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Campus Life

Building diversity at BU

Multicultural Weekend brings familiar faces forward

Why would a Latino student from a largely Hispanic community come to a university where just a small percentage of the freshmen share his ethnic background?

For Bobby Treviño, a 2005 graduate from El Paso, Tex., the answer is simple: it was an opportunity to make sure that when he graduated, there would be more faces like his own on campus.

“Even though I’m thousands of miles away from my hometown,” Treviño says, “I can help out my community.”

Treviño (CAS’05), an assistant director in the Office of Admissions, was one of the first members of the Admissions Student Diversity Board (ASDB), a division of the admissions office that seeks to recruit to Boston University qualified students from four underrepresented minority groups — black and African-American, Hispanic and Latino, Native American, and native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander. The group works year-round to make contact with prospective students, but its centerpiece is Multicultural Weekend, held this year from March 24 through 26, where prospective students and parents spend a weekend at the University and learn about life at BU.

This is the third year of Multicultural Weekend, and close to 150 high school students are expected to attend, up from the 80 who attended two years ago. Prospective students spend the weekend living with student hosts and participate in lectures and discussions that range from cultural life at BU to securing financial aid.

Parents enjoy the weekend because it helps them get to know BU, says ASDB student coordinator Stephanie Nuñez (CAS’07); prospective students are often relieved to find that BU has a strong minority presence on campus, despite demographics that indicate the opposite.

“People go by the numbers, but I think you have to talk to students to know what the real deal is,” Nuñez says. “It’s important to tell them what your experience here is like.”

Student activities groups also play an important role in Multicultural Weekend, creating programs and events that demonstrate the array of choices and cultures at the University. This year’s events include Pachanga, a night of Latino food and music; Harlem Nights, a spoken-word performance; a South Asian marketplace with food and activities; and an Irish step-dancing class and performance.

The weekend isn’t all about race, either, says Raslyn Rendon, a senior assistant director in the admissions office. “The students come from a variety of backgrounds, ethnicity and race aside, and have a variety of interests and ideas about what college is,” she says. “The weekend really is to give them the scope of the University on all of those different levels. We want them to know that when they come here, they have a place to be, whether that is a cultural organization or an engineering-based organization.”

The effect that ASDB and Multicultural Weekend have had on the University’s demographics is difficult to determine — while the percentage of Hispanic-American students in the freshman class rose from 5.7 percent to 7 percent between fall 2003 and fall 2005, the percentages of African-American, Asian-American, and Native American students remained relatively level. But students involved in ASDB say that the numbers aren’t as important as the experience prospective students have when they visit campus.

“I’ve definitely seen a big, big difference on campus since my freshman year,” Nuñez says. “We’re definitely more visible, and I think that’s what students like to see.”