In this edition of Fridays from the Frontline, learn more about building and maintaining a sense of community in business school. Northwestern Kellogg MBA student, Ayyub Bokhari, shares how he was inspired to bring together fellow classmates and continue those connections during COVID-19.
Chai Night: Giving People the Right to Go Second
By Ayyub Bokhari (2Y 2020)
Last year around mid-February, internship recruiting for the vast majority of our class was coming to an end. Not only did it mark a huge milestone for us, but it was the first time since we entered the doors of the Global Hub that we were able to pick our heads up and take an inventory of our Kellogg experience thus far. As I began reconnecting with my classmates outside of the coffee chats, networking events and IPG meetings that had become the norm, I was hearing echoes of the same concerns: “More than half of the first year is over and I don’t feel like I know our class very well” or “I feel like I can’t meet new people without loud music and drinking games being involved.”
At the same time, I had just begun taking Dr. Nicholas Pearce’s Managing and Leading Diverse Organizations course. By encouraging vulnerability and empathy, Dr. Pearce allowed us to criticize certain experiences, but always ended with, “So what are you going to do about it?” That question remained with me as I thought of my classmates’ concerns. At the same time, Dr. Pearce emphasized building community and advocating for others by “giving others the right to go second.” Or, in other words, community and change can only be created if you lead by example and invite others in. From there (and after buy-in from my roommate, Poju Adenariwo), I was inspired to create Chai Night.
Removing barriers from the community
Chai Night is a weekly gathering of 10-15 Kellogg students and JVs where we discuss topics over a cup of chai at my apartment. The goal of Chai Night is to give people the opportunity to build relationships of depth through conversations of depth. There are no set topics as I ask two attendees, at random, to come prepared with a question they would like to ask the group to get the conversation started. Topics have ranged from “evolving relationships with parents as they age” to “things that people always assume about you that are wrong.” From there, we let the conversation unfold organically and before you know it, more than two hours have passed and new friendships have sparked. After the night is over, it is the responsibility of the attendees to invite the next group.
To date, I have held over 30 Chai Nights and have had over 300 attendees and counting. Vulnerability and free flowing conversation have allowed every Chai Night to take on a personality of its own. Every week, I meet someone new or learn something new and my appreciation for our community grows deeper. Through the concept of giving people the right to go second and creating a space that people can be themselves, the richness of the Kellogg community has come to the forefront.
What Chai Night has taught me
Chai Night will be something I remember forever as the highlight of my Kellogg experience. It has taught me that humanity has a huge appetite for connection. In the unprecedented times we are facing today with COVID-19, Chai Nights have continued virtually and it is has become increasingly clear that human connection is a vehicle for hope. Chai Night has also taught me that diversity and inclusion is intentional and when people who aren’t typically in the same social circles interact, the ground covered is second to none. Chai Night has taught me that making it okay for people to express their opinions makes them feel like they are a part of a community and encourages them to do more. It has taught me that a simple gesture like serving a homemade cup of chai can make a person feel that you care for them. It has taught me that listening is a gift. Most importantly, Chai Night has taught me that people are nuanced and fascinating, but seldom do they have a space to feel seen and heard.
Passing the torch
When Kellogg advertises themselves as having a “student-led” culture, they weren’t kidding. It can be challenging, exhausting and uncomfortable to start a tradition or event – especially when you have to do the organizing, marketing and delivery yourself. But, I hope Chai Night serves as a reminder that sharing an experience as effortless as a cup of chai can create waves. I am not saying everyone needs to invite 10-15 strangers into their apartment every week, but I am sure many of us can find ways to create a space for others in whatever ways they are most comfortable with. In our short time at Kellogg, we are undoubtedly around some of the most fascinating people. It would be a tragedy if we didn’t get to feel it.
There will definitely be barriers, but Dr. Pearce’s remarks are a great starting point: “So, what are you going to do about it?” and “Give others the right to go second.”
Thank you to all those who have been a part or will be a part of Chai Night! My two years at Kellogg would’ve been vastly different without you!