My excitement to apply to and attend Boston University emerged largely from its promise of “diversity” on campus. I wrote my personal statement in my application about how much I was interested in diversity. I even threw the word “diversity” into my college essay a few times for good measure. I’ve learned to sprinkle the word — which has lost much meaning since I first heard it — to my advantage in years that I have been made to try out for things so I can learn more or gain extra experience.
In gaining access to spaces where people boast how diverse they are, I’ve found out one simple truth: Diversity is often all for show. It seems to be more of a tool to appear less racist, less sexist and less homophobic than they are more than it is about actually accepting marginalized people and allowing them equity of opportunity in predominantly white spaces. This campus has far fewer people of color than any visiting weekend would like potential students to believe. Even more disappointing than a lack of many students of color was that most of the responsibility for supporting students of color falls onto the shoulders of students of color themselves and not the administration who worked hard to recruit us. Positive change happens, but it’s often not very big. Being “progressive” is slow and not necessarily sure.
Positive change this year has come in the form of Black students being allowed to hold a separate graduation or commencement run by Umoja, the Black student union, for the first time. I was naïve enough to think, after hearing about Syracuse, the university both of my siblings attend, that having a Black graduation every year is something that happens everywhere, but it isn’t.
A Black commencement is not a new idea, but it’s new for a few of Boston’s universities. Harvard held its first one last year (and received unnecessary backlash). Many colleges that care about making Black students feel like they are a part of a community that cares about them delegate time and resources to these commencements. Commencement is important for a number of reasons — the main one being that it is difficult to embrace diversity if we can’t see it.
It’s empowering to see Black people reaching graduation and attaining higher education degrees. It’s beautiful, and I am proud of every single Black person who finishes these programs. At the very least, it’s mentally exhausting to enter fields in which there aren’t many other people who look like you in the classroom or in the workforce that you will later have to navigate.
It’s important to recognize the excellence and the strength it takes to look around a campus that represents 7 percent less Black people than are represented in the country and say to yourself: “I stuck it out and graduated.” Being the only person of your ethnicity in any given space in a predominantly white institution is not a universal feeling.
The best time to prove that the dedication to diversity is not a superficial recruitment tactic or PR trick is the present. Think of this commencement not as a segregation from a larger campus community, but a congregation of a smaller campus community. There is nothing to lose and everything to gain from embracing this event.