View Video

Being a club president comes with challenges, but for those who took the helm in 2020, there were additional, unforeseen adversities that surfaced. Coupling the pandemic with the racial injustices that fueled the Black Lives Matter protests last summer, it hasn’t been a particularly easy or normal term for African American Student Union (AASU) Co-Presidents Bukie Adebo (MBA 2021) and Alexis Jackson (MBA 2021). We talked to the two second-year students about how 2020 affected their term, highlights from their time as co-presidents, and their advice for the next AASU presidents and all of HBS.

What are you most proud of from your time as co-presidents?
Bukie Adebo: The way we responded last summer when protests erupted over the murders of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor stands out. Along with our former co-president, Aaron Hancock, we outlined the changes we thought could help achieve racial equity at HBS. While things have changed a lot from those early meetings, our work inspired and formed the initial structure of the Dean's Anti-Racism Taskforce (DART). It's been rewarding to see some of those ideas starting to come into fruition.

The second thing we’re proud of is more of a culmination of moments, but it's been incredible to work with the Required Curriculum (RC) class of 2022. We were connected to many of them first through the AASU admissions team and then as co-presidents. It is such a rewarding experience to follow their journey into HBS.

Could you tell us more about the work AASU has been able to accomplish and how those events personally affected you?
Alexis Jackson
: The events during the summer of 2020 made us think critically about how we use our influence to drive racial justice. At first, this was overwhelming. As Black people at such a historical and prestigious institution, there was this sense that we had to do something big. Why else did we work so hard to gain access to these spaces? But we aren't the ones that broke the system, and we aren't the ones that benefit from it being broken. We had to balance our desire for change with understanding that the burden of making HBS more equitable should really be on HBS. To that end, we worked with administration to create a structure the led to DART. We participated in the task force and pushed for greater accountability.

In terms of more direct actions, we've worked to engage with the local Black community, to offer more academic and career support to HBS students, and build a more robust pipeline of Black students.

Bukie Adebo and Alexis Jackson (both MBA 2021)

Were there any goals you hoped to accomplish that you were unable to get to?
Alexis: We struggled to execute some of our community-building goals because of COVID-19. We planned to have a full in-person retreat, but that wasn't possible. We're still working to adapt our social programming to the hybrid format. We were slow to make the right transitions.

How has the pandemic affected AASU operations?
Alexis: We planned mostly virtual and small-group programming for the fall semester. We had to combat Zoom fatigue while still working to create community. Some members of our leadership team have become experts in leading Zoom conversations and games in a compelling way—it's been a huge transition.

How can faculty, staff, and alumni get involved with, and support, AASU?
: Our advice to faculty and staff is the advice we'd give most people. Be aware of your bias and actively work to be anti-racist. In so many instances, faculty and staff can shape students' experiences. Be conscious of the moments in which you discount the words of Black students or when you overlook Black students for opportunities. Commit to understanding and combatting the way racism and white supremacy shape our institutions. If you teach real estate, understand how racism has shaped access to housing and financing. If you teach marketing, understand how Black images are portrayed and exploited. Treat it like any other area.

For alumni, give resources to support the Black community at HBS and beyond. Use your money and your time to create opportunity. Answer the email or LinkedIn message from that random student. Write the check to that organization. Push your team harder on issues of race. It all matters.

What advice do you have for the next co-presidents?
Bukie: Lean on your team. We are able to do what we can because of an amazing leadership team—people who are just as motivated to provide for our community. As a team, we are able to do such a variety of programming, from mentor pairing with alumni, venture capital competitions awarding $175K in capital, community service events with Boston local schools, career fairs, and a conference on new platforms. This is due to a team that is constantly looking for ways to build upon the successes of previous years. We love and appreciate our leadership team more than we can adequately put in words!

Are there any ideas for change that you hope to see in the future for HBS?
Alexis: We really want to see HBS commit to the pillars they agreed upon for DART. There are some areas, like faculty diversity, in which HBS really needs to upend some of its traditional practices. We believe this is an area that requires radical change. HBS must be willing to sacrifice some of its historic power and dismantle aspects of the institution that are steeped in racism. It's difficult work and we don't want to understate it. It's also an opportunity for leadership and growth.

This story was originally published on the HBS Newsroom website.