An Open Letter to President Spinelli

Article by Lada Peshkovsky

Dear President Spinelli,

One of the most distinctive and appreciated aspects of Babson College is its size. Going to a small school offers the benefits of small class sizes, having faculty and staff know us by name and feeling as though we are a part of a tight-knit community, among others. You, President Spinelli, fit in perfectly to this environment by providing us with a very personal and human-centered approach to leadership. It is clear that part of the presidential persona you embody is visibility and availability for the students, and the students readily accepted this after the previous president, Kerry Healey, who was notoriously out of touch with the student body.

This response is why some students were stricken with your answer to the recent reinvigoration of the Black Lives Matter movement.

On May 31st, you sent out an email with the subject line: One Babson, standing together to the undergraduate students regarding the murder of George Floyd. In it were kind words and condolences for this tragic event.

“We are reminded yet again of the toll that hatred and systemic racism can exact on our communities, nation and world – and the disproportionate impact on black communities and lives. Like many of you, we are angry, frustrated and heartbroken […] As entrepreneurial leaders, we are driven to solve problems, to lead with empathy, and to create solutions to complex systemic challenges. It is our responsibility to discuss and explore these issues, to listen and learn, to confront our own biases, and to speak out and lead change. “

You then posed the question, “We must continuously ask ourselves: What will I do, in my way, to become more aware of my own biases and the impact of that behavior?

So what will you do, President Spinelli? This email ended with that question unanswered and left us with a vague and inconclusive idea of your plan of action. As the leader of this institution, professors, staff, and students all look to you as an example and role model, and this is not an issue that you can afford to be business-like about. This matter is deeply personal, so why is it now that you, a very personal leader, seem to be taking a step back? If black lives matter to you and this institution, then please say black lives matter. There is no tip-toeing around something like this.

You highlighted Sadie Burton-Goss’s work as Chief Diversity & Inclusion Officer, “The (Diversity and Inclusion) Council plans to communicate with our community members the resources and support services we continue to offer to be an ally to colleagues, classmates, and society.” After effectively appointing her the leader of the school’s efforts to educate and spread awareness amongst the Babson community, you seemingly performed your responsibility as a leader of acknowledging the issue. But, by directing questions and concerns over to those who specialize in that field, you are shuffling off the responsibility of coming up with a solution for the school. There is endless evidence of the ways that systematic racism exists and prevails in higher education. Babson is no exception to that, which means that your and the school’s transparency on the matter is as relevant now as ever.

That is why students like recent graduate Ashley Mukasa ‘20 felt the need to flip the script and ask you to answer your question. You graciously agreed to speak with her over the phone, and she later agreed to an interview about that very same conversation. Mukasa reported that she was left with the impression that discussing the implications of racial bias on campus was not as pressing of a matter to you as Covid-19 and the nearly impossible task of figuring out how to reopen the school in the fall and pull Babson out of the financial sinkhole that this pandemic has incurred.

In an attempt to prove that this matter is worth your personal attention, Mukasa brought up a specific example of racial harassment between a fellow recent graduate and a professor that occurred during the spring semester of 2019. In this incident, the student who experienced racial trauma was at first reluctant to report it to the school because they did not think anything would come of it. Still, when they began to receive backlash and had more instances of harassment from fellow students who were defending the professor, they finally did decide to report it. The fact that students such that this one does not feel comfortable coming to the school for help when they are not only marginalized but also targeted by faculty go to show that there is a lot of work to be done.

I expect that you have been consistently overwhelmed with developing strategies for safely reopening campus since this pandemic, and for that, I am thankful. But, what is the point of working so hard to allow us to return to campus when for many students, this means returning to a place where they are marginalized and feel unheard? If you are unsure of what you should do because within Babson’s administration people such as Sadie Burton-Goss and Patrick Hale from Multicultural and Identity Programs are already putting motions into play, why not ask for feedback from the student body? A significant aspect of Babson’s Strategic Plan is that entrepreneurship is the most powerful driver of positive change and that there is no choice between societal and economic value. So show us how you will use your platform and privilege to create positive change.

Your lack of visibility about this is discernible, and as the phrase black lives matter rings all around us, your silence is resonant.


Lada Peshkovsky