ev. Michael Davidson, S.J. was only supposed to spend one year as a part of Boston College’s Campus Ministry department. His provincial sent him to BC to do a master’s in educational leadership, and after that he was supposed to work for a year in Campus Ministry.
Six years later, Davidson has only just left his position as a campus minister for his new job: director of the Thea Bowman AHANA and Intercultural Center (BAIC).
“I really do love Boston College,” he said. “I think this school has an intention … to help people be their best self.”
Nowadays, Davidson can’t make it to his office without being surrounded by different members of BAIC pulling him aside to chat, whether they be staff or students. But Davidson’s journey began far from the the office in the corner of the center he now calls home: A native of Jamaica, the Jesuit never imagined this would be the path he’d follow as a young boy. He grew up living in poverty, hoping one day to possess so much more than he and his family could afford to have.
“But I encountered some Jesuits in school … who were really men who were present,” he said. “Their simplicity, their attentiveness to the individual, their care for the individual moved me. I prayed about it a lot and the Lord did the rest.”
His education was rooted in Jamaica, but he traveled the globe to complete it. He got his B.A. in philosophy from Arrupe College in Zimbabwe, then went to Regis College at the University of Toronto to get his B.A. in theology and a master’s in divinity before arriving at the Lynch School of Education to get a master’s in educational administration.
“I believe in the Jesuit mission informing men and women despite what they look like,” Davidson said. “I think there’s a need to work with students—particularly with students who feel they’re in the margins—how do I help them to feel loved? And from being loved, reach out to others so they can break that silo.”
e’s found a home where he can do that at BC. He pointed to his time at Campus Ministry and the colleagues he worked with there as the inspiration for how he realized he could fulfill his mission in Chestnut Hill. The love he believes is inherent in BC’s culture makes this the perfect home for his work. Although for him, love begins with Jesus, the community that surrounds him has plenty in supply as well.
“From the many men and women on campus who have been working tremendously with students,” he said. “I can think about [Special Assistant to the Vice President of Student Affairs] Dan Bunch. I can think about people from Campus Ministry who spend hours helping students who didn’t have to do it, but they’ve bought into the mission. When you form men and women, and you teach them the example, they’ll show it to others, because people learn from doing.”
His compatriots remind him of his Jesuit mission: To try to transform wherever you are. Leading by example is a value Davidson holds dear, and he looks to his fellow faculty and staff in order to ensure life lessons are being taught every second of every day.
“You can’t change the world, but the individuals you come into contact with, you can make a difference with them.” he said. “In my class, it’s the same thing: I do things in order for people to look beyond our external appearance.”
His class is Courage to Know, and what he teaches through a semester he plans to bring to the lessons he gets to teach as the Bowman Center’s leader.
“In my course, my students are of different ethnicities. … I teach them what it means to listen to the other, because unless you do that, than how can we coexist if everybody is of their own point of view?” Davidson said.
Listening isn’t just something the Jesuit teaches his students—it’s a practice he believes is foundational to his attitude.
That’s part of the reason he considers BC his home. Davidson is of the belief that despite students sometimes feeling like the administration doesn’t listen to them, the University makes an effort to try to respond to student discourse. He sees interim Vice President of Student Affairs Joy Moore as a good example—having a black, female lead the department that interacts most closely with the student body sends a message to Davidson that BC is taking as many perspectives into account when it comes to the direction the University takes.
To Davidson, whenever the administration makes a difference in student life, it’s because it’s been listening to the needs of the student body instead of closing itself off to public sentiment.
ow, he has an entire center that he plans on gearing around listening to students. The staff he has inherited he believes is wholly dedicated to the students who come through the door, and they work well together. His goal is to integrate into the center’s established culture without missing a beat, while elevating the center’s goals in regards to the resources it offers.
Davidson is looking to attract many of the students he’s taught and mentored as a part of his work with campus ministry in the past and bring them into the BAIC fold. He feels the office’s brand outreach has new heights to reach: BAIC resources aren’t as well known as Davidson believes they should be to students across campus. In addition, he believes BAIC can partner with offices like Montserrat and Learning to Learn to take care of students on a more holistic level, utilizing resources beyond what BAIC can offer on its own.
There is one thing he specifically mentioned he did not want in regards to the Bowman Center.
“I don’t want this office to be only for students of color,” Davidson said. “I want [BAIC] to be a place where anyone can feel they are welcome and they are loved.”
Why does he feel so passionate about reaching out to every member of the community while leading an organization primarily tasked with mentoring and taking care of the students of color on campus? Perhaps this desire stems from the protests related to race related incidents that took place on campus just over a year ago, but Davidson feels that the motivation behind the sentiment comes back to his prior history at BC.
During his time as a campus minister, Davidson lead the Jamaica and Magis Civil Rights Immersion trips to Atlanta and Birmingham, Alabama. He learned one defining lesson during his time working with all three communities.
15 students of color and 10 white students would accompany him to Jamaica. Each trip, Davidson would require every student promise to do away with BC’s lookaway culture the moment the group stepped off the plane—the group is defined by one identity: They are BC students.
That doesn’t mean he doesn’t value the tradition each student calls upon based on their heritage. Davidson noticed that difference races would see different things on trips, but it was the end product that brought each student on each trip together.
“The students of color, … would go down and see the students in Jamaica and say ‘Oh my God, I have all these resources that they don’t have,’” he said. “The students in Jamaica would look our students and say ‘There is a black student going to college, there is a black girl going to college.’ It’s a marriage. Our white students would go down, because when they got to Jamaica, and they’re a minority, they appreciate what it means when students talk about how they feel isolated. That would open up a conversation.”
In seeing the poverty-stricken in Jamaica, Davidson believes students learned far more about themselves and their identities than anything else. That realization will carry over to his work at BAIC.
“I’d like this office to be the kind of place where those kinds of conversations can take place.”
ltimately, Davidson wants his tenure at the helm of BAIC to be remembered as community-building.
“There’s more that connects us than divides us,” he said. “There’s much much more, so much more, that brings us together … If we’re going to create men and women of competence, it cannot be only a math class or a science class, it has to be intrinsical things like how do you care for others, compassion, how do you see good in others—even if they don’t look alike.”
His task won’t be a small one: The Bowman Center has a large role to play in regards to dealing with race-related incidents on campus. Silence is Still Violence is far from fading out of Boston College’s rearview mirror. Yet, Davidson believes that by leaning on his positive message, he can be begin a new, brighter era of discussion between different ethnicities over race-related issues at BC.
Featured Image Courtesy of University Communications / Lee Pellegrini