Boston College’s bubble has burst. The controversy surrounding previously unclear FAFSA policies touches a nerve on the Heights. Congressman Elijah Cumming’s (D-Md.) investigation about potential violations of the Higher Education Act has ignited discussion not only because it contradicts our character as a Jesuit university, but also because it parallels national unease with inequality of income, education, and opportunity.
Regardless of the reasons behind the oversight, which may have made the financial aid process more difficult for some students, it is a poor reflection on BC and was rightly corrected as soon as possible. The deeper questions about socio-economic diversity at BC that this incident has raised remain unresolved.
Socio-economic diversity is the most underappreciated aspect of our student body. A school that was founded 150 years ago for underprivileged students finds itself at a crossroads. We attract more high-achieving students from across the socio-economic spectrum than ever before. Several columns and essays have been written about the unsaid pressure that students can feel to fit in-materially and socially-in a BC community that is known for being a “model” campus in terms of style and mannerisms.
Arguably, students’ socio-economic status determines more of their daily decisions than race, gender, or creed.
The amount of money one is free to spend determines if you can afford tickets to events, how many times you eat out, what type of liquor you drink, and whether or not you’ll look to hold a job while studying. It is a complex issue to grasp, especially since it is so often correlated with race.
Yet, there are trends of which we as students should be mindful. Students are more likely to be hanging out with friends of the same socio-economic level. Unintentionally or not, cliques foment a tense campus environment at odds with the spirit of Jesuit education. In this day and age, socio-economics threatens our shared identity as BC students more than anything else. Student leaders are right to lobby for institutional fixes to these trends, but we, as fellow neighbors and Eagles, can already play a large role in bridging and preventing these potential divides.
Class may become a point of contention; it need not be so if we can all build up school spirit and equal access to traditions. Where does school spirit fit into this? We should be viewing each other as Eagles, first and foremost, and to have a shared identity as Eagles, we need shared experiences like the Beanpot. It didn’t matter how much the people next to you were worth. When that final buzzer sounded, you just wanted to turn around and hug them.
Tickets to events like these can be expensive and hard to obtain, and true campus-wide traditions are few. Student leaders can tackle this issue head-on with a clear advocacy strategy. First, we ought to lobby for greater resources and funding for the Montserrat Coalition-an on-campus initiative that works to make the BC experience more accessible. Second, we can better build up, re-brand, and improve true community-wide traditions such as Homecoming, cultural and performance shows, and annual programs such as the Boat Cruise, Gala, Ball, and Showdown-a direction in which the current UGBC administration has been moving. Third, the newly formed Programming Board can prevent the formation of cliques by holding smaller scale mixers for the freshman class in cooperation with organizations like RHA and FYE.
Finally, we need opportunities where students from all backgrounds can just relax and celebrate together. Expanding UGBC’s Pub Series and even lobbying for an on-campus bar is a step in the right direction. Other solutions abound, especially via Athletics. Why don’t we have more transportation for students seeking to go to away games and also hosting game watching events on-campus? There are even more creative ways that we can build up school spirit and a shared identity.
BC is not a bubble, and its evolution will parallel the social trends around it. For as much as the national consciousness struggles with the issue of inequality, BC also will have to address it in terms of its socio-economic diversity. It would be wrong to exacerbate the issue by highlighting class differences or further dividing the community. The solution lies in a higher level of opportunity for all students to see themselves as neighbors and BC Eagles.
The FAFSA incident has burst our bubble, but with a student body that nurtures a shared identity and common experiences, we can be prepared for whatever lies in store.
UGBC Executive Vice President