The doors of two Graduate School of Business (GSB) students, one of whom was Black, were defaced with the N-word on Feb. 22 in the Jack McDonald Residence Hall. Days later, GSB students walked out of their Friday morning classrooms in protest, calling for racial equity reforms within the GSB.
Upon seeing the slur on the students’ doors, a member of the Black Business Student Association (BBSA) contacted the head of the residence hall, who called the police and alerted GSB deans, according to BBSA co-president Davon Robertson MBA ’22.
Associate Deans Paul Oyer and Margaret Hayes MBA ’99 notified the GSB student community on Feb. 24 that the “incident is under investigation by Stanford’s Department of Public Safety (DPS), and we are doing all that we can to support their efforts.”
There will be increased security in the residences, and the District Attorney’s Office will determine what, if any, criminal charges are filed, according to Oyer, Hayes and Dean Jonathon Levin ’94.
The Friday walkout was organized by non-Black students and the MBA Student Association. The organizers intended for the walkout “both to show solidarity with the people we care about in our community, but also to meet the moment and really call people to action,” Student Association Chief Operating Officer Joy Shen MBA ’22 M.A. ’22 said. Students, faculty and staff members took turns speaking at the walkout, sharing messages of support and frustration. Attendees also met at a cloth mural, where they were encouraged to write messages of solidarity.
Robertson, who spoke at the walkout, said that some Black students were initially hesitant about participating.
“We had our own conversations with the deans, and we wanted to keep those separate,” he said. “But at the same time, we felt that we needed to speak to people on this and how it affected them, and to support our allies, because we won’t get this done without them.”
GSB students hope that this incident can help catalyze a broader conversation about racial equity within the school community.
“What can be made of this?” Robertson asked. “And how can we create an environment that doesn’t have this hate?”
Student advocates have already been working for reform since the Feb. 22 incident — including holding meetings with Stanford administration to discuss calls for a more diverse student body and curriculum, as well as calling for an investigation of the defacement. Still, student advocates worry that this will be a repeat of past setbacks in the call for reform, Robertson said. Students “have had conversations with [the administration] before, and there hasn’t always been that much progress,” he said.
One of the students whose door was defaced said that, though she is not Black, she felt “shock and outrage” upon discovering the slur.
“I’m not naive to the fact that racism remains horrifically pervasive today,” said the student, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of professional consequences. “My initial thought was, ‘How could this happen here, of all places?’”
Following the incident, the student was not contacted by anyone from SUDPS for over 36 hours despite multiple students sending reports to the public safety department.
“I was frankly incredibly disappointed with the way in which the administration responded,” she said. “To me, that is abysmal.”
After being contacted by SUDPS, the student said she had to follow up with the department and tell them that she had not yet been connected to campus safety, as the department said they would do. After going to the department in person, it then took another day before the officers took the pen used to write the note for fingerprints, according to the student.
“The investigation is active and ongoing,” SUDPS spokesperson Bill Larson wrote to The Daily. “In that regard, we are not sharing any information at this time so as not to compromise or jeopardize the investigation. … If anyone has any information that may help in the investigation, we encourage them to call our dispatch center at (650) 329-2413 (24/7) and ask to speak to a deputy.”
The incident has put additional strain on Black students in the GSB community. Shen said that she was initially shocked and concerned for “friends and classmates and community members in the Black community who already go through so much just occupying the spaces they do.”
For her, paving pathways for impactful advocacy has been a persistent struggle. A challenge of “being in a formal leadership role is that you want to leverage those positions … but at the same time, you want to recognize that those formal channels have at times failed,” she said.
Another Black GSB student, who asked for anonymity for personal safety reasons, said that learning of the slur “was pretty horrific,” and evoked “sadness and frustration and anger that this was possible, especially in a place that I had come so quickly to call home.”
For Black students within the GSB, the incident is a reminder of past personal experiences with racism and discrimination.
“Seeing the N-word written all over dorms reminds you of all of the times that people have said things to you, or done things, that make you feel you’re not welcome in a community based on the color of your skin,” a third student said, speaking anonymously for personal safety reasons.
The student also referenced the timing of the incident, which took place during Black History Month, just after the BBSA distributed related pamphlets. “To look at this incident as an isolated event really misses some of the tension of what’s been happening on campus beforehand,” the student said.
The defacing is a setback for the GSB community, which has made efforts to promote racial equity and support for Black students. The GSB recently announced that it would be joining The Consortium, an organization of graduate business schools and business organizations that provides “merit-based, full-tuition fellowships to top MBA candidates who have a proven record of promoting inclusion in school, in their jobs or in their personal lives.”
The incident reminded the third student of “how far we are from being a truly inclusive community”: “I think we all need to remind ourselves that it’s better to say something and be wrong and actually learn from it, than to do nothing at all.”