Opinions, Column

Loving The Jesuits: How To Get The Most Out Of BC

I shock myself as I write this: The most valuable aspect of a Boston College education is its Jesuit tradition. I am not religious. I feel unsure about God’s existence. Until last year, the most I knew about the Jesuits was that they sometimes sport mysterious black robes on campus. And yet, as I approach my final semester at BC, I can say with conviction that I love what those darn Jesuits can do to give students a different perspective on the world—and I think the University can do even more to support their mission.

I see value in a Jesuit education where academic achievement and service to others unite. This mission is explicitly embodied in service opportunities like the popular PULSE course, but also quietly infiltrates into even the most unexpected of disciplines. As a freshman, I chose to be an economics major to best position myself for a high-paying career. Yet thanks to courses such as Professor Paul Cichello’s Evaluating Impact in Developing Countries, piling up money is no longer at the forefront of my post-grad goals. Becoming educated about the plight of the world and how my specific skillset can play a role in improving it is the most resonant lesson I have learned at BC. Though the evident intersection between course material and doing good was never explicitly stated as aligning with Jesuit ideals, it very much does.

Even in the Carroll School of Management, where God is spelled with six figures, courses are being offered that consider the role of business in bettering society. In Professor Laura Foote’s Social Entrepreneurship class, students learn how to build business models where earning profits and achieving social missions propel one another. Professor Mary Cronin is developing an interdisciplinary minor called Managing for Social Impact and the Public Good, where students learn “how corporations engage with social impact issues that are outside the conventional definitions of shareholder value and wealth creation.” I am sure the Jesuits are pleased by the heightened discussion about living a life of service. While it is true that non-Jesuit universities offer courses to overcome the seeming mutual exclusivity of money-hungriness and global citizenship, they become even more effective in an environment where the theme of doing good is nearly ubiquitous.

In such courses, students and faculty are enacting solutions to problems like: How can we fulfill our own self-interest while also doing good for others? How can we harness the capitalist affluence of U.S. consumers in order to reduce domestic and global poverty? How can we gentrify the world’s cities without displacing the poor? Such critical questions are occurring at a grassroots level here at BC. Yet despite the inscription in our mission “to educate a new generation of leaders … with a sense of calling, with concern for all of the human family,” the systemic operations of the University suggest that the administration is not holding up its end of the bargain. BC leaders should be enacting solutions to problems like: How can we uphold a reputation of academic excellence while actively including those who are historically marginalized from higher education and the Catholic Church? How can we provide a supportive environment for diversity in a predominantly white, high-income, straight community? But they aren’t.

Meanwhile, non-Jesuit universities are becoming more vocal in recognizing the need for increased access to and diversity across higher education. Coalition for Access, which represents more than 80 higher education institutions (including every Ivy League university), embodies a commitment to developing an online set of tools that supports students from underprivileged backgrounds whose excellence is not well represented through the Common Application process. Rather than focusing on standardized test scores, which often underrepresent low-income students’ aptitude, the Coalition has created an innovative online platform where high school students can upload achievements to their “lockers,” including videos of performances, pictures of science fair projects, and letters of recommendation. Granted, these schools cannot stop at admissions—once they increase access to low-income students, they need to continually support them in acclimating to the rigorous academic environment. Nonetheless, BC is not included in the list of members, and has remained relatively stagnant in addressing its lack of diversity.

A notable member of the BC administration who is forging discourse about topics in diversity is Vincent Rougeau, dean of the Law School. In his recent talk “Fighting Racism by Modeling Inclusion: Reflections of an African-American Dean,” he spoke about the necessity of engendering a diverse population at BC. “We need diversity—it’s not a luxury,” he said. “If we are going to deal with issues in an authentic way, we need a variety of all these different voices working to craft a solution, people who can offer different perspectives and experiences, so that when we come up with solutions we know we’ve [thoroughly] thought about them.” While Dean Rougeau was referring specifically to race, I believe his words deserve to be transposed onto other marginalizing classifications as well, including sexual orientation and economic standing.

While I am overwhelmingly inspired by the classmate who choses to raise her hand and share that she is paying her own way through college, and the transgender student who struts across the quad, I can’t help but consider the root of my emotions. I respect the characteristics that such life circumstances and decisions entail regardless of environmental factors, but I must acknowledge that at least some of my regard stems from these individuals’ confidence in singling themselves out as minorities in the BC community. Increasing University-wide access and support for these groups epitomizes the Jesuit mission, and BC has a responsibility to do more.

As an opinions columnist, my critique of BC is made easy because what our University ought to value is inscribed in a 152-year long Jesuit tradition. When BC seeks to propel itself to new heights, our Jesuit principles put us in an excellent position to do so by including those who we aim to help—“the human family”—in the discourse itself. BC has the potential to shed its conservative demeanor and create a unique environment on campus by bridging traditional Jesuit ideals with 21st century notions of equality. The University should continue to encourage the infiltration of Jesuit ideals into every corner of its being in the most progressive and open-minded way possible: by reflecting marginalized groups in the student body itself.

Featured Image by Francisco Ruela / Heights Graphics

November 11, 2015