Race, Power, and Justice in Business Examines Social Inequities
Wednesday, March 8, 2023
BY JUSTIN ERICKSON, '25 BSB
One of the first things students do in BA 3001: Race, Power, and Justice in Business is take a test. They are asked to quickly react to various pairings of labels of “good” or “bad” with the faces of European-Americans and African-Americans. At the end of the test, the system gives students an unconscious bias score based on their reaction times to various pairings.
“Although this test seemed subjective, it did its job of opening my eyes to the possibility of bias, rather than blatantly stating it,” said Adam Bialzak ‘25 BSB.
BA 3001 dives into how racial and other structural inequalities are embedded in modern business practices. The newly required course examines standard business assumptions, including free markets, meritocracy, and evidence of systemic injustice, and how these systems reflect power differences and inequalities.
Professor John Budd hopes students develop an understanding of alternative perspectives on business and the economy, especially the historical roots of race and power in business and how those roots interlink with systematic social and economic inequalities related to race and its intersection with other identities. He wants students to leave the course ready to engage in constructive conversations around race and injustice, in and out of the business context, and to feel inspired to find ways to help advance racial justice.
“It's important to me that the course presents key alternative perspectives on power and justice, including those that are critical of how business exerts its power in society. So I wanted to be involved in teaching this course to help develop ways of conveying these multiple perspectives to Carlson School undergraduates,” he said.
The course also examines alternative business practices and how corporations can advance diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI).
Students dive into specific intersections of business and identity of their choosing, giving students a chance to develop awareness of and identify solutions for longstanding inequality in a particular area of interest to them. Topics chosen in Fall 2022 ranged from the wealth gap to systematic racism and sexism in Hollywood, the results were shared with others through poster sessions.
“Learning about a specific topic was a great way to apply what we had learned throughout the semester in an interactive way,” said Hayden Teigen ‘24 BSB. “I really liked going around and seeing each group's poster. Each topic had different effects on people's lives, and some of the topics were very eye opening.”
The course is also focused on personal development. Students write weekly journal entries, which gives them the opportunity to self-express and write their thoughts and feelings about certain topics in the class. Students are asked to consider differences in social identities, personal biases, and how to advance justice and DEI. This culminates with personal development plans, where students devise plans for being a stronger ally.
“This class harbors constructive conversations, and with the exposure to the topics we've learned throughout the course, students will feel more comfortable starting conversations that may be difficult to talk about,” said Wyatt Barker, ‘26 BSB.
In class, frequent discussions encourage students to challenge their thinking and dive deep into conversations and topics.
“When the discussion goes off course to a different topic, instead of pulling the class back, the professors like to “go down the rabbit hole” and let us continue the conversation.” said Zach Soule ‘25 BSB. “Personally, I have learned so much about my privileges and biases, and I think that every student will benefit from learning more about themselves.”