IN DECEMBER 2015, Syed Rizwan Farook
and Tashfeen Malik died after killing 14
people and injuring 22 others in an attempted
bombing at the Inland Regional
Center in San Bernardino, California.
That's about 60 miles from Burbank,
where my school, Woodbury University,
is located. But in the news of the world,
this was hardly an isolated incident.
By mid-September 2018, Wikipedia
had recorded more than 1,200 violent
acts classified as "terrorist incidents"
that had occurred around the world from
Afghanistan to Colombia and from
Somalia to Israel--since the beginning
of the year. That's an average of just over
4.5 radical acts every day under this
The situation with hate-based crimes
is just as grim. On February 14, 2018,
former student Nikolas Cruz opened
fire at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High
School in Parkland, Florida, killing 17
students and staff members and injuring
17 others. In May 2018, The Washington
Post reported that hate crimes had risen
for four straight years in major U.S. cities,
with the largest jump in San Jose, California.
This had resulted in a 132 percent
increase in such crimes over figures from
2016. Wikipedia's overview of registered hate crimes in the U.S. between 2008
and 2012 shows more than 34,000 were
conducted against people of all kinds,
including African Americans, Hispanic
Americans, Jews, Muslims, Catholics,
atheists, and LGBT individuals.
These statistics unequivocally show
the destruction that can be caused by
someone with a closed mind. More than
a half century ago, Martin Luther King
Jr. prophetically stated, "Nothing in all
the world is more dangerous than sincere
ignorance and conscientious stupidity."
Oscar-winning documentary filmmaker
Michael Moore says bluntly, "Ignorance
leads to fear; fear leads to hate."
Most business leaders and educators
believe that we live in an era when
innovation, design thinking, and radical
change are the keys to business success.
But I think it's even more important to
train our students to become leaders
who do not fall prey to the ignorance
and tribalism that threaten our planet's
future. Any school that teaches leadership
must consider how to counter such
destructive mindsets. I believe the way
to do this is to infuse business education
with values like integrity, transparency,
and sustainability and to subtly instill
in our students the largely unteachable
values of empathy, consciousness, and
appreciation for diversity.
All of our students come to us having
absorbed impulses from parents, peers,
and the societies to which they have
been exposed, and some of those impulses
will be marked by ignorance and
fear. Business schools must deliberately
challenge those mindsets by causing
students to question their assumptions,
internally digest new ideas, and reformat
their existing mental models.
It’s important to train our students to become leaders who do not fall prey to the ignorance and tribalism that threaten our planet’s future.
How can we do this? One way is
through positive role modeling, especially
when it comes to goals such as
promoting diversity. While we might
discuss diversity appreciation in our
management courses, students are not
likely to absorb the lessons unless we
"walk the talk" by welcoming diverse
students, staff, and faculty. At Woodbury University School of Business, our 15
full-time faculty members represent 11
nations, so students see that we have an
expansive view of inclusion, diversity
appreciation, and mutual respect. The
diverse composition of our school helps
attract students from a wide range of
ethnicities, races, sexual orientations,
political ideologies, geographical locations,
and generational backgrounds.
Another way to open closed minds is
to focus on sustainable thinking, with an
emphasis on making a positive difference
in the community. At our school, we do
this in part through two required courses
in both the BBA and the MBA programs.
In one course, we allow students to
identify a "moral responsibility" subject
about which they feel passionate, whether
that subject is homelessness, elder
care, youth care, animal care, poverty alleviation,
or veteran support. Then, student
teams research the topic, connect
with existing organizations that address
the issue, and volunteer their time and
effort. Finally, they present information
about their experiences to their peers.
The other course features a consultancy
at its core, but it is implemented from
a socially responsible stance. Through
these types of engaged studies, students
shift their paradigms and expand their
At Woodbury, we also work to change
mindsets by emphasizing mindful
performance-that is, helping students
understand that they must always be
mindful of the effects of their actions,
whether they are maintaining their
online presence or following through on
everyday decisions. At both the BBA and
MBA levels, we teach students to combine
conscious decision making with
innovative thinking. We want to instill
in our students the understanding
that leadership starts with
the self, because they cannot
lead others if they don't
guide themselves properly.
But there are other ways
that schools can challenge
students' established mindsets. For instance, we can subscribe to an
expanded definition of entrepreneurship.
An entrepreneurial mindset isn't valuable
just as a means of spurring business
creation. It also encourages people to
think in ways that are "positively divergent,"
to germinate new solutions to existing
problems. When we teach students
to think entrepreneurially, we teach them
to let go of old habits and perceptions and
be receptive to new thoughts and beliefs.
We also can help students understand
the necessity for change, teaching
them that it should be consciously motivated
by the need to create something
that's positive or discontinue something
Another crucial way we can help
students break away from closed
mindsets is to expose them to the real
world through internships and apprenticeships.
in corporate and social projects will
broaden students' horizons and sharpen
their sensitivity to social issues, which
can lead to paradigm changes.
Other types of learning also develop
empathy in students and raise their
consciousness about social issues. For
instance, role-play exercises provoke
reflection. We use the classic eulogy
exercise to force students to think about
the actions for which they want to be
remembered-and to help them realize
they want to do more with their lives
than merely strive for material goods.
At the end of their course of study,
business students ought to be crystal
clear about the purpose of business education:
to cultivate innovative leaders
for a sustainable society. Former U.N.
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has
said, "Defeating racism, tribalism, intolerance,
and all forms of discrimination
will liberate us all, victim and perpetrator
alike." Business schools
must prepare the graduates
who will lead the way.
Joan Marques is dean of the
School of Business at Woodbury
University in Burbank, California.
This article originally appeared in BizEd's March/April 2019 issue. Please send questions, comments, or letters to the editor to [email protected].
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