Charlie James is a senior at the Haas School of Business with a minor in Food Systems at the College of Natural Resources. He studies the intersection of business and food and enjoys learning of food businesses and venturing to understand what social, racial, cultural, historical, and economic circumstances provided their growth. With like-minded Haas students, Charlie began a food justice consulting student organization called FEED (Food, Equity, Entrepreneurship, & Development) to provide space for business students interested in pursuing a career in socially grounded food businesses. As the Chair of the Berkeley Food Institute (BFI) Undergraduate Advisory Council, he is working on developing a space for the undergraduate food community with student food organizations while nurturing room for their collaboration and ensuring their voices are heard at BFI. After studying at Haas, Charlie plans to study abroad in Japan and move in with his Grandmother and Uncle who own and manage a farm in the rural urban mix of the city of Odawara. He’s driven to learn the Japanese language fluently and understand the culture intimately in order to communicate with his relatives there and support his Grandmother and Uncle with their farm. For fun, he loves watching anime with close ones, experimenting with cooking recipes, and engaging in uncomfortable but important conversations.
Blog Series Purpose, Reflection, and Impact
Diversity is often mistaken for racial equity, especially in most business schools. Diversity resides in representation of people of various backgrounds. While diversity is important, it is surface level. Racial equity calls forth reparations to unequal beginnings through not only representation but also social, political, legal, moral, economic, and cultural rectification. Racial equity runs deep as it necessitates a change of thinking and acting to nurture an inclusive culture for people from all racial backgrounds where conversations on race are not neglected but encouraged.
However, before we can begin to address the misunderstanding of racial equity as diversity, it’s important to begin conversations on race, which are hard to come by at most business schools. They are especially hard to initiate. It is for this reason that I began a blog series aimed at opening the culture of the Haas School of Business to conversations on race. While the end goal runs much deeper in developing a social justice consciousness that includes more identities than only race to inform actions and decisions, talking about race honestly and openly is a start.
To maximize the impact, I joined forces with another Racial Equity Fellow for Net Impact, Alankrita Dayal, and a fellow Haas student dedicated to our mission, Naayl Kazmi. We began a blog series called Racial Equity@Haas, which we were able to publish through the Haas Undergraduate Student Blog thanks to its open and considerate leaders, Katherine Krive and Lexa Gundelach.
Collectively, we created a game plan to interview the professors of core classes Haas students are required to take in order to illuminate the professors views on racial equity; we thought students would be more prone to read interviews from people in power they already know, core professors. However, only a few professors agreed to undergo interviews, leaving our plan at a loss. In recovery, we opened up the blog series to hold interviews of anyone in the Haas community as to shed light on the diverse perspectives of community members, students, staff, professors, and even the dean, on how racial equity is perceived at Haas.
We’ve since interviewed three professors, three students, and the Dean of Haas. Much of the learning came to me during interviewing the different community members. The Dean illuminated how the history of Haas has shifted to being more diverse over the years, and an interview with one of the professors by Naayl revealed the impact of Proposition 209, which nullified affirmative action, on the few Haas students of color at the time. Seeing the school from a historical perspective, there was much improvement in fact. Still, race is not something openly talked about, is hard to talk about, and often triggers students to change the topic.
I remember engaging students on conversations on race and having them look the other way, change the topic almost immediately, or even look at me as though I’m racist for even talking about race. While these reactions will persist among certain groups, there are students who encourage me to continue.
I share all the blog posts we make on Facebook while tagging members of the blog in them and my small team of Naayl and Alankrita to reach a larger audience, and there has been thankful, empowering, and even revealing feedback. One student who was interviewed wasn’t comfortable in having the person’s name referenced in the blog post, so we posted it as anonymous. Once on Facebook, another Haas student said she would have done the same.
While conversations often still focus on diversity instead of on nurturing an inclusive culture that would encourage conversations and consciousness building on race, this blog has began a conversation on race that’s heading in the direction of a more inclusive business culture. Although there’s a long way to go, I am happy we are going.