In the wake of the SCOTUS ruling on Affirmative Action, Xavier Shankle, W’24, told the White House they needed to do something, and they did.

As president of Penn’s Undergraduate Assembly, Xavier Shankle identified problems and worked to find solutions. He did the same thing at Wharton as co-chair of the Wharton Dean’s Undergraduate Advisory Board (WAB). That mindset catapulted him into a national conversation about inclusion and diversity in higher education.

Shankle’s journey started with his high school in Atlanta that offered a business-education program with monthly case studies and onsite presentations to companies.

“I was like, ‘Okay, I like the way we’re learning and that we learn things in theory and then apply them to the practice of a company,’” he said.

The focus was community-oriented cases and public-policy solutions. That’s when Shankle knew he wanted to go to business school.

Building Better Pipelines

“Generally speaking, people from my high school, from my community, don’t make it to college, let alone to the University of Pennsylvania,” said Shankle. “It’s not that I was lucky, but I was incredibly fortunate and had an opportunity that’s not afforded to everyone in my community.”

Shankle credits the people from his community who invested in him, and he wanted to do the same for others.

“It would almost be wrong of me to come here and not try to build better pipelines or systems that make it easier for people who come after me,” said the senior. “It feels like I had to beat the odds to get to Penn. I don’t want the next person who applies from South Atlanta to feel like they have to beat the odds to get here.”

His Wharton activities reflect his dedication to creating equity for others.

“My activities let me change the odds to build a more inclusive institution so that others can feel like this is somewhere they belong and they too can come to Penn,” he said.

Equal Opportunity

With US Representative David Scott, WG ’69, outside the Capitol (Image: Xavier Shankle)

That passion for inclusivity would soon lead to his most memorable accomplishment while at Wharton.

A former high school class president, Shankle has always liked government and spent his junior summer interning for the U.S. House of Representatives in Washington, D.C. That same summer, the Supreme Court struck down the use of affirmative action in college admissions.

“I remember feeling incredibly upset or angry,” he said. “I felt really weird when that officially came out because I was literally sitting in one of the Congressional Office Buildings.”

He recalls waiting for anyone on Capitol Hill to respond beyond written statements.

“I was like, ‘How am I in the center of power in America and this big decision that impacts racial equity is made and it was very, very much inertia?’” he recalled.

He went home and drafted a letter to President Biden and Vice President Harris that stated he was an African-American student leader and the administration needed to do something. He reached out to the student-body presidents at Harvard and University of North Carolina, the two universities the ruling was against.

The student leaders workshopped the letter and sent it. They quickly heard back that the President and Vice President had seen the letter and wanted them at a summit.

“We were like, ‘Oh my gosh, this actually worked,’” he said.

National Summit on Equal Opportunity in Higher Education

At the National Summit with student body presidents and Dr. Miguel Cardona, Secretary of Education (Image: Xavier Shankle)

Shankle was one of six students invited to the National Summit on Equal Opportunity in Higher Education hosted by the Biden-Harris administration to discuss strategies and resources to expand access to higher education.

The daylong event at the Department of Education is where Shankle shared ideas on how to advance equity with university presidents from across the nation and senior administration officials, including staffers from the White House, the U.S. Domestic Policy Council, and the Office of the Vice President.

He was in a breakout session with the deputy secretary of the Department of Education.

“I was able to engage directly with her in the group about, as an African-American man, how this decision makes me feel and what I think will be really good to continue to encourage students of color to apply to institutions.”

Shankle and a few other students were invited to continue the discussion at the Vice President’s office a few days later.

“It was just crazy. I was sitting in her office and looking around,” he said. “Here I am, this kid from South Atlanta talking to the VP’s policy staffers in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building. That was an incredible day.”

In the fall, Shankle was invited once again by the White House to participate in their webinar to contribute to the Department of Education’s new guidance around the issue they were launching.

Back on Penn’s campus, Shankle continued the discussions around how to build and maintain inclusivity.

“Although the decision is purely legal and a checkbox on the application, the impact of the ruling reverberates through the educational landscape, and you feel it when you’re in the classroom,” Shankle said.

Equitable landscape at Wharton

At the WAB end-of-year celebration (Image: Xavier Shankle)

Shankle has made inclusivity a priority while at Wharton. As part of WAB, his focus has been on classroom innovation and equity the last four years.

His first year at Wharton was remote due to COVID, and Shankle, as part of a WAB team, presented to the dean on ways professors could continue inclusive teaching in an online environment. The team presented at faculty meetings, coordinated professor roundtable discussions, and created faculty toolkits.

Shankle says he was happy to learn professors use the inclusive teaching toolkits.

“That means that a group of 40 or 50 students now have a marginally better experience, right?” he said. “You multiply it out over a couple years, you’re able to impact a lot of students.”

Upon graduation, Shankle will be a business analyst at McKinsey & Company in his hometown of Atlanta. He plans to go law school and eventually enter the public policy field where he can continue to craft solutions to close equity gaps.

‘Take your own path through Wharton’

Meeting with Provost Jackson (Image: Xavier Shankle)

Shankle pursued his passions of equity and inclusion, and his advice to others is to do the same.

“Real trailblazers, they make their own path,” he said. “[Students] think that the only way you can be the best at Wharton is if you follow a certain path, but it’s perfectly okay to take your own path through Wharton.”

He encourages students to follow their interests beyond predefined clubs or career paths.

“You’re helping the entire community when you do that because you show people, it is okay if I don’t do consulting and banking. It is okay to venture off and join this club or take this unique niche internship.”

He says he wants students to understand that they are at Wharton and they’ll be okay, no matter what.

“It helps show future generations, ‘Hey, there’s not only one type; there’s 2,500 different types of Wharton students.’”

—Sara Hoover

Posted: May 16, 2024

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