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Letters from the Deans: George Floyd, Community & Calls to Action

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The death of George Floyd in Minneapolis has sparked a national revolution, as people in every state take to the streets in protest, demanding systemic changes to ensure justice and equality.  Business school deans have reached out to their school communities, expressing grief and anger as well as delivering calls to action. We’ve collected excerpts of some of their messages below.

Yale SOM Seeks to End the Cycle

Dean of the Yale School of Management, Kerwin K. Charles, wrote,

“Dear Yale SOM Community:

“The killing of Mr. George Floyd, an African American man, by the Minnesota police has shocked and deeply angered me, as it has doubtless done to you. This event is, alas, but the most recent installment in a regrettable catalog of black men meeting violent deaths at the hands of those sworn to protect and serve them. The litany of these occurrences spans good and bad economic times, cuts across Democratic and Republican administrations, and respects no regional boundaries. Without a video recording, this event may well have followed another familiar pattern: a focus in the public discourse on the alleged precipitating actions of the victim (forever unable to defend himself), and skepticism or outright disbelief towards those who suggest wrongdoing inspired by racism on the part of the police.

“To the anxieties that lead virtually all of the black families I know, including my own, to preach to their children, and especially their sons, the need for extreme caution when interacting with the police, is thus added frustration from the indignity of not having those fears understood or even believed. There is no gainsaying the video evidence of what happened to Mr. Floyd. Seeing the callous brutality of the act, the cavalier disregarding of his pleas for help, and the failure of multiple officers to intervene has helped us all to understand and believe. It has also enkindled righteous anger, not only in the black community but also among a broad cross-section of Americans repulsed by this event and by what it reveals about the policing experienced by many of their African American fellow citizens.

“These feelings have found admirable expression in a wave of massive, multi-racial, and impassioned protests against police misconduct across the entire country. I think I speak for us all when I say that we at SOM affirm the pain that causes so many to gather and collectively raise their voices against racial injustice. Further, consistent with our distinctive mission, I believe that we are motivated by their example to work to help eradicate the structures of racialized bias and power that give rise to injustice. Some work before each of us must occur in our private lives as citizens and neighbors and friends. In the professional sphere, management and leadership skills of the sort developed at SOM will be essential for reforming police departments and to identify and empower good police officers. This repeating cycle of societal pain must end, and I have every confidence that we will do our part to bring that about.”

NYU Stern Outlines Plans; Dean Emeritus Speaks, Too

The leadership team at NYU Stern, including Dean Raghu Sundaram, posted the following:

“Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd… the names represent the senseless continuation of a devastating pattern in the United States. Like many of you, we watched the videos of Ahmaud Arbery’s and George Floyd’s last moments and read of Breonna Taylor’s killing with horror. We cannot find adequate words to describe our revulsion and anger at these occurrences. And yet these are only the latest acts of inhumanity in a history of dehumanizing Black lives that stretches back decades and centuries.

“To the members of the Black community at Stern, most of us cannot fully comprehend what each of you may be experiencing—pain, suffering, anxiety, concerns for individual and community safety. We want you to know that we see you. We hear you. We stand in solidarity with you. And we are alongside you to dialogue, to offer support, and to serve as allies.

“…Any action we take must be grounded in truth, no matter how unpleasant. So we will begin with a long, hard, critical look in the mirror, to identify what biases might persist in ourselves and our community. As a first step in this process, the Stern Leadership Team will go through an assessment (the Intercultural Development Inventory) that looks at how we work with those who are different from us. We will then expand it to all corners of the School: faculty, administrators, staff, and students.

“Longer term, Gary Fraser, Associate Dean for Diversity and Inclusion, has been actively working with program leaders and teams of students to develop program-specific, holistic strategies for diversity and inclusion programming (curricular, co-curricular, and extra-curricular) that begin before orientation and run through graduation and beyond. We expect to begin implementing those plans across programs this summer. More information will follow for everyone.”

Dean Emeritus of NYU Stern, Peter Henry, also shared his thoughts:

HBS Seeks More Just & Inclusive Society

In a letter to the Harvard Business School community, Dean Nitin Nohria wrote:

“This is a tragic and difficult time for the United States, and we can hope that it may prove a turning point. Unfortunately, it is not an isolated moment. Over the last year, we also have witnessed horrific acts targeting people who are Jewish, Latinx, and Asian. Worldwide we have seen people targeted for their race, their ethnicity, their gender, their religion, their sexual orientation, and more.

“Our mission at Harvard Business School is to educate leaders who make a difference in the world. As members of the Harvard community, we are uniquely positioned: we have access to people and resources that can help us learn more deeply about the history of racism and oppression. We have platforms through which we can engage and elevate the voices of those who are hurting. We can put our weight behind organizations that propel racial progress. We must not merely hope for change, but dedicate ourselves to bringing it about.

“In normal times we would be gathering as a community in solidarity. This ability, like so many other aspects of our lives, is altered by the pandemic, and so instead I am writing to you today to ask: although we can’t come together in person now, let’s nonetheless join together in recommitting ourselves to creating a more just and inclusive society, here at HBS and beyond.”

Educating Leaders of Society at Stanford GSB

In a message titled, “Minneapolis and Our Country,” Stanford GSB Philip H. Knight Professor and Dean Jon Levin wrote:

“…I, like countless others, was horrified by the video of George Floyd pinned to the ground, pleading for help. In the face of these events, we feel powerless, exhausted, and consumed with anger. But we must not give in to despair, or as Robert Kennedy said on the night of Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination, to the hatred and distrust we feel in our hearts in the face of injustice.

“Instead, we can take this as a call to action in our own community… Now is a time for all of us to use our voices and talents to help move the country forward… Business can be a powerful force for change. Business leaders can point the way for others, including in areas that matter for equity: wages, benefits, diversity in leadership roles, and governance. I am confident that our students who graduate this June will work against injustice and help their organizations serve as forces for positive change. As they depart, let us renew our institutional commitment to educating not just leaders of organizations, but leaders for society.”

Commitment to Change at Chicago Booth

Dean of Chicago Booth, Madhav Rajan, wrote to the Booth community:

“Over the past week, students, alumni, faculty, staff, and members of our Booth community have been expressing their pain and grief over the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis and other racially motivated events. I share your feelings of anger and frustration. Racism of any kind has no place in our society. I vehemently reject discrimination and prejudice. I also understand I must listen to our Booth community and continue to create a space where leadership, faculty, students, alumni, and staff can have open dialogues. Ask the tough and uncomfortable questions. Accept and own constructive feedback.

“Last week, our leadership team had conversations with various members from the Booth community, including our African American MBA Association, alumni, staff, and other student groups to address this important issue. I am listening—we are listening. This open dialogue is one of many opportunities to learn and grow. To put forth ideas and actions that will help us heal.

“Chicago Booth could not be the school it is today without a community of diverse opinions and backgrounds. I also acknowledge we need to continue to learn – that we don’t have all of the answers, that we can do more. There is work to be done, in particular with the African American community, which is working against longstanding inequalities and privilege. As we continue to listen, learn, and educate, I am committed to leading a collective change within Booth and our community, and hopefully our nation.”

Compassion and Leadership at Wharton

Following a statement from Wharton’s African American MBA Association (AAMBAA), Dean Geoff Garrett emailed alumni:

“Their [AAMBAA] words clearly give voice to intense feelings many of our black students and alumni feel today — and have been feeling for a long time — as part of the charged and fraught relationship between themselves and society at large. I cannot pretend to know the depth of these feelings firsthand, nor just how deeply they affect a person’s ability to cope and react to the seemingly daily reality of horrific new events. Words cannot express how profoundly saddened I am that African-Americans, and people from other racial, ethnic, and religious groups, are systematically marginalized and routinely subjected to racism, all the more so when this threatens their lives and their livelihoods.

“As we work towards finding a path to a more just, humane, and respectful future for us all, I want to add my personal support of our students as they call for our community’s support and action. Leadership is an integral part of Wharton. It is inherent in our teaching, important for our research, centrally motivating to our students and alumni, and intrinsic to our mission to make the world a better place. Leaders are made in times such as these. We cannot guarantee the root-and-branch changes to society we desperately seek. But we can, and we must, stand and act side-by-side with everyone affected by injustice everywhere.

“May we begin by offering our compassion to everyone hurt by the deep ills in society and then do all we can to ensure that the injustices eloquently and passionately expressed by our students become the exception and not the norm.”

Push for Inclusion from UVA Darden

As early as May 31, Dean Scott Beardsley of UVA Darden sent the following message to community members:

“Within an already challenging context, I write to you this weekend with a heavy heart as we watch events unfold across the world.

“This week, the unjust death of George Floyd in Minneapolis — symbolic of the ongoing killing of and discrimination against black people and other minorities in the history of this country — has sparked more than 75 protests across the U.S., and global rallies in London, Berlin and Toronto. Some of the protests have unfortunately resulted in violence; others, like the one here in Charlottesville yesterday afternoon, have been peaceful.

“At this time, it is important that we be clear: We at the University of Virginia Darden School of Business condemn racism in all its forms. Critical to our mission to inspire responsible leaders is the value of an inclusive community that enables its global and diverse members to collaborate and excel. That value is more important now than ever…

“The events this week and of the past few months remind us that we must come together — across all walks of life — to make the world a better place. At times like these, many may feel overwhelmed, anxious, grief-stricken, powerless, lonely, frustrated, exasperated and/or angry. (*Please see resources for mental health and well-being below.) While it may not be in our power to change the United States’ and the world’s problems overnight, it is possible for each and every one of us to make a difference. We at Darden are privileged to work and study at one of the world’s greatest universities, and must consider how we will make a difference in the world by being responsible leaders. We don’t get to choose our context, but each of us does have the freedom — indeed, the responsibility — to determine how we live our lives and act in response to life’s circumstances. When it comes to living our values of a diverse and inclusive community, we each have the chance to choose: love over hate; unity over exclusion; assumption of positive intent over accusation; problem solving over indifference; and defining the future over being defined by the past. While we live in a world of great uncertainty, we can be certain of one thing: racism is not the solution to our world’s problems.”

See additional messages: UCLA Anderson shared “The Pain Behind the Protests,” and Cornell Johnson posted about their commitment as well.

Lauren Wakal
Lauren Wakal has been covering the MBA admissions space for more than a decade, from in-depth business school profiles to weekly breaking news and more.