One Sixth: A Gaping Omission in the Student Body
“Let’s get a black woman’s opinion on this issue. Are there any black women in the room?” The facilitator scanned the room for a target. Immediately, I averted my eyes and fixated on the lint on my sweater. Maybe no one would notice me in the far corner.
“Here’s one!” the assistant announced, striding toward me with a microphone in her hand.
I should have known I wasn’t going to blend in, because even in the middle of a diversity session with nearly 300 classmates I was still the only person in the room who looks like me.
“Stand up,”she said, “As a black woman, how would you react to this situation?”
If there is one thing I loathe it’s being asked to speak for black women (or black people in general) as if my opinion or experiences apply across the board. Regardless, I humored the eager woman in front of me and told her how I would react to a white male classmate referring to a black woman as a bitch during a class discussion. She nodded her head in understanding as I spoke (bottom line: NOT COOL, no matter who is saying it in reference to any woman) then asked if the other black women in the room agreed with me.
After a few seconds of silence I let her in on what I already knew, “There are only six black women in the entire class. It seems the other five were front loaded in the morning session. I’m the only one here.”
The facilitator looked at me with incredulous eyes. “Six? Are you serious?”
I wish I wasn’t.
Out of 576 students in Booth’s class of 2014 black women comprise 1.4% of the class. Considering the fact that we are roughly 6.5% of the total US population we are definitely underrepresented. It becomes more glaring when comparing our numbers at Booth to other top business schools. Kellogg boasts three times the number of black female first year students with a similar overall class size. Even more interesting is that Johnson with a class size less than half of Booth’s (and in very remote location) beats it on this measure too.
So why does this even matter to me? Why should I be concerned with the choices other applicants make in regard to where to pursue their MBA? I care because when diversity discussions happen I don’t want to be the de facto token. It would be different if I went to school in China or Singapore, but in my home country that is home to tens of millions of black women I shouldn’t be the only person who looks like me in my cohort, classes, and activities. For me, it feels like there is a gaping omission in the student body. Also, I want there to be enough of us here so that no one thinks that I even could speak for the “black woman’s perspective.”
Am I shocked by the lack of black women in my class? Yes and no. I knew coming into Booth that there weren’t many of us. In fact this summer I thought that there was only four of us. Even though I knew the situation before I got here I still don’t understand it. Given Booth’s top 5 ranking and urban location it should be a popular choice with black applicants (particularly women who are in search of that M.R.S. to accompany their MBA). Our numbers at Booth should be comparable to Kellogg’s if not higher. So given all that Booth has going for it that should attract a large pool of black applicants, why am I only one of six?
After speaking with a member of the admissions committee last week about ways to improve minority recruitment it seems like the problem is two-fold. First, Booth struggles to attract a large pool of quality black applicants, especially women. Of those who do apply and are accepted, not enough of them choose to come to Booth. I think I know why this may be. After talking with several potential applicants I’ve noticed some common threads. Here are some myths, misconceptions, and supposed disadvantages to Booth (and my response to them).
1) “I’ve never heard of it” – It might be the name change from Chicago GSB to Chicago Booth, but it may surprise you just how many people say, “Where’s that?” when you say, “Booth.” While the University of Chicago is well known for being a powerhouse in terms of economics and finance that hasn’t translated to lay recognition of the Booth brand. Usually I would say it doesn’t matter if John Doe on the street doesn’t know about Booth because the people who should know (i.e. employers) do. However, it does matter when John Doe is contemplating pursuing an MBA and Booth doesn’t come to mind the way HBS, Wharton, and Kellogg do. Also, Booth is still building its international reputation. I like to think of my school as the best kept secret of MBA land. I, myself, didn’t know about it until I checked out US News and World Report’s rankings. Booth’s marketing machine is hard at work to get the school’s name into the mainstream vocabulary, but I think that’s a gradual process that will take time to bear fruit. In the meantime it’s my hope that student blogs like mine will get the word out at the grassroots level.
2) “Booth has too much quant” – A sorority sister of mine (black woman) visited Booth last spring while researching schools. She loved it. However, she excluded Booth from her list of target schools. Why? Quant. Chicago is known for placing a strong emphasis on quantitative analysis across its curriculum, even in areas where some might not expect it, like marketing. My sorority sister explained that she didn’t feel that she fit in with Booth’s quanty reputation.
Being in my second week of classes I will admit that Booth’s reputation is well earned. However, I think it’s also misunderstood. First, Booth isn’t just a place for quant jocks. I never took a finance or accounting class in undergrad, barely passed stats, and stopped studying math after pre-calculus. Booth’s admissions committee knew this and still admitted me. Why? Because they are looking for students for the MBA program, not the math PhD. If you have critical thinking skills then you have the ability to get through the quant that Booth’s professors throw at you. And let’s be clear, this isn’t quant for the sake of getting off on equations. We aren’t sitting in class deriving differential calculus equations all day. There is a purpose behind the quantitative focus. Today more than ever, business is driven by data. Knowing how to work with, interpret, and most importantly USE data is one of the best ways to prepare yourself for any kind of management career. Booth is all about developing leaders with strong analytical skills. One of the biggest reasons why Booth is Businessweek’s reigning #1 business school is because Boothies set themselves apart in the workforce with their quantitative abilities. If you’re the person at your internship that can model outcomes for a new line of business and make solid recommendations based on these numbers or is able to sniff out when the numbers look funky, then you will stand out over your peers who don’t have this skill set (and trust me there are plenty of MBAs from other top schools that do not). So if you ever hear someone tell you that Booth has too much quant just know that 1) you can handle it, and 2) it’s to your advantage.
3) “Booth is a commuter school with no community” - To that I say, “Bullshit.” Nearly every school is a commuter school. With the exception of HBS, Stanford, and Tuck students most MBAs live off campus. This is the case at Kellogg, Wharton, Stern, and most other schools I can think of. Booth is no different. Yes, most students do not live in Hyde Park. However, we do live in close proximity to one another downtown. And don’t forget we also have a building downtown (Gleacher Center) that is home to the Evening, Weekend, and E-MBA programs. Tons of events, student group meetings, and more happen at Gleacher all the time. Plus Booth is bursting at the seams with all types of clubs that everyone participates in. Boothies don’t go to class and then disappear into Chicago never to interact with each other outside of school. Which brings me to another myth I would like to dispel…
4) “Boothies are nerds who don’t socialize” – I will admit that this was my first impression of my classmates. Our facebook group for admits was dead when I first joined it (versus Kellogg’s that was plastered with calls for happy hours in every city on earth). Admit weekend definitely had more than its fair share of conversations that stalled at “So where are you from?” before descending into awkward silence. But something happened once June hit. A flip got switched and all of a sudden my classmates came alive. The facebook group overflowed with announcements for happy hours, travel meetups, sporting events, and more. I met up with a soon to be classmate this summer in Prague during my European adventures. We met for the first time in our hotel room and I don’t think the conversation lulled at any time over the two days we hung out other than when sleeping. Since I arrived here in August not a day has gone by that some social event wasn’t going on. These people run me ragged with how much they like to go out. It may have taken my class a while to get going but now that the party train is rolling it is not stopping.
5) “I don’t know about Chicago” – Look, I get it. Even though I have spent the majority of my adult life in the Midwest, I am not a fan. I was born and raised on the East Coast and the states that don’t border an ocean tend to upset my sensibilities. Communities are insular, people can’t drive, and the weather is inhumane. However, in all the time that I’ve lived here I have always thought of Chicago as an oasis in the dessert (winter still sucks thought…no escaping that in this part of the country). I am always the first person to delineate what is (New York City) and what is not (Minneapolis) a city. Is Chicago New York City? No, but you can’t tell me that this isn’t a city in its own right.
Chicago is a diverse metropolis filled with people from all over the world. It has the perfect blend of collegiate and professional life, boasts countless great restaurants, is home to my beloved Chicago Bulls, and has night life to boot. This is not a city in which you can say, “been there, done that, ” after only two years. Plus it’s a good place to take a break from New York for a while without giving up an urban life. Like I mentioned before, Booth is a national powerhouse business school. If you want to work in NYC (or LA or San Fran or DC) after graduation you will have ample opportunity to do so.
I realize that the above reasons for being wary of Booth do not just apply to black women. There are potential applicants across all racial/ethnic/cultural backgrounds that are on the fence about my school. However, if you happen to be a black woman and you’re reading this while in the process of deciding on where to apply I encourage you to give Booth a second look (especially if you have any of the above reservations). Come visit. Get to know the African American MBA Association. Join the entire community for LPF on Fridays. Reach out to current students. And please know that if you do decide to come here in the fall that the admissions committee is working very hard to ensure that you will not be one out of only six.