Diversity. The word has become so ambiguous and overused that it ends up having little meaning or impact. Sure, I know that diversity is often associated with race and reminds me of forced “diversity dialogues.” But the complexity of the subject—and my inability to fully grasp all layers of it—leaves me feeling lost. One thing I know for sure, Boston College struggles to embrace diversity just as much as I struggle to define it.
Over the past year, numerous appalling incidents of racism and insensitivity shocked BC’s campus. The defacement of Black Lives Matter signs, a bigoted snapchat, and the recent prejudiced Facebook post by a UGBC senator all send a clear and startling message: BC has a serious diversity problem. Not to mention the fact that minority professors remain highly underrepresented, the student body is 62 percent white, and LGBTQ+ students do not have a resource center on campus. Last week, my PULSE class delved into an (often daunting) discussion about diversity and, most notably, BC’s lack of it.
However, our conversation was frighteningly incomplete. All too often, the meaning of diversity is weakened by its association with numbers. Most people argued that, if BC simply admitted more minority students from diverse backgrounds into the student body, the path to inclusion would suddenly become clear. Decrease the number of white people, raise the percentage of minority students beyond 24 percent, have UGBC implement a diversity training program for freshmen. Poof! Problem solved. Well, not so fast.
As I walked out of class and headed to Eagle’s, I started to reflect on my own relationship with diversity. I realized that even if BC ranked among the top universities for student diversity, as long as individuals remained in the same homogeneous social circles, true diversity would never progress. When people are only friends with those who look just like them, spend their free time in the same wealthy Boston neighborhoods, or never attend a cultural show in Robsham, they are isolating themselves from the different people, cultures, and ideas that exist at BC. Boston College students often approach diversity in the wrong way. We distance ourselves from diversity, conceptualizing it as a percentage or number that is out of our control. It is not just the administrators and admissions officers that determine diversity at Boston College. Our campus will never be free of prejudice until each member of the student body fights for inclusion. This involves actively exposing oneself to people that are much different from you.
My very large and diverse public high school in Denver, Colo. had a minority enrollment of 55 percent. During passing periods the halls filled with multilingual students of various races, cultures, and socio-economic backgrounds. When I filed into my AP and Honors classrooms, however, every student, for the most part, looked the same. My learning environment mainly consisted of white middle and upper class students. Consequently, the friends I spent my days with—the ones that comprised my friend group and came over to my house after school—were extremely homogeneous. Diversity in numbers alone is not enough. True diversity reaches beyond statistics and demands individual accountability and action.
Thankfully, BC’s campus is brimming with the opportunity to engage with diverse people and ideas. Talk to the foreign exchange student that sits next to you in your econ class—get to know his story and how life in the U.S differs from his home country. Take an Africa and African Diaspora Studies class. Volunteer in a low-income neighborhood of Boston and learn about the issues poor people in the diverse city of Boston face. Spend time with and get to know people of different races. Don’t be afraid to talk (considerately and respectfully) to your friends from different political backgrounds about their opinions on hot-button issues. And of course, get a group of friends together and watch one of the amazing cultural dance shows in Robsham.
Watching one Indian dance group perform will not suddenly inspire all BC students to hold hands, embrace one another, and sing kumbaya. But active participation encourages the seeds of diversity to root and flourish. It’s not enough to merely say you are an accepting person, yet remain ignorant of the struggles, opinions, and lives of the different students around you. It is all too easy to fall into the comfortable pattern of spending time with people who are similar to you. I struggle with it every day. This article serves as a reminder to you and I both that we must take a critical look at the clubs, friends, and places that surround us, and be honest. Begin to think about the ways that seeking and accepting diversity can be a part of your everyday life.
College is so valuable because of the wealth of ideas, people, and cultures that live together on one campus. It is a waste of four years to remain trapped within an even more restrictive BC bubble by limiting yourself to one similar set of people. The endeavor to increase numerical diversity is futile if we cannot appreciate the diversity that exists on campus now. Mahatma Gandhi argued that “Our ability to reach unity in diversity will be the beauty and the test of our civilization.” BC students must begin to sew the threads of unity in the hope that if we take action to welcome the vibrancy in diversity, the administration will follow.
Featured Graphic by Nicole Chan / Graphics Editor