When I attended Merrimack (2001-2005), there was a nickname that my friends and I gave to one particular student who we would often pass either in the cafeteria or throughout campus. While this nickname may have appeared to be narrow and possibly offensive, it also summed up the campus stereotype quite well. The name that we called this individual from afar was “black kid who didn’t play sports.” While there were several other black students at the time that fit into this category, he was the most visible. For four years my black friends and I joked about this phenomenon as we tacitly accepted the fact that black students on the Merrimack campus were few and far between and that those who did exist, were recruited solely to play sports. Looking back, it seemed like a sad commentary coming from a school that advertised itself as an equal opportunity institution that embraced diversity. Through pamphlets and advertisements the student body would read how “diverse” Merrimack was, that we had “X” amount of students from an “X” amount of countries or states. When I looked around my football locker room this was certainly evident. However, when I walked outside of it, I stepped out into a campus that was 99% White.
The irony of the recruiting efforts to attract students around the globe was that down the road from our school were two cities where minorities were the most prevalent (over 50% in Lawrence and Lowell); I saw very little evidence that Merrimack had an interest in these students.
Please don’t get me wrong. I thoroughly enjoyed being a student at Merrimack. It was an opportunity for me learn and make some of my lifetime friends. Based on my experience there, I feel as though this is an opportunity that should be given to other minority students as well. As we quickly enter an era where Whites will no longer be the majority race in this country (most studies contend this will happen by 2050) shouldn’t the campus look something like the “real world?” Moreover, in order for Merrimack to be that microcosm of the changing American society, wouldn’t it behoove the institution to start actively recruiting minorities for reasons other than having them play sports?
My father tells a story about his Alma Mater (HC) back in the 60’s, where a young black man by the name of Orion Douglas (now a judge) was recruited to play basketball. He was 6’8 and looked the part. He was recommended by some Jesuits from the High School he attended in Georgia, however, Holy Cross had never seen him play. For the four years that he was there he struggled athletically and never made the team. He did however, make solid grades and became a friendly face around the campus. Upon receiving his degree he asked to meet with the President of the school, Rev. Swords. Douglas told the President that he realized that if not for the color of his skin and his perceived ability to shoot a basketball that he probably would not have had the opportunity to go to a school of higher learning like Holy Cross. He wanted to see to it that there were others who had the same opportunity as he did. Rev. Swords agreed with Douglas and promised him from that day on that if he could recruit and find qualified black students with competitive grades, that he would pay for their tuition. The following year, the first student of this initiative was Clarence Thomas.
It took the vision and courage of a man like Rev. Swords to bring minority students to Holy Cross. It wasn’t idle chatter that drove the process, but an active commitment to make the goal a reality. I think this same model can be emulated at Merrimack an equally selective institution which like Holy Cross has a reputation for high academic standards.
I am not suggesting a term known to many as “affirmative action.” I know that the political arguments against such a phrase can divide communities. What I do think is possible, is to set a “goal” (not a quota) for encouraging more minorities to attend Merrimack and by showing them that Merrimack is a safe and open minded environment to learn. On the heels of our nation electing our first African-American President, I think that this initiative is more than possible. It sends a message to alumni and future students that the College accepts embraces and cultivates the beauty of diversity in the academic culture and that such diversity propels us forward along with the world.
I am equally concerned that by this economic recession, fewer minorities will be given the opportunity to study at a prestigious school like Merrimack, not because of aptitude but because of finances. Now is the time that minority students without the financial support can easily be forgotten and all progress that has been made could be lost. I challenge the College to make the commitment and to follow the Christian and Augustinian tradition that is fundamentally rooted in the curriculum and social life at Merrimack. Diversity at Merrimack means extending beyond the basketball court and football fields. It means a classroom filled with people from different socioeconomic backgrounds, ethnicities and religions.
As a minority, I put this challenge on the table and am willing to start a scholarship to support this vision if the College will decide to match whatever funds that I can garner. As a proud alumnus who has contributed in the past I am willing to put my money where my mouth is. Together we CAN do better.
Joshua J. Carroll
Class of 2005