Is class a more divisive issue at Harvard Business School than gender?
As soon as new students arrive, they are expected to write checks of $300 or $400 to their “sections,” the groups with whom they take first-year classes, if they want to participate in social events. In recent years, second-year students have organized a midwinter ski trip that costs over $1,000, while others, including members of “Section X,” a secret society of ultrawealthy students, spend far more on weekend party trips to places like Iceland and Moscow. Tickets to the winter ball, called Holidazzle, have cost $200 or more in recent years.
The result is a school that mixes students of relatively modest means with extremely wealthy ones, including in recent years the children of Leon Black, a private equity investor, and Gerald D. Hines, the founder of one of the world’s largest real estate firms, among many others. In interviews, some students mentioned the Instagram feed of Michael Hess, a member of the class of 2013, who has posted photographs of Mick Jagger close-up in concert, courtside seats at a Knicks game and stops on his trips around the world.
After hearing complaints from students, the co-presidents of the class of 2013, Kunal Modi and Laura Merritt, worked to introduce less expensive activities, including trivia nights, visits by food trucks and coffee hours. They persuaded administrators to install lawn furniture on campus so students would have another setting where they could relax without spending money.
The point is not that we should weep for middle-class HBS students, most of whom still have better prospects than the great majority of Americans. It is, instead, that what’s going on at HBS is a microcosm of what’s happening to America, and an excellent illustration of the harm extreme inequality can do.