Updated: Oct 14, 2020
BIPoC students who have applied for RSOs such as The Blue Chips have found themselves few and far between — but they say merely striving for diversity isn’t enough.
By Jingwen Zhang, Staff Reporter
Ricardo Mestre, a UChicago student involved in The Blue Chips, a preprofessional finance group. Provided.
When Ricardo Mestre got into The Blue Chips in the Fall quarter of his first year, he realized he was the only Latinx person of around 25 people in his New Member Education class, which educates new recruits before they’re officially admitted.
“In some places, [ethnic diversity is] better. In some places, it’s worse,” said Mestre, speaking of pre-professional RSOs. “But I’d say it’s not very good anywhere.”
John Kunzo, a third-year student, had a similar experience of being a minority in The Blue Chips and the Undergraduate Investment Banking Group; he was one of the few Black people or the only Black person, in one organization that he was unwilling to specify.
John Kunzo, a third-year student. Provided.
“At times, it was tough, especially seeing no one else that looks like you,” said Kunzo in an email. But the lack of BIPoC members also prompted a sense of solidarity among the few students of color in the organizations, and “without that network, the organizations would have been much tougher to handle,” said Kunzo.
In part, this lack of diversity reflects UChicago’s poor diversity statistics: while the Class of 2023 is 10% Black and 16% Latinx, these numbers fall short of the national 15.1% for Black college students and 20.9% for Latinx students shown on the 2018 census.
But some students also see barriers to entry for BIPoC students that are specific to pre-professional organisations.
The low numbers of BIPoC students, according to Mestre, has the potential to make Blue Chips intimidating.
“Diversity is so important because I think of all the people that walk into the room… without having met anyone, without having spoken to anyone… they see it as a place that is not for them,” said Mestre.
“I think I’ve been very lucky to be so passionate about investing that I’m able to bypass [that] fact,” he said.
But some can’t rely on their expertise to see them through, partly because they experience roadblocks from the beginning. Although many pre-professional RSOs say that they don’t require prior knowledge, the application process of some RSOs frequently assumes it, according to Dayo Adeoye, the Co-President of Black Professional Society (BPS) and a third year Black student.
This means that those with no prior exposure to finance or business, who often include students from under-resourced backgrounds, get hit the hardest.
“I was closed off at the beginning just by virtue of not knowing…I went to [Eckhart Consulting’s] info session, and then I was in a whole new world of things I didn’t know,” said Adeoye. “So I definitely from there realized that I did not have enough knowledge to be part of those selective RSOs on campus.”
And so Adeoye decided not to apply to Eckhart that quarter — instead, she joined the Black Professional Society with the view of reapplying to Eckhart in her second year when she knew more. But she ended up joining the society’s board and never applied to Eckhart.
Some students believe that finance and business RSOs rely heavily on people already in the club to reach out to potential candidates, as with other campus organizations such as University Theater. This leads to a lack of outreach to minority students.
“You often have people just bringing in their own friends to these different clubs,” said Briana Neal, a Class of 2020 graduate. “It isn’t really the clubs making themselves known to people of different experience levels.”
There have been some efforts to try and take things in a different direction.
Alesia Michel is the Principal of Operations of Eckhart Consulting, and a Black, first-generation low-income 4th year student. She founded the UChicago Consulting Consortium (the Consortium) this year with the aim of bringing more minority students into UChicago’s preprofessional space — mainly by breaking informational barriers and making consulting accessible to students from under-resourced backgrounds.
Alesia Michel, founder of the UChicago Consulting Consortium and Principal of Operations at Eckhart Consulting. Provided.
“In terms of next steps, [we want to first make] sure that we support underrepresented minorities by inviting identity-based RSOs,” said Michel, “so it becomes more of a partnership than one group telling the other what to do.”
But Michel was quick to add that these efforts in themselves are not enough, and that celebrating these initiatives would promote complacency and cause people to “think that this is enough when in actuality, our actions are just the beginning.”
Some Consortium participants include Eckhart Consulting, UChicago campusCATALYST, Prism Consulting, and Pareto Solutions.
In an individual effort to get more BIPoC members, the Blue Chips created its own Diversity and Inclusion Committee at the beginning of Spring 2020. The club started its first Diversity Info Session in the Fall quarter last year and has shortened its application this Fall quarter, changing the focus from longer case studies to shorter questions about applicants’ interest in the club.
As for diversity statistics, at least three RSOs - Pareto Solutions, Promontory Investment Research, and Prism Consulting - have started to keep track of these numbers during their recruiting process this quarter. [Editor’s note: The author of this article is an active member of Promontory Investment Research.]
But in Kunzo’s mind, simply recruiting BIPoC students isn’t enough. “I want to see care for inclusion that is not rooted in ‘checking the box’ [and then not actually caring],” he said.
Similarly, Michel believes that just recruiting students of color without caring for their progress can lead to tokenism and complacency, where students of color are “seen as an embodiment of an entire demographic.”
Gaurav Bhushan, the former president of the LGBTQ+ Business Alliance and Class of 2020 graduate, believes that these financial barriers must be more explicitly acknowledged within the preprofessional space.
“It’s a taboo to talk about homosexuality, but I think it’s even a taboo to talk about poverty,” he said.
Josselyn Navas, a third year Latina student, believes that there needs to be an intervention from college organizations that aren’t run by students, such as the Office for Multicultural Studies, the Department for Critical Race and Ethnic Studies, and Center for College Student Success.
“These topics are uncomfortable to navigate... especially if members don't identify as a minority,” said Navas, highlighting predominantly white makeup of the organizations as hindering conversations about race.
On the whole, students think that the way applicants are judged needs to change. It should be more about potential, according to Mestre.
“The best way to think about recruiting candidates is who could be the best at understanding this, or who could benefit the most from the education that we’re offering,” Mestre said.