At Stanford GSB, Reflections On Black History

Zeinab Aboud. Photo: Allison Felt

ZEINAB ABOUD, CLASS OF 2021

Black History Month is an opportunity to learn about and appreciate the evolution of the black narrative. It is important to have a Black History Month because the telling of any history is usually done from the perspective of the dominant group. In history textbooks, black history is told against the backdrop of another group’s canvas, leading to an unfortunate whitewashing of black history over time. For example, black slaves were not “immigrants” and Rosa Parks did not give up her seat on the bus because she was “tired.” Black History Month is both a chance to tell the stories that we prefer to forget, and a chance to progress our narrative as it evolves. Without an opportunity to share and center the black experience, we risk solidifying a singular view of what it means to be black that is rooted in the past and outdated.

Too many people forget that the civil rights movement ended just 56 years ago, and that we have traveled only a short way on a long path to a more just and equitable society. To make this more concrete, the grandparents of most African American millennials today were legally second class citizens. The parents of African American millennials today were de facto second class citizens. We must take care to protect our hard-won rights from slipping away.

We must also continue to fight against the disenfranchisement, adultification, gentrification, criminalization of black bodies in today’s society.

I am the daughter of a Muslim, Sudanese father and a Catholic, Zambian mother. My different identities meant that I split my childhood between Baltimore, Zambia, and Sudan, and learned early on that blackness is not a monolith. I’ve witnessed firsthand the diversity of the black community across religion, culture, language, and politics. I know that diversity is not well-represented in prevailing narratives. During this month, it is important for me to reflect on how all of my identities have impacted my growth and celebrate the many other identities within the black community.

Stanford Life

The Black Business Students Association at Stanford has put on a number of events to recognize Black History Month. Two of my favorite events were Soul Food Night and the MBA1 Black Experiences Panel. Soul Food Night was a chance for the GSB community to try dishes from across the black diaspora, including Southern, Carribean, and African foods. The MBA1 Black Experiences Panel featured six of my classmates who shared their experiences being black at the GSB with classmates, providing an opportunity for classmates to openly ask questions around race and allyship. In Town Square, we are currently playing an amazing rotation of music from black artists, ranging from R&B to Afrobeats.

Personally, I never stop being black and always seek opportunities to enrich the black experience at the GSB. I am co-leading the BBSA Gala, as well as the Stanford Africa Business Forum Pitch Competition. Many of my black classmates are similarly involved in the Black Business Students Association and Africa Business Club. I am taking a two-week compressed course this month called Equity by Design, co-taught by Fern Mandelbaum and Adina Sterling, to explore how to build more equitable organizations from executives who have successfully incorporated inclusion programs. Because Stanford is a special place, I’ve had the pleasure of being in the presence of black excellence a number of times this month. I attended Steph Curry’s “View From the Top” to glean some of his leadership insights this past Tuesday and had the opportunity to ask Condoleeza Rice a question on the consequences of Sudan’s political revolution last Thursday.

Diversity & Inclusion

Stanford has made great strides in the last year through the creation of Diversity PODS, the launch of GSB’s inaugural Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Report, and the achievement of near gender parity for the Class of 2021. Of course, this progress is a starting point, and we still have a long way to go. The reality is that things are getting worse, not better, for black people in America. The number of black CEOs has been on the decline, reaching an all-time low of three black CEOs in 2018. The racial wealth gap between black and white households is worsening, and exists even amongst highly educated black people from two-person homes.

Because the GSB is responsible for educating and preparing the next generation of business leaders, the school has an imperative to have more people of color and other historically under-represented groups represented in the faculty and student body. Stanford must recruit more professors of color, where the lack of diversity is palpable. Most students during their time here will not have the opportunity to be taught by a black faculty member. Fortunately, I have the privilege of taking a course with Adina Sterling this quarter, who is one of the few black faculty members at the GSB.

I would personally like to see more promotion of the disaggregated data in GSB’s inaugural Diversity Report. The published supra-categories such as “27% Total US Minorities” or “13% Underrepresented Minority” obscures important differences between racial and ethnic categories such as “Black/ African American” or “Hispanic/Latino” that meaningfully impacts the strength of those sub-communities at the GSB and hinders a place to start a conversation. For example, let’s talk about what it means for the school to have a student population that is only 3% “Black/African American,” according to Stanford’s DEI Report.

Even with diverse representation in the student body, the school must find opportunities to support students in ways that will translate into representation in the C-suite, VC ecosystem, and boardrooms. For the many who will not hold these positions of power, we must also equip our student body with more substantial teachings around the ethics of our business decisions.

BECHIR PIERRE, CLASS OF 2020

Bechir Pierre. Photo: Allison Felt

Black History Month has always been incredibly important to me as a reminder of all of the great individuals who helped pave a path that enabled my success. Black History is also American history, so it is always good to put that at the front of everyone’s consciousness.

Stanford Life

I have been both a participant and leader for different events taking place during the month. For the last year, I was elected co-president of the GSB Student Association (our student government). As such, I’ve been able to help garner funding for a “Food of the African Diaspora” event, where students got to share in some delicious food. As an actual member of the Black Business Student Association (BBSA), I’ve been able to support and sit on a panel as part of an ally event on how to be a good ally and plan to participate in a BHM small group dinner soon as well. BHM also brings incredible unity for the BBSA, and we had a really fun picture day, where we all wore our BBSA Stanford crewnecks. It was an incredible sight as we walked through campus.

Diversity & Inclusion

During my time as president of the SA, I’ve gotten to work closely with the GSB administration on a variety of issues. While we are not yet perfect, it’s been great to see the desires all the way at the top of the university to improve. I was impressed with the GSB’s decision to publish a fairly comprehensive DE&I report through the efforts of Senior Associate Dean Sarah Soule and the SA’s Diversity Committee. While I continue to hope the GSB pushes boundaries, I was happy to support and encourage the Diversity Committee with those efforts.

I definitely plan to participate in the upcoming BBSA conference and gala. I am actually helping to run operations, so I’m pretty excited about the work the team has put in to make this conference a success.