Allyship: It's Not Just for the Gays

By Rachel Chamberlain, Class of 2017

By Rachel Chamberlain, Class of 2017

If we haven’t met, I’m Rachel. About me: I’m a woman, a lesbian, more-poet-than-quant (yes, at Booth), a recovering ex-collegiate athlete — and I’m an ally.

Yep, you read that right. As a member of the LGBTQ community and a Co-Chair of the Booth OUTreach club, I hear the word “ally” thrown around a lot. Heck, I throw it around a lot myself: “Let’s have an allyship event,” “How do we communicate more effectively with our allies at Booth?” “Thanks for performing at Pink Party, you’re a great ally!"

One thing I often share with people is I’ve never met someone who wakes up in the morning and says, “Thank goodness I’m gay! It’s made my life so much easier.” (If you know someone, introduce us!) Regardless of an LGBT individual’s background — cultural values, how supportive their family is — it’s just frickin’ hard sometimes. And with strong allies, you don’t have to go it alone. Life gets a lot better.

However, what I didn’t consider prior to Booth is the notion that allyship isn’t just for the gays. Sure, we may have the loudest voice when it comes to using the word. But the truth is allyship extends far beyond joining forces against homophobia. Last week’s African-American MBA Association(AAMBAA)-organized “wear black” day is the perfect example. I loved this event because it provided a visible way to stand against excessive police force toward unarmed black men and women, and show support for the Black community.

But I have to confess something.

Over the summer as events related to the loss of Black lives continued, I felt compelled to step up — to show my support and engage in dialogue. And I completely froze. After all, I’m white. Like really white. Was it my place to speak up about this? Was I expert enough? Would it offend my black friends? Is it even OK for a white person to say black instead of African American?

What’s worse is I was accidentally added to this summer GroupMe (you know, that awkward moment when you don’t want to interrupt a thread with “so and so has left the group”?) that was primarily for black and Hispanic MBA’s. As a silent observer, I watched as students from across the country engaged in a dialogue about how to approach non-minority classmates; how to gain allies. It hit me: they were voicing all of the same concerns my OUTreach crew voices when we talk about allyship. Yet I didn’t reach out to them. I didn’t get outside of my comfort zone to say “Hey, let me lend a hand” — which I know from experience is sometimes all it takes to be an ally.

Rachel Chamberlain '17 (center) and members of OUTreach, Booth's LGBT+ student group, "wear black" to show allyship for African-Americans and other minorities in the Booth community and around the country.

Rachel Chamberlain '17 (center) and members of OUTreach, Booth's LGBT+ student group, "wear black" to show allyship for African-Americans and other minorities in the Booth community and around the country.

So what did I do? I reached out to exactly one black friend over the summer with a text about it, asking him how I could be supportive. (As if it was his job to know?!) Asking him if AAMBAA was organizing anything. (As if only AAMBAA could organize something?!) It was easy; it was comfortable — he replied with the requisite “Thanks for reaching out.” I had checked the box. I made myself feel better about it.

Shame on me for taking the easy road, and for talking myself out of engaging in a more substantive dialogue. I’d argue that as we get older, we increasingly talk ourselves out of allyship, whatever form that might take. When we’re younger, we rationalize less — we let our instincts dictate our actions. We sit at lunch with the kid who has a lisp; we show the new student to her classroom without giving it a second thought. Over time as we absorb social norms, we look to avoid conflict and “make nice”. We even justify our inaction: “Someone in my squad is black and we’re friends, so I’m covered.” “I have a gay uncle.” “I volunteered at the Special Olympics with my college sorority once.” It’s as if to say I’m in the clear, don’t look at me like I’m not supportive. We shield ourselves — but what we’re really doing is stepping back supporting from those we care about most.

At Booth, we’re in classes (and um...other places with frosty beverages) every day with future leaders from all over the globe. Future managers, politicians, CEO’s, board members. We’re doing each other — and the world around us — a disservice if we don’t get over ourselves and talk about this stuff.

So don’t just check the box — get uncomfortable. Stand for something. Have the hard conversation. Challenge someone. Stand with someone. Because together, we are so much stronger than we are apart.

Rachel is a proud ally of people of color. She has a question: What does allyship mean to you? Post a picture or message on social media with the tag #BoothAlly. Let’s keep this conversation going.