At Stanford GSB, Reflections On Black History

Celena Tyler. Photo: Allison Felt

CELENA TYLER, CLASS OF 2020

To me, Black History Month is about creating a broader black community in the present by remembering those who came before. During this month, we celebrate the achievements and struggles of our ancestors. We remember stories of slavery, of segregation, of oppression. We celebrate the hard-fought progress we’ve made against these barriers. I’m filled with pride and respect every February as I look back on the amazing things we have achieved as a people. I think of the legacy of great leaders like MLK, Serena Williams, Toni Morrison, the Obamas, and I reflect on what I am doing to build a legacy of my own.

Stanford Life

The Black Business Students’ Association (BBSA) here at Stanford keeps the calendar stacked with great opportunities to recognize Black History Month and engage with the Black community. We organized a Black Experiences panel of MBA1 students in BBSA on the meaning of Black History Month that was open to all students. Storytelling is a key part of Black History Month, and sharing our stories with the larger student body is a crucial part of allyship and inclusion on campus.

I also attended the Coalition of Black Excellence Summit ‘20. CBE is a Bay Area nonprofit designed to unify and elevate the Black community. I was so inspired by the stories of Black leaders at the top of their game from a broad variety of industries.

I’m proud to share that I won the CBE Summit pitch competition for a computer-generated audio dubbing startup called Accent that I’ve been working on with some of my classmates. We’re working on making great content accessible to everyone, no matter where they’re from or what language they speak. The fact that it was during Black History Month and at a summit to promote Black excellence in the Bay Area made it even more special to win.

Diversity & Inclusion

One of the things I’m most proud of at Stanford GSB is the annual BBSA Conference. The BBSA puts on a two-day conference featuring black achievement and innovation. Our mission is to celebrate and highlight the achievements of Black business leaders while also providing a forum to facilitate the exchange of ideas and foster strong relationships within the Black business community. This year, our keynote speaker will be Marc Jones, the CEO & Chairman of Aeris Communications and board member of Management Leadership for Tomorrow.  Back in 2018, attending the BBSA conference during admitted students’ weekend was the highlight of my visit and a key influence in my decision to accept. Our community is changing the world in so many ways. Shining a light on the amazing accomplishments of the Black community here at Stanford is one of the best ways the university can continue to attract top minority candidates now and in the future.

Erica Byas-Smith. Photo: Allison Felt

ERICA BYAS-SMITH, CLASS OF 2020

History in general has played a pretty significant role in my life. My mother is a historian and I was a history major in college. So, our family has always stressed historical analysis as an important way to understand the world and black history specifically as a significant factor in understanding our family’s place in the world. On top of that, I grew up in the South (Atlanta) and my grandparents were all quite active in civil rights fights (in education, in agricultural labor) — so the history was personal and part of the everyday fabric of my childhood. As an adult, Black History Month plays a grounding role for me. In my life now, working in corporate America and living away from my family on the West Coast, those organic ties to the history are less apparent.

I appreciate that Black History Month offers a period of reflection to re-engage with the work of building a more equitable, just world, and to figure out what my place in that project can be given the incredible opportunities I have.

Stanford Life

Much of our efforts through the BBSA are focused on inviting the wider community into black spaces, through food (we did a Black Diaspora dinner open to the whole community), experience-sharing (we hosted a panel of black first-years to share their experiences with their classmates), and social connection. It also happens that we’re running The Ally Series concurrently with Black History Month, which is focused on equipping allies with the knowledge and practiced skill to join us as accomplices in standing up for equity. We’ve also had a few events within the black community to strengthen our ties as a family and get to know each other across the classes.

Diversity & Inclusion

For one thing, the conversation is happening very openly, which I think is an important prerequisite for any meaningful and sustained change. The admissions team in partnership with students have tried some new approaches that have led to promising results in in the new classes, particularly on gender diversity (one example is the summer coffee chat program — coffee chats are hosted around the world to support more women in preparing for a successful admissions process). I am hoping that there are some transferable models we can apply to other facets of diversity. At the same time, there’s a lot still to go. There is not a lot of diversity in the faculty, nor in the guest speakers and case protagonists for many of the classes despite the efforts of some professors and lecturers who are taking meaningful action to address this. It is an ongoing journey!

DON’T MISS FOCUS ON DIVERSITY PAYS OFF IN LATEST BERKELEY HAAS CLASS and WHAT IT’S LIKE TO BE A BLACK STUDENT AT AN M7 SCHOOL