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PILLAI: Rutgers Business School falls short on inclusivity

Column: Unboxed

The Rutgers Business School offers students great opportunities but must do more to ensure all students can benefit from them. – Photo by Olivia Thiel

As one of thousands of students at Rutgers, I have found my niche in the Rutgers Business School. I knew since my first year that this was where I would pursue my two majors, marketing and business analytics and information technology and hopefully piece together my future career. 

Every time I take the LX to Livingston campus, the boxy white frame of the business building supported by spindly, slanted columns immediately comes into view. Although the building looks sterile on the outside and inside, I feel as though I am coming home.

This is the place where I have met friends, learned about topics ranging from microeconomics to organizational leadership and spent time on both sides of the table during interviews. Here, I have pushed my own boundaries of comfort by participating in competitions and conjuring the courage to speak to strangers. 

I am grateful that the Rutgers Business School has fostered my growth, which is why my criticism comes from a place of appreciation and loyalty rather than bitterness. Each year, they make us aware of its status as a top public business school in the Northeast and the U.S., according to various publications including Bloomberg Businessweek and the U.S. News & World Report.

This fixation on numbers and rankings obscures the Rutgers Business School's key shortcoming — namely, its tendency to exclude rather than include.

With a student population increasingly focused on securing jobs in finance, it has become a microcosm of Wall Street. Some professors tout their own identities as veterans of the trading floor to remind students that the real world eats analysts alive.

Those same professors spend hours in class marveling at the progress of the stock market that week without covering the necessary course material, assuming that students are financial experts because one student always boasts about the performance of his actual portfolio. 

The students who raise their hands in these classes are almost always male, eager to secure the professor’s approbation and potential connections in Wall Street itself. Every moment is a networking opportunity, after all.

One of my professors even tends to refer to students as “fellas,” a phrase that I always find amusing. Something as small as an address to an audience can imply that a professor usually finds himself in the company of other men when discussing academic pursuits. 

Surrounded by peers and professors whose industry knowledge appear to be unattainable, many students immediately eliminate certain careers from their list of possibilities. That may be part of the reason why majors such as finance skew heavily male, whereas majors such as marketing have a higher proportion of female students.

Outside of the classroom, business school glorifies bro culture. Recruiting processes for clubs and organizations mimic those of fraternities, providing little to no transparency. Students’ acceptance into these groups often hinges on the opinion of student leaders.

If the leader of a group thinks that your aura is just not cool enough, or if they think you are unworthy of any notice, you will probably not get far in the recruitment process. Similarly, students looking for organizations to get involved in immediately search for prospective connections and discard those deemed insignificant. 

As a board member of a business club, I introduced myself at our club’s first general meeting, where we discussed some of the competitive programs we offer. Two students walked up to me afterward and chatted amicably with me, but their eyes shifted around the room, demonstrating their clear lack of interest in what I had to say.

Finally, they cut to the chase and asked me, “Do you know which board members I should talk to in order to increase my chances of acceptance into the program?” It was no coincidence that I happened to be the only female board member present. 

In class, I have learned about the implementation of diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives in the workplace and the value that diversity brings to organizations, but the Rutgers Business School still has fallen short of true inclusivity. Currently, white and Asian students both represent 30 percent of Rutgers Business School, making up 60 percent of the total student population.

In contrast, Hispanic and Black students represent 16 and 5.7 percent, respectively. For a university that markets itself as one of the most diverse schools in the Big Ten Conference, these statistics are dismal. 

When a student looks around a room or an organization and realizes that they are the only person who identifies with a particular race, ethnicity, gender, ability or another category, they may experience loneliness and isolation that no amount of laudatory business publications could remedy.

Not only does the Rutgers Business School need to examine its culture, but also it needs to reevaluate its admissions and recruitment processes to create a student body that is truly representative of the country and the world. If the Rutgers Business School administration does the necessary work to establish an inclusive, welcoming business school, they will ensure the success of students for years to come.

Preanka Pillai is a Rutgers Business School junior majoring in marketing and business analytics and information technology. Her column, "Unboxed," runs on alternate Wednesdays.

*Columns, cartoons and letters do not necessarily reflect the views of the Targum Publishing Company or its staff.

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