Racial Equity@Haas: Core Professor – Krystal Thomas (UGBA 100)

Guest Post Written by Naayl Kazmi.

This Racial Equity@Haas blog series written by three Haas students (Charlie James, Alankrita Dayal, and Naayl Kazmi) is providing the space for us to meet our core principles of being Students Always, Beyond Ourselves, and Questioning the Status Quo by opening the conversation on race, how it manifests in business, and its broader implications. We’re asking Four questions to members of the Haas community in order to illuminate how racial equity in business and Haas is conceived and to stir an open conversation.

Krystal Jalene Thomas is a lecturer with the undergraduate program at UC Berkeley – Haas, and an alumna from 1994. Her professional experiences range from change management consulting with Accenture, to strategic marketing, to media, where she helms her own content development and production company, Pooka Ventures. Professor Thomas has a BS/BA from UC Berkeley and an MFA from USC’s School of Cinematic Arts.

Responses have been abridged for length and clarity.

Q1) What is racial equity to you?

“Racial equity as a whole is hope, a goal. Part of the problem is that we, as a society, don’t have a common sense of what is equal.  That’s why we’re having this discussion to begin with.

Personally, I think the promise of racial equity is what MLK talked about – the moment where all people will be ‘judged by the content of their character, not the color of their skin.’  I don’t want to be solely defined by race, gender, or other labels we are so quick to impose. I’d rather be seen for my contributions, my humanity, my actions, my spirit. Labels reduce individuality to stereotypes. Once typed, you’re left with one of two positions:  assume the stereotype or fight the stereotype. Either way, a typed person never gets a fair chance to fully express who they are in the world. So, to sum up – I see racial equity as an abstract concept, best expressed in Dr. King’s hope of an equity that transcends superficial markers.”

Q2) In your perception, how is Haas on matters of racial equity?

“As a student at Cal in the 90’s, the diversity of the campus was the most transformative aspect of my college experience. I used to say it was like ‘going to Howard in the middle of Harvard’. The numbers spoke for themselves back then: around 15% Asian (depending on how you define Asian), 8% African American, 4-6% Latinx, and international students comprising 25% of the student body. I have friends now in Uruguay, because I met someone from that tiny South American country back in undergrad. So, it hurts my heart as a professional faculty member today to not see that kind of representation, or to see certain populations be the only face in class. At my time at Haas, I was never the only African American student in any class. The reason it hurts my heart is because people come to Berkeley, specifically, on a journey to figure out who they are and define themselves as individuals. You can’t fully walk that path if you’re not exposed to the world you are defining yourself in.

In my own life, I was one of 13 African Americans in a high school of 3200 in Huntington Beach, California.  During that time in my life, I always felt out of place because I was constantly considered an exception. In school, I was ‘the articulate black girl’ but my extended family felt I ‘acted too white.’ Berkeley was the first place I ever felt like a whole person. And then to discover courses like African American Studies 1A, my world just opened. I would’ve never had that opportunity if I hadn’t been at Berkeley when Professor Roy Thomas could call up Angela Davis and say ‘Hey, come talk to my class!’ – those were the kind of Berkeley experiences that shaped me. As the daughter of an international businessman, I spoke multiple languages. So, the opportunity to just go hang out in a Chicano class – and hear from my Latinx contemporaries about the politics of language, for example, wouldn’t have happened at any other college. Today, I try my best to bring diverse perspectives back into the classroom to pay forward the Berkeley experience.

Moving back to your question in regards to Haas, many of those shaping the vision of the undergraduate program today were connected to Berkeley in the 90’s and saw the impact of Prop 209.  I’m very confident in Haas leadership because it’s made of individuals who understand how we’ve evolved. We can’t solve a racial equity problem, as you’re terming it, without understanding how we got there. Programs crafted by leaders like Dr. Erika Walker, or Dean Lyons are rethinking what it means to be diverse. Consider a simple act like the defining four principles of Haas. Such an innovative move cultivates the seeds for emphasizing individuality, content, and character, allowing for a more holistic assessment of the kinds of people associated with Haas without discrediting the experiences shaped by anyone’s gender, race, age or socioeconomic status.

Like many alumna from my era, I held emotional scars from racial debates impacting California educational policies. I distinctly remember an incident at Berkeley, when an Asian male student told me that I’d likely taken the place of his more qualified Asian friend because of affirmative action. But when I actually listed my accomplishments and qualifications from high school, his response was like ‘oh, well maybe you do belong here.’  I share this not to debate affirmative action or Prop 209, but more to express the emotional impacts of policy. For many of us, it felt like they didn’t want us here – that we hadn’t earned the right to be here. For quite a few years after graduation, my attitude towards Berkeley was – ‘Don’t call me for money, don’t reach out for my support; if you don’t believe in my value, then – deuces!’  It was my best friend from Cal, also an African American who said to me, ‘if you feel that strongly about it, go back and work to change things.’ So, when you talk about how things are today, you can’t ignore the emotional impacts. Our Haas leadership today recognizes the pain of that period and is demonstrably committed to creating a culture where everyone is respected and belongs.”

Q3) How do you find racial equity important to business? 

“Businesses are microcosms of the society and the environments they operate in. Today’s world is more global and connected than ever before. To stay competitive, businesses have to be exposed to diverse environments and ways of thinking.  Race, gender, and age are elements that form our reality, and shape our perspectives as individuals. Differentiation in product, brand, positioning, culture, and market comes from distinct perspectives. Native understanding of problems, gaps and opportunities generate stronger business solutions.  You can’t grow by staying static, or unearth the next product or disruption if everyone in an organization thinks the same way or shares only one similar experience. In short, companies that reflect the world they serve, win.”

Q4) Parting thoughts?

“As a school and a workplace, Berkeley is one of the most committed organizations to diversity I’ve ever encountered. Although discussions about this topic can be challenging, Berkeley and Haas remain committed to having the conversations, which is half the battle. In fact, I think a role of Cal in the world is to talk about these kinds of things and spark meaningful dialogue.

The movements on this campus are often decades ahead of the mainstream zeitgeist, from the civil rights and free speech movement, to sexual identity and gender equity, to the myriad of conversations happening today. Diversity, of all kinds, is something people care about here, and that authentic spirit creates a culture where the fullest expression of personal identity has a chance to be realized.”

Thank you.



Racial Equity@Haas: Dean – Richard Lyons

This Racial Equity@Haas blog series written by three Haas students (Charlie James, Alankrita Dayal, and Naayl Kazmi) is providing the space for us to meet our core principles of being Students Always, going Beyond Ourselves, and Questioning the Status Quo by advancing the conversation on race, how it manifests in business, and its broader implications. We’re asking Four questions to members of the Haas community to illuminate how racial equity in business and Haas is conceived and to stir an open conversation.

Q1) What is Racial Equity to You?

“When we think about all people being created equal, which in this country is sort of line one, what does that mean in terms of justice societally, how we think about, and how we organize the society? When I first read your question, the actual thought that came to mind was from a Bob Marley song where he sings, ‘Until the color of a man’s skin is of no more significance than the color of his eyes.’ Phrases like that I think help us to understand what racial equity is, which is recognizing that all people are created equal; it’s actually hard to find somebody who disagrees with that phrase. Racial equity is also about recognizing that implicit bias is all around us, which it is if we’re going to be honest. The ideal of the color of one’s skin having no more significance than the color of one’s eyes is what we’re shooting for.”

Q2) How do you find Racial Equity Important to Business?

“This is a really big question. I’m going to take this one back to first principles in asking, ‘What problem is business trying to solve?’ Organizations, companies succeed in this economy not by being the same as other organizations. They succeed by being usefully different. When they are the same, they don’t last very long; so if you are a leader of an organization, or designing one, or just thinking about what fit organizations look like in an evolutionary sense, you need them to produce this useful differentness faster. How do they become usefully different faster? You don’t become usefully different faster by hiring a bunch of like-minded people and putting them in a room and hoping that you’ll get a different, creative solution. That’s not the right way to do it. This isn’t about race per se; it’s about making sure that different perspectives — that people coming at different opportunities or challenges from different angles — is the way you get great solutions. It’s really non-discretionary. You have to do those things and there’s research that backs that. The most fundamental value-creating thing that groups, organizations, people in the business world do is to become usefully different faster, and race plays — as other elements of difference do — a fundamental role. Another element of that is people: if consumers can’t see representations of themselves in the organizations they do business with, they’re going to be less likely to do business with them. We’re getting more and more of that sentiment, and that’s a trend I believe will continue. The economic pain of not running business this way is going up, and that’s a good thing.”

Q3) In Your Perception, How is Haas on Racial Equity?

“I think modern institutions of all kinds have a long way to go if we’re going to be honest. That’s a very general statement, but I believe it to be true. To give you a small example, we were talking about a case that one of our faculty teaches; we actually got together, the tenured faculty at Berkeley-Haas got together for an hour and a half about three weeks ago, and the topic was race and gender in the classroom. How do we manage those discussions and how do we get better at having those conversations? Because students want it, they deserve it, and it’s hard. So it was peer-to-peer, tough topic, let’s have the conversation. One of the examples that was used in that session – one of the faculty members in the discussion said, ‘I teach a case where one of the protagonists is African American,’ and for that protagonist there was a little section, like three sentences, where there is a group or club or an affinity group of black Americans in that company that would get together for various things. The case has this protagonist going to another meeting with some of these other folks who they just had a prior meeting with, but they felt uncomfortable walking through the lobbies as a group of black men and women. Some took the elevator, some took the staircase, they distributed themselves. If you are white, that idea never crosses your mind. The faculty member said, ‘The first time I taught it, I didn’t discuss that, and the next time I taught it, I raised it, and somebody said I feel that way in my company today.’ (This was a case that might’ve been ten years ago.) Then somebody else in the class said, ‘I feel that way at Haas.’ You have a conversation like that and the scales come down off your eyes; you hear people say that, chills down your spine, and you say, ‘thank you for saying that ‘cause I don’t see that.’ The person wasn’t saying that Haas is a massively discriminatory place. It was just a thought that enters your mind if you’re from one of those identity groups and people not from one of those identity groups don’t ever have to think that way; but we need to know that other people do and that it’s natural.

Long answer to a good question, but if you asked me about specific improvements, I’d add that we joined the Consortium for graduate management education, which basically doubled the percentage of people of color in our full-time MBA program. In the time of my deanship, we added about a million and a half dollars a year for fellowships that went into the Consortium, but that’s just money; there are many other things you have to do. We launched for undergraduates something called SIEML (Summer Institute for Emerging Managers and Leaders) with five other UC business schools (UC has 10 campuses but 6 business schools), and all of the students in the first class or two in the program were all from HBCUs (Historically Black Colleges and Universities). Now there are HSIs (Hispanic Serving Institution) and others involved, but the focus was HBCUs initially. The idea was that these were undergrads at HBCUs, Freshmen and Sophomores who were not business majors, and we were introducing them both to business and the UC system, hopefully to get them to choose to come to California to get an MBA. It was valuable in its own right, but part of what we hoped to do was to open the pool even wider for our own schools. Anyways, that’s one initiative, and joining the Consortium is one initiative. When you add it all up, I believe that we’re very clearly more intentional now than we were, 10, 15, 20 years ago, and we still have further to go.”

Q4) Please Add a Personal Anecdote on Racial Equity.

“There are two quick ones that I’ll offer. One is of when I first became acting Dean for one year before becoming the Dean officially. The prior Dean — absolutely terrific person and Dean — he and I had different views on Proposition 209 (amended to the California Constitution in 1996 to prohibit public institutions from showing any preference for anybody based on race, sex, or ethnicity) in a particular way, on what we call Affinity Calling Programs. If we’ve admitted an African American to our undergraduate program or to our MBA program, or anyone from an under-represented group, we would have somebody from that same identity group who’s a current student call that person and say, ‘you’ve got to come,’ if there’s still a choice on the table. That’s part of our recruiting effort. My predecessor again, outstanding man, he felt that the Affinity Calling Program was inconsistent with Proposition 209 and he didn’t feel comfortable doing it. When I became acting Dean, I looked at that and said at worst, that’s in a grey area, but it’s a very light shade of grey, so I said, ‘I’m re-instituting the Affinity Calling Program.’ I felt it was in this institution’s and in California’s best interest  — you’ve got to make the call; if you have a point-of-view, you’re the Dean, what are you going to do? I came in, I changed it. Anyways, that’s anecdote number one.

Number two, I grew up in the Bay Area, Los Altos, and I came to Berkeley as an undergrad. The high school that I went to, Los Altos High School, was a public high school, but suburban in a relatively affluent community. There was one African American in my class of four hundred. I grew up in that environment; I didn’t know how skewed that was. She, Joanne, was a friend of mine; we did stuff together, but you don’t realize until your world widens sometimes just how narrow your prior world was; and then you come to Berkeley and then your world widens and you start to realize, ‘Wow, in some dimensions I had it about right, but in this dimension there was a lot of stuff I didn’t see.’ That’s one of those moments when you kind of reflect on, ‘Alright, I have some updating to do; I have some seeing to do,’ and so that was one of the things I sometimes mention when people talk about having honest conversations about race. I realized that I come from a history where this is not a natural conversation, and I completely agree that we need to have the conversation.”

Racial Equity@Haas: 3rd Year Haas Undergraduate – Anonymous

Guest Post Written by Alankrita Dayal.

This Racial Equity@Haas blog series written by three Haas students (Charlie James, Alankrita Dayal, and Naayl Kazmi) is providing the space for us to meet our core principles of being Students Always, Beyond Ourselves, and Questioning the Status Quo by opening the conversation on race, how it manifests in business, and its broader implications. We’re asking Four questions to members of the Haas community in order to illuminate how racial equity in business and Haas is conceived and to stir an open conversation.

Q1) What is Racial Equity to You?

“Racial equity to me means providing equal opportunities to individuals regardless of their race, as well as having people from all racial backgrounds get along in a respectful environment.”

Q2) How do you find Racial Equity Important to Business?

“When racial equity exists in a workforce, there’s diversity. In return, this leads to a respectful and open-minded workforce. The wide range of different experiences and perspectives allows a team to become critical thinkers, thus creating a friendly, respectful, and empathetic work environment for everyone.”

Q3) In Your Perception, How is Haas on Racial Equity?

“I think Haas is improving on racial equity as every year, more racial minorities are being represented in the new student pool. However, there is still a lack of empathy and respect for the experiences & backgrounds that racial minorities face. Most of Haas students are either Asian or White. I’ve definitely seen cases where these races assume that their peers come from a similar background as them, which can lead to intercultural conflicts.”

Q4) Please Add a Personal Anecdote on Racial Equity.

“Last week, I attended an event at Twitter’s HQ. It was about celebrating culture. That was my first time at Twitter, and I was amazed at seeing such a diverse workforce as we took an office tour. I was too used to visiting corporate firms and only seeing either Asian or White individuals. I think the diverse workforce spoke for itself, because I got a completely different feel from the employees I was speaking to. They were fun, open-minded, and friendly. Most times, I don’t tend to get such a vibe at networking events as they are extremely business-focused. I definitely witnessed and experienced racial equity at Twitter.”

Racial Equity@Haas: Core Professor – Alan Ross (UGBA 107)

This Racial Equity@Haas blog series written by three Haas students (Charlie James, Alankrita Dayal, and Naayl Kazmi) is providing the space for us to meet our core principles of being Students Always, Beyond Ourselves, and Questioning the Status Quo by opening the conversation on race, how it manifests in business, and its broader implications. We’re asking Four questions to members of the Haas community in order to illuminate how racial equity in business and Haas is conceived and to stir an open conversation.

Q1) What is Racial Equity to You?

“What it’s not is quotas, where everything has to be equal or whatever percentage of the society you are is what percentage you’ll be in any organization. It’s not that I believe in quotas, but equity being fairness where everyone has an equal shot, which we don’t even come close to in America. I think that’s something we strive for and are far from and hopefully we’ll be moving in the right direction towards something resembling equity.”

Q2) How do you find Racial Equity Important to Business?

“If you are an organization that is not diverse, you’ll miss out on so many opportunities in reaching out to a diverse society. I think for them to understand who their customers really are, they themselves should have diversity, and that’s lacking obviously still in so many different businesses. To make the company diverse would really help the bottom line since it’ll help them understand their customers much better. It’s also important just to be open to different ideas. If everyone on a company’s board of directors looks the same, you’re going to miss opportunities. Again, it’s not that we should have quotas, say this percent this, this percent this, this percent that. That’s not the answer. On the other hand, by not valuing equity, fairness, and diversity, businesses really do lose out I think.”

Q3) In Your Perception, How is Haas on Racial Equity?

“I think the leadership at Haas is amazing, both Dean Lions and Erica Walker, Assistant Dean. I think they both really value diversity. Though it’s a work in progress, they’re making improvements at Haas. I’m seeing my classes becoming a little more diverse, though we have a long way to go. I appreciate their efforts in not turning a blind eye to everything, which was the case way back, before they got here. I think there is a difference now, but I still see tremendous division even within my classroom. I don’t believe it’s anything intentional; I don’t sense racism, but you still see people separating by race within a classroom, so I think we need to do more to bring people together and break down barriers that exist from the schoolyard when kids are little even. This is something people carry over. I don’t think there are any bad intentions that are associated with it, but I think we could do more for people to learn from each other this way. Just simply being in the same room solves some of the problem, but it doesn’t go far enough. The problem for me is that I have a sea of 250 people, so I lookout and can just get a quick perception. I don’t teach sections to see how the discussions go, so I’m always asking my GSIs,  ‘how are things? Are there open discussions?’ which is obviously what I’m looking for. I want everyone to be included, all voices, not let anyone dominate, and I think the GSIs do a good job at that. But it still isn’t the same as people breaking down those barriers.”

Q4) Please Add a Personal Anecdote on Racial Equity.

“Just the reaction to my slide show of tokenism in boards of directors. It resonates with students so much; one, there’s some humor, but two, they just see the reality of America in that slide show. The idea of tokenism is still alive and well. The idea of ‘oh we’ll put someone who’s not white in and that’ll silence the critics.’ I believe that’s still the case so often with corporations, that they are really not reaching out for the right reasons as much as for the appearance, and I think that’s a shame. What we’ve seen is minority members of board of directors who are seen as successful recruited by other board of directors because they say, ‘this one’s okay; let’s use him or her,’ and then all the companies want that person. It’s not for their leadership at all; it’s to check the box. That’s why my students, when I do the slideshow, remember it years later. People see that it’s a problem, but we’re still far from any real kind of equity when people are reaching out for the right reasons.”