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In April 1998, a Black Affinity meeting at Babson led to the first Black Affinity Conference, now observing its 20th anniversary. Created to engage and retain students, improve recruitment, and re-engage alumni from the black community, the BAC continues to bring people together for learning, networking, and celebrating.
Leticia Stallworth ’99, MBA’13, co-founder of the conference, says many black students didn’t have a great experience at Babson when she attended as an undergrad. “There were 13 black students in my class. Only eight of us finished,” says Stallworth, who also was president of the Black Student Union for three of her four years at Babson. “We kept losing members of our class to other schools.” Negative sentiments, both subtle and overt, made some students feel unwelcome. “A professor suggested to me that I was an affirmative action decision,” she says. “Yet I went to The Bronx High School of Science, ranked as one of the best high schools in the country.”
But Stallworth knew Babson was the right place for her. As a first-generation college student, she was determined to graduate from the only school she wanted to attend. “I came for an overnight visit to Babson and got to sit in on FME,” she says. Returning home, she applied early and received her acceptance letter on Christmas Eve. “My mom and dad didn’t go to college. I knew I had to change the cycle. My mom didn’t even know I had applied to college until I got my letter. Once I left, I wasn’t coming home without my name on a Babson diploma.”
Dismayed by the number of black students transferring, Stallworth and friends reached out to Student Affairs and Campus Life for help putting together the first BAC. The conference was small but made a big impact on the community. “We wanted students to see that black people graduate from here and go on to have amazing careers,” she says. Since then, except for a two-year hiatus, the BAC has been held each year. The conference has evolved from a half-day event with about 40 attendees to a weekend of activities with more than 220 participants.
Last year, Stallworth also spearheaded the launch of the Black Affinity Network, which has its roots in social media groups started by Stallworth in 2008. “We realized that doing a conference once a year isn’t enough,” she says. The BAN has 10 territory captains who work to increase alumni and student participation in everything from college fairs to prospective student interviews to summer sendoffs to mentoring. “We’re helping to build networks,” says Stallworth. “We have black alumni all over the country who can help students with jobs and internships and talk with them about the wonderful experiences they had.”
The campus is more diverse today than when she was a student, notes Stallworth, but groups still need to communicate better with each other and listen to one another. Change is difficult, she acknowledges, and some people are uncomfortable with diversity. “Unfortunately, black people are accustomed to feeling uncomfortable,” she says.
Stallworth adds that the word “affinity” means you don’t have to be black to attend the BAC or be a member of BAN. “You just have to believe in our vision,” she says, “and share our values.”—DC
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