Being A Muslim MBA At Trump’s Alma Mater

ANSWERING, CLARIFYING, EDUCATING

Mohamed Malleck is one of those non-U.S. students. The former McKinsey management consultant will get his MBA from Wharton this spring, and he has decided to pursue a career in the U.S., where many companies may want his skills but where millions of voters elected a man he sees as unfriendly to people of his faith and background.

Mohamed Malleck, Wharton Class of 2017

With a long-term goal to transition into the tech industry, Malleck currently has two career paths planned: a smart furniture business, and a nonprofit effort, meetamuslim.co, launching soon, that will be a sort of cyberspace coffee shop where those with questions about Islam or Muslims can meet those with answers. It’s a familiar role for Malleck, who serves as co-president of the Wharton Muslim Students Network, which does outreach and informational events such as luncheons, “Ask Me Anything” forums, and Diversity Week discussions (the latter slated for mid-February).

It’s not hard to imagine that the club has a great deal to discuss these days. Recently it hosted a forum designed to clarify Islam for non-Muslims that was moved forward three weeks to take advantage of heightened interest after Trump’s executive order. The panel discussion covered “how the order is being portrayed in the media and how it affects people on a personal level,” Malleck says. The three panelists were a woman whose parents fled Pakistan, the son of Syrian immigrants, and a man of Egyptian descent. They themselves were from Ohio, Illinois, and Pennsylvania, respectively.

“They got to share with an audience who was interested in finding out more from any kind of angle about Muslims, about Muslims in America, about how American policies affect their lives, and how they’ve experienced the rhetoric against Islam,” Malleck says.

‘EVERY SINGLE DAY IT SEEMS TO GET WORSE’

More discussions are planned, including another AMA session on the immigration ban and life as a Muslim in the U.S. and elsewhere. Such events have been heavily attended of late. Topics, and concerns, are many.

Trump’s executive order is the hottest topic, to say the least, even for those without direct connections to countries on the banned list.

“It’s really concerning for not just Muslims but pretty much any kind of international student right now, because the countries that were indicated in this order were somewhat arbitrary and it happened really quickly,” Malleck says. “The order was executed overnight, and it affected people — four of my classmates have been fairly vocal about how it’s affected their friends and family. Two of them are Canadian, so you would think it wouldn’t affect them, but because one of their parents are from one of the countries on the list, it has affected them — and then the other two are from countries that are not on the list but even then their employers have started reaching out to them and kind of advised them to stay put or return to the U.S. before it affects them even more.”

Malleck himself has plans to visit Europe in a couple months, but he’s been told to stay put until things quiet down. “I’m just not sure it’s actually going to die down,” Malleck says. “Every single day it seems to get worse.” He says his wife has openly wondered “why we’re moving to a country that so clearly wants us to be demonized and kicked out — and not just leadership, but by the majority. The ban is approved by 52% or 53%, according to polls.”

URGING FRIENDS WITH A VOTE NOT TO BE COMPLACENT

Malleck describes a feeling of helplessness in not being able to vote and struggling to “start a movement for encouraging people to actually get involved.” He has been active at Wharton, especially through clubs and educational endeavors, but he wishes he could do more.

“I’m not somebody who is an American citizen and can vote and actually has the power to change the policy of their local legislators all the way through to the top, and that feels like helplessness to me,” Malleck says.

“I mentioned before how my concerns grew with the rise of the tea party movement and the Democrats’ loss in the 2010 midterm elections. I was surprised Trump won, but living in Philadelphia and having connections with New York and Chicago and California, you get exposed to a certain tone and a certain group of people who have specific opinions which kind of lean one way. And that echo chamber gets reinforced.

“I tried to share awareness with my friends who can vote and who can make a difference, and I was sharing the seriousness of the situation with them through articles that indicated, ‘You know what? You live in an echo chamber, you don’t have access to the representative average American in middle America, and as a result you are getting a bit complacent.’ But at the end of the day I was surprised, especially at the significant margin of the win.”

AT HARVARD, YALE, WIDESPREAD REJECTION OF TRUMP’S EXECUTIVE ORDER

At Yale on February 8, student organizers from the School of Management presented Dean Edward Snyder with a petition signed by 224 classmates urging him to publicly condemn Trump’s immigration ban. Meanwhile, about 15,000 professors at U.S. colleges and universities have signed another petition opposing Trump’s executive order on immigration, including some 50 Nobel laureates. Among the signatories are several Harvard Business School professors: David B. Yoffie (“It is a lazy person’s policy answer to a complex problem that was poorly conceived, inadequately reviewed, discriminatory, counterproductive, and fundamentally anti-American”), Christine Exley, Boris Vallée, Katy DeCelles, and William Kerr. Harvard President Drew Faust made headlines when she said “the knowledge and ideas of people from nations around the globe is not just a vital interest of the university — it long has been, and it fully remains, a vital interest of our nation”; while HBS Dean Nitin Nohria, a first-generation immigrant to the U.S. from India, joined the chorus of condemnation: “Whatever the intention of the order,” Nohria said, “its implementation has led to disruption and fear, and it undercuts the very foundation of academic institutions like HBS.”

If there has been a silver lining, believes Harvard MBA Eshete, it’s that many of those not impacted have shown themselves to be allies in an act of solidarity with Muslim and immigrant classmates, says Eshete, who himself is not Muslim but who counts himself among those allies. Administrative and student leadership, he adds, have reached out to the greater student body and offered support and resources, including information sessions with the Harvard International Office, Harvard Global Support Serves, and Career Development Services.

One of Eshete’s biggest concerns is how abruptly Trump’s executive order was issued, and how little transparency there seems to be in the process — all of which makes it hard to grasp the full impact on students at HBS and other business schools.

“In the short term, at-risk students are being told to refrain from international travel, which can have an impact on the job recruitment process,” Eshete says. “With graduation around the corner, there are concerns that family members of some graduates will not be able to attend. And for applicants who are still considering pursuing their MBA in the U.S., getting a student visa to attend or even approval to enter for interviews could be more challenging than ever before. Again, I’m just another concerned spectator, so I can only speculate.”

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