Minority students describe biased culture in CSU’s College of Business

Matthew Bailey and Jorge Espinoza

Despite efforts by the College of Business to promote an inclusive culture, some students at Colorado State University continue to see systemic issues within the institution.

“The College of Business undergraduate program has approximately 2,500 students of which 39 percent are female and 29 percent are minorities,” wrote Zeel Patel, COB director of marketing and communications, in an email to The Collegian. “The College of Business also has 31 percent female and 9 percent minority faculty.”

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According to the fall 2018 COB Census, White-identifying students make up 73.5 percent of all students in the undergraduate program. Male-identifying students make up 61.2 percent of that total.

“We continue to assess where we are and where we still need to improve, but our efforts are intentional and driven by a genuine desire to create a culture where everyone feels welcomed and affirmed, and can flourish,” Dean Beth Walker said.

For business students Brayan Montes-Terrazas, Alan Casavantes and Yailynn Almanza, the lack of representation of women and people of color within the college creates a difficult environment that is continuously fueled by people who openly express biases and microaggressions.

Several students anonymously shared one instance with The Collegian where a professor in the COB presented an iClicker question written in Chinese to which the answer was “dog,” which students perceived to be a derogatory insinuation of Chinese food stereotypes.

“The College of Business takes all allegations of racism, sexual harassment, gender-based discrimination and other forms of misconduct seriously,” said Chelsey Lane, the human resource operations manager of the college. “If students, faculty or staff have concerns, we encourage them to make a report so that those concerns can be investigated.”

Latinx students represent 10.4 percent of the total students enrolled in the COB according to the fall 2018 COB Census. For students like Montes-Terrazas, a senior studying marketing, being in the COB means he’s used to standing out amongst his peers.

“When I was a freshman, as soon as I walked into my first class, not only was I the only person of color, I was also the only person with semi-dark hair. Everyone around me was blonde,” Montes-Terrazas said. “That was really hard because I came from an environment where everyone was Latinx or some type of color. That was the first time I had actually been the minority.”

Montes-Terrazas said not feeling included within the COB has made it harder for him to integrate into the college.

Casavantes, a junior business major, said working in groups has given space for microaggressions to show through in the classroom setting from peers.

“There are a lot of group projects in the COB, and (in) most of those groups, I’m the only LatinX-identified male,” Casavantes said. “So sometimes, I do feel like my word is less than my peers because they may feel that I’m less educated than them or that I don’t have the same resources or opportunities that they do, so they shut me down sometimes.”

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Both said one way the COB could create more diverse spaces within the college is by hiring more professors of color.

“I’ve only ever had White professors, I’ve never had any professor that I feel like I can relate to or connect to, and sometimes I can be more hesitant to ask questions because they may come across as stupid,’” Casavantes said. “Sometimes I do feel like I’m in a position where I silence myself because I feel like I’m going to be looked at differently.”

Almanza, a sophomore supply chain management student, said she has personally been the victim of racist and sexist remarks made by fellow COB students.

“Visibility matters. If people don’t see themselves represented, they don’t know that they can achieve. If you don’t see yourself represented, you need to be there. And that may mean you being the first to be there, and that can be very scary. However, it needs to happen.” – Patrice Palme, Undergraduate Academic Advisor, Business Diversity Leadership Alliance Coordinator and Adjunct Instructor for the College of Business.

“The College of Business is a little bit different than other colleges on campus where you definitely feel that tension between different races,” Almanza said. “I’m always mixed up with different people. Even with professors, there’s stories of them always saying subliminally racist things.”

Almanza said if it wasn’t for the Business Diversity Leadership Alliance, a program in the COB that represents students of color, she probably wouldn’t still be in the COB.

“I had someone say, ‘We have the Business Diversity Leadership Alliance and we have Women in Finance. Why don’t we have ‘Men in Finance?’” Almanza said.

Almanza said she has witnessed sexist remarks in her classes through the COB.

“I feel like in classes, you’re paired with a group, and guys always talk over you, or they won’t let you speak. They interrupt you,” Almanza said. “They feel very entitled sometimes.”

Almanza said COB students will often obtain internships through marketing and connections between sororities and fraternities when they know their friends wanted those same internships.

She said this creates a disadvantage for many first generation and international students who may not know many people in sororities and fraternities in order to earn those internships.  

Almanza said this competitive environment is promoted by professors.

“My professor was doing something for us, and he said, ‘Don’t do it this way. Some kid a couple of years ago did it this way and is probably now working for a nonprofit somewhere.’ And everyone laughed,” Almanza said. “Even I laughed, and then I realized that I’m kind of ingrained in that culture.”

Patel wrote that in a survey of undergraduate students during spring 2018, 83 percent of students responded with a score of seven out of 10 or higher in terms of the college preparing them to be culturally competent with respect to living and working in a diverse society.

But Almanza said COB students don’t have intercultural communication skills.

“They always say the wrong things,” Almanza said. “And part of business is global communication. These people hold none of it. Every time someone says something, it’s a microaggression, or it’s biased.”

Almanza said one of the people who helps her understand what it means to be a person of color in the COB is her professor Patrice Palmer.

“Visibility matters,” said Palmer, an academic advisor, coordinator for the BDLA and instructor within the COB. “If people don’t see themselves represented, they don’t know that they can achieve. If you don’t see yourself represented, you need to be there. And that may mean you being the first to be there, and that can be very scary. However, it needs to happen.”

Palmer said she believes the COB has recently taken greater steps towards closing the gaps between male and female representation as well as the representation of people of color.

“The College of Business can better support marginalized students by making sure that there are resources available that are tangible,” Palmer said. “I think that’s happening now.”

Montes-Terrazas said even though there have been difficulties being in the COB, it’s important for marginalized populations to be a part of the college because it allows marginalized populations the ability to accumulate wealth since they have been historically excluded from the economic system. 

“I’m a big proponent for more people of color in business because historically we haven’t been able to have wealth,” Montes-Terrazas said. “My biggest motivation to get through it was the fact that there are so little people of color actually in business. I didn’t want to let them win because I wanted to open the door for more people like me to come into that space.”

Casavantes said the COB should focus on capitalizing on diversity in order to have better business practices.

“Diversity is important for the College of Business because it brings in insight,” Casavantes said. “Having one mindset, like being White-male driven can change the perspective of certain things and if you have a team full of diversity, we’ll be able to kick a** because there are so many ideas and perspectives since we are so different.”

Jorge Espinoza and Matthew Bailey can be reached at news@collegian.com or on Twitter @CSUCollegian.