Race, Culture, and Business MBA Immersion: Realizing My “Why”

Guest Post By: Irfan Vengasseri, Full-time MBA 2024

Pursuing an MBA at Foster was a decision I made after much research and consideration as an international student. I had a clear picture of what I wanted from my MBA program, and I wanted to see how the program could help me work toward my goals while being active in my community. However, I should have paid more attention to the learning opportunities the Global Business Center provided. Only after connecting with some of my second-year MBAs early in the Autumn quarter did I learn about the Race, Culture, Business MBA Immersion trip offered by the Global Business Center.

As someone who wanted to learn more about America’s racial history, I was excited to go on the trip. My expectations were simple: to learn more about the intersection of race and business and how to be a better leader, ally, and activist in a diverse and rapidly changing world. However, during the immersion, I realized it was about something more fundamental. I learned more about America’s racial history, but the trip was not about learning the “hows” but about realizing the “whys.” It was less about “how can one be a better ally or an everyday activist” and more about “why should one be a better ally and an everyday activist.”

Over eight days, our 28-member group of Full-time and Evening MBA students from Foster, one faculty member, one staff member, and two employees from Sankofa Impact covered five states: Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee, Alabama, and Georgia. We spoke with Black-owned small business owners, corperations, large businesses, and NGOs. We visited historic sites and spoke to heroes from the Civil Rights Movement era to the Black Lives Matter movement. We ate at restaurants and eateries that were Black-owned and had historical significance, such as The Fourway in Memphis and Paschal’s in Atlanta, Georgia. We observed, reflected, and discussed how the fight for racial equality and justice has evolved over the centuries through protests, arts, clothing, and food. In between various venues and meetings, the group also took time to reflect and discuss multiple aspects of the fight for justice: what does activism mean to each of us, what does doing the right thing mean, and what does hope look like?

One of my most memorable events from the trip was the visit to the Legacy Museum: From Enslavement to Mass Incarceration in Montgomery, Alabama. The museum is immaculately curated and provides an intense and emotional experience that narrates the story of Black America and presents an opportunity for us to reckon with the challenging aspects of America’s history. The exhibits showcased the brutality of Black racial oppression in various forms and highlighted the heroes across different eras who stood up against these injustices. The Legacy Museum is easily the best museum experience I have had, and I highly recommend it to everyone. The museum serves as a powerful reminder of the need to confront our past and work towards an equitable future.

It was essential to realize that the trip was not about “learning the hows” but rather about “realizing the whys” because, for many issues, especially those that are systemically deep-rooted in society, there are no straightforward answers for the “hows”. For many other problems, especially intrapersonal situations, the answer is often the favorite phrase of all MBAs: “It depends.” In these scenarios, clearly understanding the “whys” is vital to guide decision-making.

A lot of the credit for the trip’s success goes to the wonderful folks at Sankofa Impact, who curated the whole trip along with our faculty lead, Ed deHaan. Their hard work and dedication in designing an itinerary that balanced intense events with lighter ones, covering five states in just eight days, and incorporating reflection and grounding exercises made the trip a meaningful and unforgettable experience for all participants.

In conclusion, the Race, Culture, and Business Immersion was one of the most fulfilling experiences I have had at Foster. Whether you are an outsider like me, trying to learn more about America’s racial history, or you deeply understand the same, the immersion offers valuable understanding through experiential learning. It takes everything you have read about – the stories, the statistics, and the reports – and adds a human element that enables you to connect with your humanity. It makes you realize how systemic racism grew in the country, how it has sustained over the years, and why we must confront it.

Irfan Vengasseri was born in Kerala, India, and brought up in Doha, Qatar. He went back to India for his undergrad in computer science and engineering, post which he worked as a software engineer with JPMorgan out of their tech-hub in Bengaluru, India. He chose to pursue his MBA at Foster owing to its strategic location in Seattle, and a close-knit collaborative cohort. At Foster, Irfan serves as the EVP of Operations in the Fulltime MBA Association. In his free time, he enjoys cooking, photography, and reading. He is a Global Business Center Scholarship recipient.

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