In recent weeks, a “Petition for Babson College Faculty, Staff, and Administration” has circulated among students. After making the rounds on social media, it was distributed to all undergraduate students through an email from the Student Government Association. A response to recent events regarding race relations at other schools, it has met strong public support. Yet however admirable the push for diversity and inclusion is, important points have been overlooked.
Before anything else, I must commend the authors for their accomplishment. Compared to other schools, Babson does not often engage in campus-wide discussions. The authors managed to leverage current events to promote change, and, no matter how I feel about their specific propositions, I’m glad to be having the conversation.
In discussing this petition, we must first define diversity. This is its first failing; despite advocating “diversity and inclusiveness,” it does not specify what these mean.
There are a few ways to measure Babson’s diversity. First of all, there are the traditional means: the percentage of each race, gender, nationality, sexual orientation, and so on represented on campus. According to Babson’s website, the Class of 2018 features 31 percent multicultural students, 25 percent international students, 43 countries represented, and 29 languages spoken. Overlooking the peculiar classification “multicultural,” and assuming everyone not “multicultural” at Babson is white, we are left with a 69 percent white population.
The percentage of bachelor’s degrees conferred to white American college graduates in 2013 was 67.3 percent, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. This means that Babson’s diversity is, at least in this narrow sense, almost exactly representative of college graduates.
These, of course, are just surface measures. The type of diversity that really matters—the type that enriches us all—is diversity of experiences. So, to what extent are all types of diversity supported at Babson?
Well: Babson has a Diversity and Inclusion Council. Babson employs a Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer. Babson has Community Unity Educators. Babson has Origins of Necessary Equality and PRIDE Tower. Babson features Multicultural Fairs, AMAN shows, and Black Affinity Conferences. Babson celebrates Martin Luther King Jr. Legacy Day, Black History Month, and Coming Out Week. Babson is home to the Babson Asian Pacific Student Organization, the Babson African Student Organization, Babson Hillel, the Association of Latino Professionals in Finance & Accounting, and the Black Student Union. Babson holds weekly Catholic masses, Shabbat dinners, and Muslim prayer services. Babson awards full- and half-tuition Diversity Leadership Awards and honorary Pride Awards.
Babson offers courses on Hinduism and Buddhism, Arabic Cinema and Culture, Critical Race Studies, South Asian History, African Diaspora Studies, and African American Literature. Many FYS courses discuss diversity, and certain Rhetoric II courses center on race relations in America.
President Healey sent out a special message detailing her thoughts on a Babson Intercultural Group meeting she attended in the wake of Mizzou and outlining her commitment to diversity.
In the event that a hate crime is perpetrated, Babson has a detailed Bias Incident Report Protocol and a Bias Incident Response Team. Thankfully, it has not seen much use. In 2013 and 2014, “no hate crimes were reported for any of the following categories of prejudice: race, gender identity, national origin, religion, ethnicity, disability, or sexual orientation,” according to annual Public Safety reports.
Babson has a gold STARS rating, for which it received perfect scores in the subcategories “Diversity and Equity Coordination,” “Support for Underrepresented Groups,” and “Support for Future Faculty Diversity.”
An early November draft of Babson’s new Academic Master Plan, composed before this petition, calls for faculty to “promote diversity, inclusion and integrity across campus,” and includes actionable suggestions.
Yet the petition states, bafflingly: “We want diversity and inclusion at Babson to be a reality, not a brand.” To me, it could not be clearer that Babson celebrates and practices diversity of every type.
I’m not saying “mission accomplished,” nor am I denying the experiences of any individual. I am, however, emphatically rejecting the premise of the petition. Diversity and inclusion at Babson may not be perfect, but the school’s commitment certainly doesn’t “ring false.”
The Free Press’ most recent editorial explained the dangers of conflating Mizzou and Yale. In the petition’s first paragraph, it does just that—then, discursively, brings in Babson. To conflate Mizzou and Yale is tragic enough; to sloppily commingle Mizzou with Babson is offensive in both directions.
Babson’s commitment to diversity is part of why it’s a great school, and part of why I love it. I’ve tasted authentic Korean food prepared by my tower-mates, studied and discussed race relations with classmates, and listened to the experiences of my friends or their relatives, about Mexico or Dubai or Ghana. These are the fruits of true diversity: an expansion of one’s worldview that leads to greater empathy. Inclusion is about appreciating our differences, and Babson affords priceless opportunities to do so.
It is impossible to fault the authors’ intentions. Diversity and inclusion are not just virtues; for an institution that prides itself on a quality education, they are necessary commitments. But it is equally impossible to overlook the petition’s faulty premise and sweeping demands, both of which prove untenable.
“So what?” one might say. “What could be the harm in raising awareness?” Nothing at all. But the petition makes specific demands, some of which would be detrimental if adopted.
First of all, it requests that diversity be “embedded in everything from Accounting to IT to FME, SME, ASM, FYS, and on throughout our undergraduate and graduate curricula,” due to the fact that “attention to diversity is the future of a productive, inclusive, and just society.”
Yet it also requests “a full audit of Babson’s current undergraduate and graduate curricula and faculty to determine…the diversity of existing cases.” The authors put the cart before the horse. Before we “courageously  curricula,” let us discuss to what extent it is necessary.
Business is not so pure a pursuit as, say, particle physics. One can’t become well versed in business without studying diversity. This is why half of Babson’s curriculum is liberal arts, and why all of the clubs, events, and resources listed above exist. If there is a notable lack of diversity in the curriculum, it must be addressed. But diversity should not be shoehorned into lesson plans at the expense of core course material.
The petition also demands “a funded commitment to recruit, retain and promote more domestic diverse faculty (Opportunity Hires), specifically those of Black/African-American, and Hispanic-American backgrounds.”
When I pay Babson $64,000 a year, I expect the school to use that money to hire the best professors possible—period. If a black candidate’s experiences would make them a better professor, I would be thrilled to have them open my mind. The same is true for a candidate’s education or work experience or sexual orientation. A focus on hiring faculty rich in experiences will naturally lead to diversity in all other areas. The petition confuses cause and effect.
There is also a request for “a report on the current state (e.g., numbers, positions, time in position, salary) of domestic diversity amongst Babson’s current faculty and staff to ensure equity”—a demand I support completely. And yet, by the authors’ own admission, they don’t even know the state of diversity among Babson staff. How, therefore, could the petition possibly advocate “more domestic diverse faculty?”
I also support the request for “the utilization of orientation as a platform for not only open discussion, but also to set explicit standards.” “Explicit standards” sounds a little prescriptive to me, but I am always in favor of open discussion, and orientation seems like the perfect forum.
President Healey says she now sees the need for “dedicating more resources to our inclusion efforts.” It should be considered that every dollar put towards the petition’s demands is money that could be dedicated elsewhere: campus improvements, curriculum development, student life, or health and wellness.
Finally, and most concerning to me, there is a want of true discussion. I have spoken with perfectly reasonable people—people completely in favor of diversity and inclusion—who will not voice their concerns for fear of public backlash.
This fear cannot have been helped by the Student Government Association, who, despite their motto as “the voice of the student body,” lent their support to the petition without an effort to discover how the student body actually feels about it. Based on my discussions, there exists at the very least a significant minority who disagrees with all or part of the petition.
Governments are allowed to take stances on issues. The U.S. government does it all the time. But the U.S. government declares itself “E pluribus unum,” not “Vox corporis scholastici.” There is no pretense of consensus; no burden of representation. I encourage the SGA to consider their role in such discussions, with the respectful suggestion that they cannot represent the student voice if they don’t know that it is.
If students are being made to feel marginalized, we must do something. But it would be dishonest to pretend that Babson is not committed to diversity. This issue is much too important to rush, much too important to evade scrutiny. We must think about what diversity really means, evaluate its current state at Babson, seek public input, and, if necessary, take well-considered action.
I urge administration to think hard about any changes they implement in response to this petition, and, more importantly, to get a real idea of how students feel about diversity and inclusion at Babson. They may discover, as have I, a plurality of opinions—including one which supports diversity and inclusion entirely, but cannot support this petition.
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