In a Harbus article printed September 19, 1968, Leroy Willis, one of the “Founding Five” African American students who established AASU, enumerated several reasons that such an organization was needed. Recruiting and retaining black students and increasing the relevance of the curriculum to help address societal problems were top priorities, but he states that “the basic reason that AASU came into being was the real need for black students to have a forum for exploring and discussing issues that are of special concern to us because of our unique position.”
Though such a notion sounds completely reasonable now, as rumors circulated on campus about the creation of a radical black organization, many people felt threatened. The following letter to the editor was published in the Harbus in response to the Willis article referenced above:
“An Angry Open Letter to a Black Militant”
Well, Roy, here I am back from my summer job and I see that you have blown it all. There you were, well on your way toward becoming a successful white middle-class businessman, and you’ve blown it all.
Shame on you! Why, I know lots of guys at the B-School who were almost ready to refer to you as “one of my best friends” before your article in the August 8 HarBus News. But give you people an inch…!
Well, it is hard to see what is to be gained by letting any more of you black people into the school if you are not going to play by the rules. Why can’t you just keep you mouth shut and think white thoughts until you’ve got a comfortable upper-middle class strategy you an sleep with and defend.
You can say “sell-out” but God!, man, when I think of the nice life you’re passing up by your rash action….
I hope you get a kick out of saying the things that have occupied your mind and troubled your heart for the better part of a year. I guess I figured you would sooner or later when I thought about it during all the silent times.
But don’t come looking for sympathy when you’re out catfishing and I swamp your rowboat with the wake from my new Chris-Craft. Or when I don’t invite you over to watch the Rose Bowl Parade on my new color TV. And eat your heart out when you see all the other goodies that I’m gonna get.
Christ Almighty! Man, don’t you know which way is up?
Do you want to eat chitlins and drive a used car all your life?
It’s important to be reminded of how far we-all of us here at HBS-have come.
Since its establishment 34 years ago, the Association of African American Students (AASU) has become one of Harvard Business School’s most active organizations. AASU seeks to build community among the African American students, and hosts an annual fall retreat to help members get to know one another. This year, mixers with alumni and Executive Education participants and a career panel for area undergraduates broadened this community even further, and a short documentary entitled “Transformation” documents the perspectives of several African American alumni on their HBS experience. AASU also works with the Latino organization HOLA and the Admissions Office to plan and execute Prospective Student Days in the spring and fall for African American and Latino candidates. The organization serves as a link between potential employers and students of color through career fairs and corporate fireside chats.
Perhaps most importantly, AASU is committed to community service. Two major initiatives are volunteer tutoring at Martin Luther King Elementary School and the first-ever AASU book drive in support of a local Boys and Girls Club (in partnership with the HBA African American Alumni Association). The latter has been extremely successful, with more than 600 books valued at more than $3000 purchased for the Club.
This commitment to giving back doesn’t end at graduation. In 2000, alumni and friends of Harvard Business School established the H. Naylor Fitzhugh Professorship of Business Administration, Harvard’s first in honor of an African American. One of the goals of the professorship is to attract faculty whose research and teaching interests are focused on the African American experience. Dr. David A. Thomas was named the first Fitzhugh Professor in 2000.
The African American Student Union has proven itself a dynamic organization dedicated to enriching the HBS experience for black students as well as the larger HBS community.