and changing HBS’ culture and organization. The Taskforce comprises a group of 25 faculty, staff, students, and alumni who are passionate about advancing racial equity and inclusion. On September 23, the DART unveiled their inaugural Action Plan for Racial Equity. Alexis Jackson, Cathy Basquel, and Justin Crist Lee (MBAs ’21) share their experience of being part of the DART since summer.
Alexis Jackson, African American Student Union (AASU) Co-President
After the slaying of George Floyd, the two other AASU co-presidents, Bukie Adebo and Aaron Hancock, and I, met frequently as we struggled to determine how we could best wield our positions and influence to create progress for the Black community, especially within our sphere of influence at HBS. As we devised our strategy, the HBS administration was a helpful collaborator and worked with us to strategize a meaningful path forward. This initial brainstorming manifested with AASU’s series of Letters to Our Classmates and Letter to Corporate Leaders, and eventually, HBS expanded upon our initial pillars and ideas to create the Dean’s Anti-Racism Taskforce (DART).
On the taskforce, I was assigned to the workstream focused on student experience. Personally, I was pleased with the recommendations our workstream developed. These recommendations include initiatives to not only attract Black talent but also ensure the school is not perpetuating the pervasive racial wealth gap in this country. During regular full taskforce meetings, I listened as other workstreams discussed their ideas and recommendations. The energy of everyone involved, along with the boldness of recommendations, was encouraging.
After many calls and a substantial amount of work to integrate the recommendations of all the workstreams, the initiatives were officially released through the Action Plan for Racial Equity. As I read through the publicized verbiage, I was disappointed to see less pronounced and less clear language. I witnessed my classmates’ (rightful) skepticism of the not-as-bold-as-expected action plan, and I see their skepticism as not only valid but also encouraging. A plan without execution is pointless. While I am pleased that HBS has taken the first step in putting forth a plan, I encourage everyone reading to hold HBS accountable. We should continue to request that the school provide metrics and publicize their progress. This is no different than how we would hold any institution responsible.
Lastly, I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge the recent Dean appointment. This was a golden opportunity for HBS to rethink its century-long aversion to underrepresented minorities at the highest levels of leadership in the institution. The Dean is a role that has never been filled by a Black, LatinX, or woman candidate in the school’s history. At what point will HBS elevate minority talent to the highest positions of its own institution?
Cathy Basquel, Section A Senator, Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Committee Lead
When I was asked to be part of the taskforce in June, I felt more than a little under-qualified to join the team. In parallel, I was somewhat apprehensive that the initiative could be just a reactive, temporary proposal—something that the school felt they “should” do. I was assigned to the business community engagement work-stream who met weekly. If I were to sum up the conversations, I would say that we tried to think big and creatively; however, we all acknowledged that we were somewhat weary of prescribing advice to businesses on how to best engage on Anti-Racism issues when HBS previously had failed in a number of ways. While views diverged on what areas to focus on, I did feel every voice was listened to within my sub-team. When the Plan was released, I did think some dilution had occurred in the wording of what my workstream had set out to achieve. This was a little disappointing even if it was for practical reasons.
The biggest thing that will stay with me from the taskforce experience is how engaged my Section (A) has been throughout. Since the release of the action plan in September, my Section’s enthusiasm to figure out how we as students can be involved in shaping the initiatives within the plan, has been inspiring. In the short term, we hope to assist with the curriculum, teaching and black student representation in the MBA program. In my opinion, one of the most important next steps is to figure out how the entire student body can get involved in shaping and furthering the ambitious goals of the Action Plan and creating a collective sense of success. Due to the involvement of senior leadership at HBS and commitments around funding and human capital resources, I am cautiously optimistic about future progress. With the help of Section A, I hope to continue to be involved this year in translating the Plan’s goals into smaller tangible actions. I still feel under-qualified but I think that is a feeling widely shared and I hope it does not hold us back.
Justin Crist Lee, MBA DEI Council Co-Lead
I approached my role as a student member of the Dean’s Anti-Racism Taskforce with cautious optimism. As a student leader already involved in the space, I was simultaneously excited and weary—excited at the timely opportunity to push through meaningful structural changes but also weary of getting caught up in the potential mire of another taskforce creating another set of recommendations that might sit unused on the proverbial shelf.
When the taskforce kicked off, I continued to feel torn. Many of the recommendations were the same as what student leaders, both past and present, had been asking for for years. But this was also met with a new sense of commitment from leadership, and an emerging vigor from allies who had come out of the woodwork. “Will this time be different?” I asked myself.
Throughout the summer, we battled in the trenches of strategic approach, policy, and language. How could I be sure to meaningfully move the line? How could I be sure to make a difference?
Perhaps it is my nature, but today I remain the same: cautiously optimistic. I am hopeful about the meaningful and expansive recommendations put forth by the taskforce. I am proud of the discussions we had as a group and appreciative of the sweat equity invested by those around me. But I also know that this is where the real work begins. Commitment, implementation, and continuous self-improvement are the unsung heroes of change.
From this experience, I have also emerged with a deep appreciation for the complexity of this work and the skill required to make structural change within higher education. However, really moving the line and actually making a difference takes more than a taskforce and its recommendations. It will require something from each and every one of us.
Alexis Jackson (MBA ’21) worked as an engineer with an oil and gas company prior to HBS. She is one of the current co-presidents for the African American Student Union (AASU). As a co-president, she has served as a member on the DEI (Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion) council and the Dean’s Anti-Racism Taskforce (DART). Outside of AASU leadership, she also serves on section leadership.
Cathy Basquel (MBA ’21) worked in Real Estate Private Equity in London prior to HBS. She is an EC Senator and leads the DEI Senate committee which aims to connect DEI initiatives between HBS administration, the Student Association and the DEI Council. Outside of the Senate, she is part of the Energy & Environment Club.
Justin Lee (MBA ’21) came to HBS after five years in the consumer financial services industry. He serves as the Co-Lead for the DEI Council, a coalition of student leaders from historically under-represented minorities on campus. Members advocate for progress on matters of diversity, equity, and inclusion through direct engagement with the administration.