Teaching DEI Through Case Studies
Creating curricula that reflect the complexity—and, some believe, the social responsibility—of the modern business world.
In the summer of 2020, the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement took center stage across the United States. At the height of a devastating pandemic and in the wake of several high-profile murders of Black Americans by law enforcement and others, a diverse range of citizens took to the streets to protest systemic racism and the inhumane treatment of African Americans.
Through the lens of bystander Darnella Frazier’s smartphone camera, the world watched in horror as George Floyd died at the hands of a white police officer on a street in Minneapolis. On May 25, 2020, officer Derek Chauvin knelt on Floyd’s neck for 9 minutes and 29 seconds as Floyd repeatedly said that he could not breathe. His death, along with those of Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery a few months earlier, sparked international protests and drew intense scrutiny about how African Americans are treated by the police, the criminal justice system, and their fellow citizens.
The protests of 2020 prompted many companies, organizations, and educational systems to express their public support of the BLM movement and commit to the goal of achieving racial equity and social justice. While for many companies this was likely a fleeting PR move, others announced that they were taking a hard look at their own systemic issues. Business leaders at companies in many industries began the challenging but necessary work of exposing and addressing the deep biases that have been hardwired into their organizations. The Quaker Oats Company, for example, announced its discontinuation of the 130-year-old Aunt Jemima breakfast foods brand, which had been inspired by a minstrel show song and had long perpetuated a Black stereotype.
Many businesses responded by not only committing to increasing diversity within their workforces, but also examining their supply chains and external partners. Target Corporation, headquartered in Minneapolis, pledged to “…work with diverse suppliers that are at least 51 percent owned, controlled, and operated by women; Black, Indigenous, and People of Color; LGBTQ+; veterans or persons with disabilities.” In 2020, U.S. Bank committed to “doubling its Black-owned suppliers within the next 12 months.”
Further, because of the BLM movement, many major companies are recruiting from historically black colleges and universities more than ever before. Morgan State University in Baltimore reports that its online job portal saw a “263 percent increase in employer logins between July 1, 2020, and June 30, 2021, with major companies like Apple, Bank of America, and Estée Lauder reaching out for the first time ever.”
The Growing Diversity of the Student Body
Against this backdrop of the fight for racial equity and social justice, the U.S. is undergoing a significant change in demographics. In a recent article, The Washington Post shared the following conclusions from newly released 2020 census data:
“The country … passed two more milestones on its way to becoming a majority-minority society in the coming decades: For the first time, the portion of White people dipped below 60 percent, slipping from 63.7 percent in 2010 to 57.8 percent in 2020. And the under-18 population is now majority people of color, at 52.7 percent.”
These statistics apply to our students as well as our future leaders and labor force. Businesses and those in the business of educating students for a future of fulfilling work must respond in kind to a changing college campus. Some schools already are, as shown by these recent examples:
- The University of California system announced that for the incoming 2021 class, “underrepresented students will comprise 43 percent of the new admits, with Latinx students making up 37 percent and the number of Black students being admitted increasing by 15.6 percent.”
- In July, the Governing Board of California Community Colleges (CCC) announced its approval of two new requirements, including one adding ethnic studies as a graduation requirement for students seeking associate’s degrees and another mandating that CCC schools incorporate diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) and anti-racism into their employment procedures.
- Purdue University has created a new Equity Task Force and has committed more than 75 million USD over five years to support Black students. Purdue states that the “goals of the task force are split into three categories that will measure success in making Purdue a better place for Black students, faculty, and staff: Representation, Experience, and Success.”
DEI in the Curriculum
Universities and college campuses have long been at the forefront of a range of social justice movements, codifying these movements into academic programs such as Black studies, women’s studies, disability studies, queer studies, and more. But there remains much work to be done, including in the integration of DEI content into our curricula. As educators, publishers, and academics who create scholarly content, we are all responsible for taking a close look at how we approach teaching the lessons of diversity. We must build and use curricular tools that reflect the world our students will enter and their experiences within it.
We need more case studies in our classrooms that are written by authors from a range of backgrounds and perspectives—not just by those who represent predominately white, privileged, Western viewpoints.
The traditional case study is one such tool we can use to support DEI and the changing face of business. That said, the case study, long a stalwart in business and management education, is ripe for reinvention where DEI is concerned. It’s true that case studies can expose students to the challenges of a wide variety of organizations, from global publicly traded entities to local startups to social enterprises. But it’s just as essential that cases expose students to a range of perspectives and reflect the myriad backgrounds—cultural and economical—of those who work within the featured organizations.
Moreover, the importance of DEI in case studies extends beyond their subject matter to their authorship. We need more case studies in our classrooms that are written by authors from a range of backgrounds and perspectives—not just by those who represent predominately white, privileged, Western viewpoints.
Fortunately, case studies can be developed far more quickly than textbooks or even mass market book titles. Their short format means that professors can use them not only to keep content fresh and current for students, but also to better capture the shifting nature of businesses and the people who help them thrive. Cases also can show real-time examples of companies undergoing successful evolutions in their DEI initiatives, as well as companies that still have a long way to go.
By looking at business through a DEI lens, students can better see the reality of our economic landscape. They can truly connect to, and see themselves in, today’s business environment.
Building a Modern Case Collection
Our SAGE Business Cases collection is a testament to SAGE’s dedication to prioritizing cases that represent a broad and inclusive range of backgrounds and perspectives from around the world. SAGE is committed to developing cases around emerging and underserved topics that accurately reflect the diversity and shifting priorities of the global business landscape, as well as the experiences of those who work within it.
For example, in 2021 we launched a new case series called Immigrant Entrepreneurs. This groundbreaking series is edited by Bala Mulloth, an assistant professor of public policy at the University of Virginia and himself an immigrant entrepreneur. It features the stories of founders who started businesses outside their countries of origin.
While there has been a spike of interest in case studies that feature protagonists of a variety of backgrounds, we have also seen a rise of nativist politics across countries and cultures. Part of our vision for this series is to combat the damaging and false political narrative that immigrants harm economies. We want to defuse that narrative with positive and inspiring examples of the value immigrants add to communities around the world.
Our SAGE Business Cases platform enables us to quickly publish brief, news-driven cases. Faculty and students can quickly employ the offerings in our Express Case series for classroom or online discussion. Examples include:
We also offer longer-form cases in our SAGE Originals collection, such as the following:
- Woke-Washing: The Promise and Risk of Linking Branding With Politics
- Policing the Police: Privatization as a Means of Oversight
- Organizational Responses to Athlete Activism Post-Kaepernick: An Exercise in Decision-Making
- Nike and the Balancing Act Between Social Justice and Selling Products
Tools That Reflect the Reality of Business
For its part, AACSB has shown its deep commitment to diversity and inclusion in its 2020 business accreditation standards, in which it embeds ideals related to diversity and inclusion in six out of nine standards, compared to six out of 15 in the 2013 standards. To align with this commitment, our curricular tools must reflect the varied reality of those engaged in the global business environment, no matter their locations, roles, organization types, gender, race, age, religion, sexuality, or disability status.
As educators, publishers, and business school administrators, we have a responsibility to provide all students with not only access and opportunity, but also exposure to a wide range of perspectives. By exposing them to the true, diverse nature of business, we can prepare them for the world today and enable them to change it for the better.
Maureen Adams, publisher for Business & Management at SAGE Publishing, develops digital products for the higher education library market.