After Charlotte, Harvard MBAs Ask: What’s Next?

Students from the Harvard Kennedy School, like students from Harvard Business School, wore black to show solidarity in the wake of high-profile police shootings in Tulsa and Charlotte. Courtesy photo

Students from the Harvard Kennedy School, like students from Harvard Business School, wore black to show solidarity in the wake of high-profile police shootings in Tulsa and Charlotte. Courtesy photo

On Sept. 16, Terence Crutcher, 40, was fatally shot by Tulsa, Oklahoma police Officer Betty Shelby. Just four days later, Keith L. Scott, 43, was shot to death by Charlotte, North Carolina police Officer Brentley Vinson. Both tragedies were captured on video, and together they sparked a national re-examination of race relations in the United States.

In the wake of the shootings and following a summer of other high-profile deaths involving police use of force, student groups on business school campuses across the country showed solidarity with the nation’s grieving communities of color by wearing all black and staging vigils and other events. Now, weeks later — even as the country’s attention has wavered in the high-volume atmosphere of a presidential election — some B-school students are continuing the campus dialogues, engaging their fellow students, faculty, and administrators in conversations on race.

At Harvard Business School on Wednesday (Oct. 5), members of the African American Student Union were joined in one such conversation by about 60 people, including members of the faculty and administration. Nkem Oghedo, AASU co-president and MBA Class of 2017, tells Poets&Quants the topic was “discrimination and violence” and the dialogue was not restricted to police brutality.

“The event went well,” Oghedo says. “We had four students tell personal stories about police brutality, sexual violence against women, violence against the LGBTQ community, and terrorism/religious violence. Afterwards, we broke out into small groups and discussed what was shared, as well as made pledges within our groups about what we can do in our daily lives to combat these issues. Those pledges included speaking up when inappropriate comments are made, or reaching out to folks who many be affected by these kinds of issues.”


Nkem Oghedo

Nkem Oghedo

Harvard’s AASU typically organizes retreats and conferences for entering and returning students. The culmination of the organization’s activities is the annual H. Naylor Fitzhugh Conference, held early in the second term, which brings together alumni, business people, and students from around the world to discuss hot topics in business and in the African-American community.

But in the wake of Tulsa and Charlotte, Harvard’s AASU joined students at Wharton, Columbia, NYU Stern, UCLA Anderson, Berkeley Haas, and elsewhere in donning all black clothing and expressing, in words and images, their solidarity with aggrieved communities of color across the country.

As Oghedo says, she and the rest of the 120-member AASU, including Co-president Tsion Tsegaye, “really wanted be part of the national conversation about things — and we think it’s important for an organization like Harvard Business School to make a statement when it comes to stuff like this.”


Charlotte and Tulsa, Oghedo says, were tragic events that everyone knew about. But “people who know that these things happen all the time are already gonna know that they happen. Folks who weren’t aware, I think Tulsa and Charlotte unfortunately were the catalyst that woke people up. So I think we definitely used that to get people on this ongoing road to get more people involved moving forward.”

As an organization, the AASU is considering ways to be more directly impactful, Oghedo says. Therein no shortage of passion in the organization, and no shortage of resources at Harvard. “There are a lot of different forms of capital that we possess here: intellectual capital, financial capital, human capital. And we’re trying to think through ways that we can be more effective as an organization — because there are so many of us who are really passionate about these issues. It affects everyone, so I think we’re definitely at the stage now where we’re thinking about, ‘What can we actually do?’ And being very thoughtful and deliberate about that.”

What’s next? Oghedo says the conversation will continue on a sustained basis, and AASU will seek to be a thought leader on campus for racial issues. “How can we create an organization or a support group on campus that engages our non-black classmates and administrators to take part in this conversation?” Oghedo asks. “How can we help people be more comfortable about having these kinds of discussions?”


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