Business Leaders of UConn provides a welcoming space for marginalized students

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Business Leaders of UConn is an organization dedicated to empowering BIPOC students by giving them the skill sets they deserve for future success. The group meets every Wednesday at 6 p.m. via Zoom. Photo courtesy of the author.

Two weeks ago, our editorial board published an article calling out the university’s poor efforts to include an accepting environment for BIPOC students. According to a racial microaggressions survey, “77% reported that race relations at UConn ranged from a little to extremely problematic.” There is one organization in particular that works hard in approaching this problem. The banner on their website adequately sums up the initiative: “Business Leaders of UConn (BLU) seeks to empower and advance underrepresented BIPOC students through various distinguished professional opportunities, while creating a strong community for minority students interested in business. The ultimate goal is to equip high-achieving, marginalized students with the skill-set, resources, mentorship and network to accomplish their career goals.”  

Shane Young, an eighth-semester finance major and president of BLU, explained why the organization was established in April 2020. It was launched by Young and fellow co-founders Lauren Hipplewitz, Kate Cruz, Efrain Gonzalez and Chloe Jihae Son. 

“We founded it being one of the few people of color in the business school and dealing with a lot of isolation and kind of imposter syndrome and all the feelings that come with being not represented in the space, especially a space that’s very competitive,” Young said. “We founded it to really provide a space for people — students of color and all marginalized people really, to come and feel included and welcome and have a community of people that they feel represent them, but also to provide them with resources. Whether it be mentors or information or different types of career-development sessions that we’re doing, just to provide them with really concrete resources so they can be successful and achieve the goals and aspirations that they have.” 

Although COVID-19 restrictions have caused meetings to be carried out in a virtual setting, BLU continues to meet every Wednesday at 6 p.m. via Zoom. Last week, they held an additional info session at 7 p.m. to discuss their upcoming case competition. 

The rundown of the competition is fairly simple: Students are given a case prompt entailing a hypothetical business situation, where they are required to answer several questions about the prompt through a presentation. This semester’s case prompt follows private equity firm, Storrs Buyout Partners, who want to acquire clothing retailer BLU Jeans. Unfortunately, BLU Jeans has hit a bit of a rough patch financially, and participants have been asked to deliver their insight on how to increase profitability for the next five years. They will essentially be acting as consultants, suggesting recommendations and analyzing data and industry trends.  

Contestants are allowed to participate alone or in groups. However, there is a benefit to having less team members, as the $100 prize would have to be split among the group. The deadline for all teammates to sign up via Google form is Wednesday, March 10 at 11:59 p.m.  

If the possibility of winning some extra dough isn’t enough to convince you to join BLU, perhaps hearing input from its members will. When asked about what drew them to the organization, sixth-semester finance major and incoming Chief Operating Officer Melvin Andre mentioned the isolating nature of UConn’s School of Business. 

“I joined BLU because of the opportunities provided: mentorships, internship interview help … it was more so the space aspect too — coming into a space where you could be yourself and talk about business ideas and things of that sort with people that look like you because you don’t get that experience at the business school,”

Melvin Andre, sixth-semester finance major and incoming Chief Operating Officer

“I joined BLU because of the opportunities provided: mentorships, internship interview help … it was more so the space aspect too — coming into a space where you could be yourself and talk about business ideas and things of that sort with people that look like you because you don’t get that experience at the business school,” Andre said. 

Fourth-semester finance major and incoming Chief Financial Officer Peter Vibert shared a similar sentiment. 

“One of the reasons why I became so passionate for BLU immediately was because I have experience being in other orgs in the School of Business; I’m a finance major so I’ve joined the Finance Society, finance committees and all these other clubs,” Vibert said. “But it was very different because you could just immediately feel that the space wasn’t for you and you would question if that was your place, like whether you had a right to be in that room. Joining BLU and seeing a bunch of young professionals, all of color, coming together and wanting to help each other, that definitely showed me it was a community I wanted to be a part of.” 

Within the past month, anti-Semitic and anti-Black graffiti have been found inside the biophysics building while Undergraduate Student Government has come under fire for the proposal of a free speech bill that some say “gives students a free pass to express casual racism, homophobia and misogyny without consequence.” UConn’s administration hasn’t done much to combat these issues — as expected from any institution that thrives on over-priced tuition and uses diversity merely as an admissions factor. Sixth-semester accounting major and incoming Vice President Aliyah Hayes addressed the matter by emphasizing a visible shift in power between administrators and students. 

“I’ve definitely seen students take more initiative in their education and just their overall experience at college,” Hayes said. “Whether it’s through certain positions being created in order to talk about some of the incidents that have happened, or creating protocol to acknowledge the events as they happen and even thinking back to some of the [Instagram] pages that were created over the summer, I’m starting to see that change starts with [the students]. In order to have concrete change, they’re gonna have to take hold of it and they can’t wait on President Katsouleas because again, it’s an institution. It runs off of profit and so that’s always gonna be their number one priority — but for students, it’s our experience and it’s what we’re getting out of college.” 

Ultimately, it’s up to the students to offer solutions. Their compassion for marginalized groups on campus makes BLU a worthy example. 

For more information on BLU, be sure to check out @uconnblu on Instagram. If you’re interested in joining their case competition or if you have any questions about it, feel free to shoot them a DM. 

1 COMMENT

  1. It’s the sign of the times… there’s a shift in human consciousness on the planet… and it’s about balancing… including bringing about equality. A big thank you to everyone who contributes to this..🙏🏻💕😄💕🙏🏻

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