Not Just a Statistic: the Impact of Low Diversity at BC

When students gathered outside Lower two weeks ago to join the national protests over the police killing of Breonna Taylor, students of color reflected on their own experiences with racism on Boston College’s campus. Being a student of color on a campus that’s mostly white can be an isolating experience for students like Malaki Hernandez, MCAS ’23.

“I’m tired of being BC’s poster child every single time they want to post something,” Hernandez told The Heights at the protest.

In the fall of 2018, 4.5 percent of BC’s undergraduate students were Black, a number that has risen by a fifth of a percentage point since 2014, according to BC’s fact books. The percentage of Hispanic students was 12.4 percent, having risen from 11.3 percent in 2014. 

The National Center for Education Statistics reports that, in 2018, 13.3 percent of students in degree-granting postsecondary institutions were Black, while 20.9 percent were Hispanic. 

In 2018, white students made up 67.4 percent of BC’s undergraduate student body, while they comprised 54 percent of undergraduates nationwide. 

Asian students made up 11.6 percent of the student body, while they comprised 6.8 percent of the country’s undergraduate population. Four percent of students were two or more races, the same percentage as the national proportion at the time.

Jack McDevitt, director of Northeastern University’s Institute on Race and Justice, said that one of the biggest reasons that colleges tend to lack diversity in their student bodies is that many students of color come from under-resourced school systems that make it difficult for students to achieve their full potential.

“Some students of color come from urban school systems that aren’t the best … and that doesn’t mean they couldn’t be successful and contribute to the community,” he said.

Students from urban schools with high levels of poverty don’t have the same access to resources and have significantly less funding, the National Center for Education and Statistics reports.

Another obstacle for students of color, McDevitt said, is that many students of color come from low-income backgrounds and require higher levels of financial aid for expensive, top-tier colleges and universities.

Grant Gosselin, Director of Undergraduate Admissions told The Heights that the “University does an extraordinary amount to support our students of color.” 

One such program is Options Through Education, a summer community-building program for incoming freshmen that continues to offer them support throughout their time at BC. 

Another program, which the University partnered with last spring, is QuestBridge, a nonprofit organization that helps low-income students apply to colleges and universities. 

Though the program will begin with the Class of 2025, Mahoney said that BC is proud of the Class of 2024, in which over a third of students are AHANA.

“We’re extremely pleased with the size, diversity, and quality of the applicant pool for BC’s Class of 2024,” Mahoney said.

McDevitt said that another reason that colleges such as BC have low levels of diversity are the daily challenges students of color face on campus.

“You’re going to be a lone voice on campus, there’s going to be not that many people who look like you,” McDevitt said. “And that’s a lot to ask someone to put up with.” 

Ali Soumahoro, MCAS ’22, said that Black students at BC are often singled out in discussions about Black culture and racial justice. Being asked to represent their entire race, Soumahoro said, can put an intense amount of pressure on Black students like himself.

“People tend to give us an eye, especially if I am the only Black person in the class,”

Soumahoro said. “People have this expectation for you to always speak out, which is kind of weird and uncomfortable at the same time. … Everyone’s looking at you and low-key trying to pressure you.”

McDevitt said that faculty members often will look to students of color to give the perspective of their group.

“The pressure and the burden of that is enough to make students want to go to a place where there are more people like them,” he said.

Prince Lucas, a Black singer-songwriter and MCAS ’22, said that the low levels of diversity in higher education make students of color unfairly feel like they must serve as a representative of their race.

“It’s not my job to feel like I always have to represent everybody—it puts pressure on my actions though as well,” Lucas said.

Lucas opened the Campus Activities Board’s Boston City Limits concert last year. He described low turnout at the event as just one example of the lack of diversity on campus.  

“Usually CAB will be bringing in a ton of people,” Lucas said. “Once they changed the artist and made it more R&B rather than EDM the previous year, the turnout was much less.”

McDevitt argued that schools must look beyond past performance and toward indicators of future performance to recruit more students of color from historically disadvantaged communities.

“Schools have to take a chance—they have to look more closely at potential rather than grades,” McDevitt said. “And if they did that, they would bring more students of color in.” 

Featured Image by Maggie DiPatri / Heights Editor


Correction: The statistics in this article have been updated to reflect BC’s race and ethnicity data by federal reporting standards and to compare BC’s data to National Center for Education statistics. The original version of this article included statistics about Black and Hispanic/Latino students who had reported those identities as their only ethnicity and compared BC’s data to data from the Census Bureau.

The original version of this article also erroneously stated that 44 percent of college students in the nation were two or more races according to the National Center for Education in 2018. The correct number is 4 percent.

October 5, 2020