Students at Boston College raised their arms in solidarity with the students at the University of Missouri during a demonstration on the school's campus in November (Steven Senne/Associated Press).
This story originally aired November 24, 2015.
UPDATE October 18, 2017: On Wednesday, hundreds of students at Boston College have walked out of their classes to protest recent instances of racism on campus, including two posters that were defaced to say "Black Lives don't Matter." Eradicate Boston College Racism, the group that coordinated Wednesday's walkout, says the college failed to respond to racist incidents on campus.
Protests on college campuses across the country over racial issues continue, and don’t show any signs of letting up.
From the University of Missouri toto Brandeis University, students are that administrators address racial issues on their campuses.
To get a sense of what it means to be a student living on one of these campuses, WGBH’s Higher Education desk shadowed two students: a black man and a young woman.
Maire Claire Diemer and Kwesi Aaron are both seniors at Boston College. For the past three years, they’ve been walking the same campus. But their experiences have been very different.
As a black student, Kwesi says not a single day goes by that he doesn’t feel like less of a person because of the color of his skin.
"Every time I walk past a campus tour I'm hyperaware of my blackness because I see a lot of people looking at me like, 'Hey, there's one of those here,’” said Kwesi.
“I’ve never been stopped on campus by the BC police, but I have been monitored in slow moving vehicles by BC police at night when I’m walking in between dorms or maybe just walking around the neighborhood.”
Occasionally, Kwesi says, his interactions with figures of authority can get violent.
“One time at a football game, a Massachusetts State Trooper dragged me by the collar because she thought I was trespassing onto Shea Field during tailgating,” he said.
Unlike Kwesi, Maire Claire is part of the majority. She doesn’t experience that feeling of not belonging, but she knows it’s real.
“One story I've heard a bunch of times is black students will get on the Commonwealth Avenue bus, which is the BC bus that shuttles us from here to Cleveland Circle,” recounted Maire Claire. “And when they get on the bus, the bus driver says, 'This is the BC bus.’ And then they say, ‘Yeah I know’ and the bus driver asks, ‘Do you go to BC?'”
But as a black student, Kwesi says the problem goes deeper. Walking through one of BC’s dining halls, he points out the black and Latino workers behind the grills and cash registers. But he says there are very few faculty members on BC’s campus that look like him.
“It's a visual representation and I think that the fact that it’s so easy to hire people of color for custodial services and not for professorship is indicative of what BC thinks that the racial order of society is and should look like," said Kwesi.
BC administrators take issue with that characterization, but Kwesi says the lack of diversity in the student body and faculty often makes him feel isolated.
"I think it takes great bravery for a person of color to enter into a predominantly white institution on purpose. The vast majority of the classes I’ve been in, I’ve been the only black person," Kwesi said.
But white students, Maire Claire admits, don’t face those same challenges.
"I feel like white students really underestimate that,” said Maire Claire. “Because it’s not something you ever think of when everybody looks like you. Like, 'Oh what if everybody didn’t look like me?'”
But getting to that level of empathy, Maire Claire admits, takes work and time.
"I’m white, so I’m not gonna all of a sudden get it. So I have to educate myself and it comes more slowly.’ It’s hard, it’s awkward, you know? When you finally are like ‘Hey, a lot of the things I have I just kinda have by chance.’ No one wants to say that."
But breaking that silence – Maire Claire and Kwesi agree – is a good first step to mending racial tensions on their campus.