Shock is an understatement. Disgust, maybe confusion. Since the Supreme Court announced its verdict to end the use of race as a factor in college admissions, I’ve been pondering deeply. Should I say something? Should I remain silent? As a self-identified wordsmith, words come easily to me. I’m rarely at a loss for what to say; in fact, I’m probably a bit of a blabbermouth. However, this entire situation has perplexed me. For the first time in a long time, I’m tongue tied — literally and figuratively. Mentally, I’ve been in a psychological limbo since the decision was released.
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I never planned on becoming a management consultant or investment banker. When I applied to Wharton, I knew exactly who I wanted to be: an entrepreneur. I’ve always been the girl with 10 business plans in a notebook. My years at Wharton made my firm entrepreneurial ambitions seem more like a side project than an actual career path. I was told to do the “safe thing” and put my entrepreneurial dreams on hold more times than I can remember.
It’s September 2021, we’re still in a pandemic, and Penn’s campus is going through a dynamic reopening. We’re mentally envisioning the transition from Zoom screens to lecture halls, from managing a hectic Google Calendar filled with virtual meetings to monitoring your daily steps. Despite troubling COVID-19 trend lines, we’re eager to return to some sense of normalcy and the lessons of the pandemic remain salient. We’ve learned not to take for granted in-person classes, a world without face masks, or interpersonal contact. If I could summarize the lessons I’ve learned during the pandemic, everything points to this: community is important. Genuine relationships and positive social interaction are important.
I am Black. I was born in the United States. I am a college student. And I never learned about the Tulsa Massacre in school.
Women are leaders. We deserve a seat at the head of the table — just as much as any male leader does. It shocks me that I still have to write articles like this, even with the myriad of evidence that supports and empowers female leadership. Harvard Business Review released an article highlighting research showing that women are better leaders during a crisis. Countries with women in key leadership positions fared better during COVID-19. Women lead through every faction of society — from the kitchen to the boardroom. We are more than leadership material, we model and shape the future of leadership. However, women, like myself, still face various challenges when ascending to our rightful positions of power and influence in corporate or organizational hierarchies. Our inner Wonder Woman is waiting to emerge and manifest, but is often squandered due to various gender stereotypes, hindering our potential for impact.
Wharton has made immense progress in working to address the needs of their minority student population. Whether it’s through the founding of the Wharton Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Group, Wharton’s first undergraduate diversity, equity, and inclusion group, or in the increasing community forums designed for voicing authentic cultural issues, great strides have been made. However, more can be done. With the perpetual racism and gender-discrimination attributed to corporate spaces, the voices of Black and Indigenous students and other people of color need to be magnified at this moment in time. While steps have been taken to increase equity, we must move into authentic and intersectional inclusion. When unpacking our history, authenticity’s role in belonging, and my personal experiences, we can understand the need for intersectional and underrepresented voices to be amplified in business spaces.
After a burdensome four years, our country has finally received the opportunity to heal. When the results of the election were finalized, there was a sudden lightness in the air. What seemed like a bad nightmare was finally over. We were experiencing the rainbow after the rain, with an outpour of celebration in major US cities. However; I didn’t feel excited when I heard the results. In this particular election, I wasn’t thrilled. To prove its perceived lack of seriousness, even Kanye West decided to take a shot at the presidency. It seemed like a repeat of the Donald Trump — Hillary Clinton dichotomy. Once again, I was tasked with choosing ‘’the lesser of two evils.’’
My name, Surayya, has always been a point of contention among my family members. Surayya is a distinct name that means ‘’star’’ in Arabic and ‘’noble’’ in Swahili. I beam with pride at the sound of my name. The name my parents taught me to take pride in, however, is questioned by some. Upon hearing that my parents named me Surayya, many relatives feared for my job prospects. "Is anyone going to hire her with a name like that?" They were open about their reservations. "Maybe Sarah, a traditionally Caucasian name, would work a little better." WIth a name like Sarah, no one would suspect that I was Black, providing me with an advantage in the hiring process.
We’ve been here before, saw the looting, and went through the same emotions: anger, sadness, grief, despair, and guilt. We've said their names countless times: Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Freddie Gray, Sandra Bland. The examples are endless. These names trend for a while. We experience widespread outrage. “Fake woke” behavior arises. We put the hashtags on our social media. #Sayhername, #icantbreathe, #blacklivesmatter. And repeat. The problem is that the level of concern we express online doesn’t match the everyday behavior we exhibit. Until people practice anti-racist behavior, nothing will change.
It was the fairy-tale ending to an eventful Black History Month. The news broke soon after Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie was announced as this year’s commencement speaker. On Feb. 26, I opened my inbox and saw the name "Erika James." She would be Wharton’s new dean. Okay. Business as usual. However, my instinct told me to do a quick Google search. And there she was. She’s Black, and a woman, just like me.
Black history is Penn’s history. Like any institution of higher learning in the United States, our campuses would not be the same without the contributions of Black students. It is impossible to think about the American college experience without considering historically Black colleges and universities, or even attending a college pep rally without reminiscing about Beyonce’s Homecoming.
Racism is real. We often like to ignore this monster and act like it doesn’t exist, but it does. Purses are clutched when young black men walk in the street; Latinx people are bombarded with ‘’build the wall’’ propaganda.
Wharton Council recently hosted a story slam on failure. Because of the work many student organizations have done to destigmatize failure at Penn and because of the Signal’s Anti Resume project, I’ve decided to share my story in hopes that it will inspire someone.
We are approaching a robust admissions season. With an increasing amount of students applying each year, elite college acceptance is more coveted than ever. But some of us have failed to leave the college admissions race in our senior year of high school. Whether by posting our stats on College Confidential or creating YouTube videos entitled ‘’What got me into Penn," we have indirectly contributed to the toxic culture surrounding admissions. All Penn Youtubers, College Confidential posters, or Reddit admissions ‘’coaches’’ need to consider how they can create content surrounding their educational trajectory more healthily and inclusively.
When I entered Huntsman Hall for the first time, I discovered that Wharton had a mode of living and being entirely its own. The building was bustling with so much life and activity. I remember seeing men and women strutting past me in well-tailored suits and the smell of ruthless ambition filling the air. It soon became evident that everyone had a grander destination beyond their day-to-day classes or club meetings. They wanted to strike it big in an elite society built for capitalist success. The intensity was electric and mildly terrifying.