Each year, Kenan Scholars focus on a theme related to business and the public good. Following the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis and the ensuing unprecedented levels of social unrest, the Kenan Scholars program has chosen as its theme Race(ism) and Discrimination in Business and the Economy.
In recent months, a growing number of companies have released statements or ads against racism and police brutality. Corporate responses to anti-racism unrest include making financial commitments to black communities and Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), re-branding products, changing hiring and promotion practices and instituting mandatory anti-racist training. Some of these actions have been welcomed while others have been criticized for appearing hypocritical or opportunistic.
To kick off the new school year on Aug. 12, the Kenan Scholars program participated in Carolina’s annual Week of Welcome, which introduces incoming students to the university’s various clubs and organizations. The virtual event addressed how companies have attempted to confront racism amid the current racial unrest. Following introductory remarks by program director, Dr. Kim Allen, five scholars led small group discussions in which participants examined corporate responses to racism. These responses included Quaker Oats’ decision to retire the Aunt Jemima brand, Nike CEO’s letter to its employees, Bank of America’s four-year $1 billion commitment to economic opportunity initiatives, PayPal’s announcement of a $530 million commitment to support Black businesses and communities and Target’s announcement of $10 million to advance social justice.
Attendees discussed the meaningfulness and appropriateness of such efforts, reasons for these responses, and the roles companies should take to address systemic racism and other forms of discrimination in the workplace and beyond. In addition, the event provided attendees an opportunity to learn more about Kenan Scholars and to hear from current scholars about their experiences in the program. This event produced excellent conversations between students and was a great start to the year for Kenan Scholars!