Haas Voices: Staffers reflect on “creating the campus we want to see”

portraits: susie jordan, Tyrone Wise, Seren Pendleton-Knoll.
From left to right: Susie Jordan, Tyrone Wise, Seren Pendleton-Knoll.

Haas Voices is a first-person series that highlights the lived experiences of members of the Berkeley Haas community. 

More than 60 Haas staffers signed up for a recent Anti-Racism Challenge that addressed everything from anti-Black racism on campus to the Black Trans Lives Matter movement, to the cost of racism and redlining in the housing industry, to the do’s and don’t for discussing racism at work. 

We talked with Susie Jordan, who joined UC Berkeley in 2000 as a library supervisor and is now a project manager with strategy and operations at Haas, Seren Pendleton-Knoll, associate director of the Center for Responsible Business, and Tyrone Wise, associate director of Student Experience for the Full-time MBA Program, who helped lead the challenge.

What motivated you to do the challenge?

Susie Jordan: I’m interested in continually learning about diversity, equity, and inclusion and enjoy structured content to guide conversations. I’ve participated in many sessions on and off campus, and appreciated the structure and engagement with fellow staff members. That said, I was excited to participate and explore this challenge among Haas colleagues.

Seren Pendleton-Knoll:  This past summer of racial reckoning really made us rethink everything we’re doing at the Center for Responsible Business. We had larger discussions about how we were thinking about everything, including how we set up contracts with companies and donors, to how we onboard new employees as well as our student workers. We asked how are we infusing these anti-racist practices into our work streams? How can we continue to uplift voices who typically aren’t brought to the table? 

I saw the anti-racism challenge as a great opportunity to make sure what we were starting to develop was aligned with best practices in the space. Second, I am such a fan of the team that organized this (Marco Lindsey, Tyrone Wise, Armaan Singh, and David Moren) so any time I get the opportunity to engage with them and their content and expertise, I jump at the chance. Personally, I’m kind of a squeaky wheel around DEI efforts and saw this as an opportunity to have really deep conversations that aren’t around direct work streams. We all learned so much from each other.

Tyrone Wise: My motivation to co-facilitate was rooted in my passion to create the Haas campus I want to see. Being able to share my experiences and learnings with my colleagues and watch them evolve and be students always and question the status quo–two our Defining Leadership Principles–brought me great joy. This challenge has reaffirmed why I love Haas. Seeing so many of our leaders further develop their diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging lens and allow themselves to be vulnerable and share personal insights and experiences was amazing to witness.

Did you learn anything new about yourself during the course? Did it change your perspective on anything?

Susie Jordan: Definitely. In the big picture, I learned more about the impact of racism on our society and how it has shaped our thoughts and actions, both consciously and unconsciously. The work is not something that you ever complete. It’s a constant vigilance or awareness that these thoughts arise. Then, you need to understand how you respond to them and what actions you take.

Seren Pendleton-Knoll: The biggest thing for me was defining what we talk about when we talk about racism—and when we’re having these conversations, the importance of having a shared definition. A lot of the times in conversations you may have two different definitions of what racism is and who is a racist and what a systemic racist society looks like. And that’s where so many contentious arguments happen. We need to take a step back and say: What are we defining as racism? What does that mean? And then once you have that, it’s “okay, let’s agree on this.” Then you’re able to have more of those impactful conversations. That was a really big takeaway for me. I had not ever thought to assume that someone had a different definition of what it was.

Tyrone Wise: I learned how to better show up for my colleagues and students during difficult times. Having many colleagues share their experiences helped me understand different perspectives that I can use to better understand how to show up in different situations.

How did the training challenge change you personally?

Seren: It taught me to maintain openness and awareness of what privilege and bias are in any given situation; making sure that my work to fight this is active. It’s not only a state of mind, but it needs to be an active part of life. Being a nice white person isn’t good enough. This necessitates constant action and vigilance, and it’s an ongoing practice.

At work, it also made me take a look at how important it is to be mindful that experiences that are happening in the world impact how people show up in the workplace. Something like asking “How was your weekend?” is a normal part of conversation during a team check-in but it might not be right now. For certain staff members, that’s not a pleasant conversation when there’s another police shooting that’s obviously all over the news. We might want to shift and say something like: “On a scale of one to five, where are you at today?” Now, when there are all these acts of violence against Asian communities as well, we need to ask how we’re acknowledging that on our teams that have Asian staff members and how we are talking about that. And what does that mean for work performance, showing up at work, and how do you handle team dynamics?

What are some of the things that you learned about changing the behavior of others?

Susie: It starts with acknowledging our own racist thoughts and actions. Then, having the courage to name what we see and compassionately calling people into a conversation when we see or hear something that doesn’t feel right. Also, using our positional power or privilege to advocate for or introduce changes. There’s so much great research out there that points toward best practices. But there needs to be a willingness for us to do the work, even if it means that our processes might be less efficient during say, a job search that might take longer, or committees might be slower moving because you have to make sure that the right people are in the room. These are the important steps that actually help make change.