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Duke Fuqua | Mr. Army Aviator
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Wharton Student Calls Out Peers Over Racism

Wharton MBA student Jeehae Lee

Wharton MBA student Jeehae Lee

Thanks to a high-profile MBA student at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, some remarkably dim-witted and seemingly bigoted Wharton classmates are getting an education in more than microeconomics and regression analysis. Wharton MBA student Jeehae Lee is a former LPGA pro golfer, but now she’s taking a swing at a problem much more intractable than putting a little white ball in a cup.

“If there’s one type of race-based humor that’s commonly accepted on campus, it’s jokes targeting Asians and exploiting Asian stereotypes,” Lee writes in The Wharton Journal, the school’s student newspaper. “From Follies’ and Dance Studio’s incessant yellow fever jokes to a 2Y Drinks email to half the school, it seems acceptable to racially caricaturize and stereotype 20% of the student body.”

Among other things, Lee singled out a second-years’ meet-up email in February that expressed hope that “all Asians” returned alive from a Chinese New Year party because “we know drinking doesn’t come as naturally as stats.”

‘I AM NOT YOUR GEISHA. I AM NOT YOUR LOTUS FLOWER!’

In her Wharton Journal article, Lee also took aim at the school’s Latin American Student Association, for the call for nominations they put out for their “Tucanes Awards,” which the group holds to recognize its members who have “won the right to public recognition.”

The group’s nomination call listed several categories, including “The MBA Award: Master in banging Asians.”

“How ironic,” Lee wrote. “With the conclusion of Diversity Week, I was hurt and angered when I saw the WHALASA end-of-year superlative for the ‘MBA Award: Masters in Banging Asians.’ Diversity doesn’t simply mean a collection of people who are different from one another. It’s not just demographic stats that describe our community on paper. All the numbers don’t mean anything without social inclusion, integration, and equality across all members of the community…

“I am not your ‘geisha,’ continued Lee, who did her undergraduate studies in economics at Yale University. “I am not your ‘lotus flower.’ My vagina is not ‘sideways.’ I am not here to ’empower’ you. Sadly, this has all been said to me or a friend in our lives, and it’s definitely not the worst of it. This language is hurtful and dehumanizing. I do not feel safe in this kind of community, where racial stereotypes are allowed (directly or indirectly).”

RAUNCHY ETHNIC JOKE MARS DIVERSITY WEEK

“To me,” Lee added, “diversity is about how individuals feel included, secure, and valued in our Wharton community. This ‘MBA award’ goes against everything this week should have represented and what this community should stand for.”

A day after Lee’s article went up on April 19, the Latin students club abjectly apologized “to the students who were offended by our poll,” saying, “We realized that no student deserves to be stereotyped for his or her culture and this is something that does not reflect the values of our Club.”

The group said it had taken down the poll as soon as it was criticized for it, and pledged to review its “policies and interactions” to make sure they would in future avoid “any disrespectful action towards any member of the Wharton Family.”

RAISING BROADER CULTURAL ISSUES AT THE SCHOOL

Though Lee’s essay is directed solely at what she believes is racial stereotyping toward Asians at the school, her comments may well be evidence of a broader cultural problem. Only five months earlier, another Wharton MBA student railed against a “social dynamic” that reminded him “of that elementary school experiment trying to mix oil and water.”  Varun Uttamchandani, a second-year student who will graduate with his MBA this spring, claimed Wharton “is littered with what I call lowest common denominator social groups-groups, composed of all Asians, all Blacks, etc. We’ve all seen the cliques based around similar ethnicity and race.”

In his essay also in The Wharton Journal, he wrote that, “Wharton could also do a much better job at addressing the homogeneity that permeates throughout campus. For example, the rah-rah culture that (Dean of Student Life) Kembrel (Jones) has done such a phenomenal job of creating appeals to many domestic students, but many internationals simply don’t know how to relate. I recently spoke to one of my friends from India who told me when he came to Welcome Weekend, he hated it, and did not know how to relate to this aspect of the culture. The same goes for pre-term. So he did what himself and so many others like him do: retreat to students from his homeland. If you look at his friend group, you realize that he might as well be in India. As one of the leading business schools, we could do a better job of being more inclusive, keeping people’s cultural differences in mind.”