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Campus Life

During the summer months, BU Today is revisiting some of the past year’s favorite stories. This week, we feature life and happenings on the Charles River Campus.

From ancient Rome’s Romulus and Remus and the Bible’s Jacob and Esau to literature’s Bobbsey twins and TV’s Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen, the world has long been fascinated by twins. Only about 33 of every 1,000 births in the United States produce twins, lending them an aura of mystery. Do they have a secret language? Do they share a kind of mental telepathy?

How does being a fraternal twin differ from being an identical twin?

Looking for some answers, as academics are wont to do, BU Today reached out to BU students and staff who happen to be twins and both work or live on campus. They talk about their strong bond as well as the importance of maintaining their own unique identity. Some sets of twins answered individually, while others preferred to respond as a pair. Their stories are below.

Emma Quirk and Kathryn Quirk

Emma Quirk (CAS’19, GRS’19) (left) and Kathryn Quirk (CAS’19, GRS’19), both members of the women’s rowing team, photographed at the BU DeWolfe Boathouse, April 15, 2018.

Emma and Kathryn Quirk

Identical twins

Birthday: May 8, 1997

Hometown: Wellesley, Mass.


BU Today: What was it like for you growing up as twins?

Kathryn: It was truly a great experience. Having spent my childhood overseas (my family lived in Japan and Singapore), it was sometimes hard to make new friends. However, since I was a twin, I had a built-in buddy.

Emma: It has definitely made life easier, because it’s like having a built-in buddy no matter where I go. I know I can always ask her for advice or to proofread a paper.

Did you consciously decide to both attend BU or did you both wind up here accidentally?

Kathryn: Yes, we always knew that we would be a package deal when we were looking at colleges to row at.

What is your relationship like today?

Emma: Extremely close. Obviously we go to school together and we’re also both on the women’s rowing team and share an apartment as well. We’re among the closer twins that I know.

Kathryn: Without a doubt, Emma is my best friend and the first person I will go to if I am ever upset.

Being a twin is…?

Emma: Always having a built-in best friend.

Kathryn: The luckiest thing that has ever happened to me.

Benjamin Chew and Jonathan Chew

Benjamin Chew (ENG’19) (left) and Jonathan Chew (Questrom’19), photographed at Questrom’s Frederick S. Pardee Library, April 13, 2018.

Benjamin and Jonathan Chew

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Identical twins

Birthday: November 21, 1996

Hometown: San Francisco, Calif.


What’s the best part of being a twin?

Jonathan: The best part of being a twin is always having a close friend that I can rely on.

Benjamin: The best part of being a twin is pretending to be the other one, and getting away with it.

As identical twins, do people still confuse you?

Jonathan: Yes, absolutely. This is the number one annoying thing as an identical twin. Even if people know both of us personally, they will still occasionally mix us up. Whenever people see me on Commonwealth Avenue and mistake me for my brother, I’ll play along and pretend that I’m my brother. Sometimes they figure out that I’m not my brother and sometimes they don’t.

Benjamin: One time I ate dinner with one of my twin’s friends and pretended to be him the whole time. There were moments when I slipped up, but he left not having a clue that I wasn’t my brother.

Did you consciously decide to both attend BU or did you both wind up here accidentally?

Benjamin: No, we both narrowed down our college choices to the same two schools, and we happened to pick the same school. We’d gone to the same elementary and high schools, and we were both open to going our own separate ways for college, but that did not end up happening.

What has it been like having your twin at the same school?

Jonathan: It’s been an interesting experience to say the least. During our freshman year, we lived in separate dormitories on campus. As a result, I saw my brother every few weeks and was able to gain distance from him. However, during the past two years, we have built a closer relationship, in part because we have lived in the same dormitory.

Benjamin: Before college, since we went to the same school, we’d have the same classes and groups of friends. We did the same sports and activities, so we were always together, like it or not. But in college, we haven’t seen each other as much since we’re taking different classes. We both have our own friend groups, but there are a handful of friends who know both of us. We are both involved with the Society of Asian Scientists and Engineers as E-board members, so we still see each other quite often. I like having a more separate life from my brother, but also having him close by as well.

Being a twin is…

Jonathan: A unique and complicated experience.

Benjamin: A part of who I am.

Martha Totten and Stephen Lach

Martha Totten, School of Law faculty services manager, and Stephen Lach, Medical Campus Facilities shipper-receiver, photographed in Martha’s office, April 4, 2018.

Staff: Martha Totten and Stephen Lach

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Fraternal twins

Birthday: September 15, 1953

Hometown: Quincy, Mass.


What was it like for you growing up as twins?

Martha: I recall that in grade school we were placed in separate classes after first grade because I would answer for both of us. From the time I can remember, we had separate friends, but I would join the boys when they allowed me to. I even pretended to like garden snakes so that I would be accepted.

Stephen: It was fun—we had two older brothers, so it was always Martha and me.

What’s been the best part of being a twin and the most frustrating part?

Stephen: The best part is knowing she’s always there for me. The most frustrating part is when she tells me she is older, so she is in charge. My answer to that is first one in, last one out. Works every time.

Martha: For me, the best part of being a twin is that you never feel alone. Our dad died when we were 15, so it was Steve who walked me down the aisle at my wedding.

Do you share the same interests?

Martha: We both share a love for the water.

Stephen: I love fishing, and although she has her own hobbies, she is a good fisherwoman—she can bait her own hook.

What has it been like to have your twin work at the same school you do?

Martha: Steve is on the Medical Campus, and I’m on the Charles River Campus, so we don’t see each other during the workday. However, it’s nice to know that he’s part of the same community.

Stephen: It’s fun because we can gossip together.

Some twins say they share a kind of telepathy—if one feels pain, the other does too. Have you ever experienced that?

Martha: We often know when something is bothering the other, and I may call him just as he is about to call me. There was one dramatic incident that I will never forget. Steve was in college at Norwich University, a military school in Vermont, when he was in a hunting accident. Back home in Quincy, we were sitting around the dinner table when the telephone rang. I sensed something had happened. As the phone rang, I turned as white as a ghost and ran to answer it. The woman on the other end simply asked to speak with my mother, but I had sensed something very wrong. I think that I had just about passed out before hearing that Steve had been shot.

(Editor’s note: Stephen remembers the incident slightly differently.)

Stephen: I can tell if something is bothering her or if she is going to call. But years ago while I was out of state at college, I was in a hunting accident. Martha was at home having dinner with the family. All of a sudden, she got up and ran to the phone. No cell phones back then. Everyone kept asking her what’s wrong. Her reply was: ‘Something has happened to Stephen.’ After about five minutes, the phone rang. It was the hospital calling to say I had been shot and was in surgery. Intuition or ESP?

Being a twin is…

Stephen: Love.

Martha: A very special bond that for me is unconditional love.

Allison Backus (CGS’19, CAS’21) (left) and Lauren Backus (CGS’15, COM’17), BU Center for Career Development and Educational Resource Center student outreach coordinator, photographed at their family’s Framingham, Mass., home, March 31, 2018.

Allison Backus (CGS’19) (left) and Lauren Backus (CGS’15, COM’17), BU Center for Career Development and Educational Resource Center student outreach coordinator, photographed at their family’s Framingham, Mass., home, March 31, 2018.

Allison and Lauren Backus

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Fraternal twins

Birthday: May 18, 1995

Hometown: Framingham, Mass.


What was it like for you growing up as twins?

Lauren: Allison and I were very close from the beginning. We had a lot of the same friends growing up, and we went to farm camp in the summers together. We’d always be thrilled at being reunited at the end of a long day in elementary school when we weren’t in the same class.

Did you share a secret language when you were little?

Allison: Our parents always say that when we first started talking a little bit, we would say “Ahda” all the time. It took them forever to figure out it was our special, made-up word for each other.

Lauren: From the time we were born, Allison has had a belly laugh and cackle that make me laugh more than anything else: we’ve been on the floor rolling around laughing, her at something ridiculous, and me at her laugh itself.

What’s the best part of being a twin? The most frustrating part?

Allison: For me, the hardest part is explaining medical issues that have kept me from being on the same academic track as my sister. It’s a bummer, and I’m sure there are some people that don’t understand, but that’s such a tiny inconvenience in the grand scheme of things, because for me, everything else about being a twin is the best part. Lauren is so kind, so brilliant, so passionate, and such an overall wonderful human being, and being a twin means that she’s pretty much stuck with me. I couldn’t ask for a better best friend.

Lauren: I’m not sure I can top that. I agree with the fact that our family has been through a lot over the years, with medical struggles, and that sometimes—especially being twins—it can be hard to explain to people that we’re at different stages, academically. But those struggles have made our family even stronger, and I couldn’t be luckier to have such a wonderful, built-in best friend in my life.

What has it been like having your twin at the same school?

Allison: In a way, I think being on different tracks has really strengthened our bond. We’re not doing similar things at the same time, and that’s been really interesting. It’s definitely encouraged us to find our own hobbies, interests, and friends. I feel like for us, being on different paths has made us hone our individuality while also making us appreciate and truly adore all the things twinhood has to offer.

Lauren: Though I graduated last May, because I now work at BU, we have the amazing opportunity to grab dinner, and catch up on our week. It’s so wonderful, knowing the other is close by.

Being a twin is …

Lauren: Wonderful. It’s a fundamental part of who I am. Being a twin, and specifically, being Allison’s twin, has made me a kinder, funnier, happier, better human being.

Allison: Lovely beyond words. Every year on May 18, I not only get to celebrate the day I was born, but also the day I met my best friend.

Aileen Chavez and Chasity Chavez

Aileen Chavez (Questrom’21) (left) and Chasity Chavez (ENG’21), photographed in their 575 Comm Ave dorm room, April 8, 2018.

Aileen and Chasity Chavez

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Fraternal twins

Birthday: July 7, 1999

Hometown: Los Angeles, Calif., and Dallas, Tex.


Did you consciously decide to both attend BU or did you both wind up here accidentally?

Aileen and Chasity: We both knew we wouldn’t want to go to different places for college, especially if we decided to go out of state. Our college search was guided by finding schools that had great programs in both of our intended fields of study.

How would you describe your relationship?

Aileen and Chasity: Our relationship today is very good. We are still very close, but we are also learning to be more independent. Growing up, we had most of our classes together: at times our entire class schedule was the same, so attending different colleges at BU was definitely a change. We enjoy dorming together because it’s nice to come back to the dorm at the end of the day and spend time with somebody you know you can rely on.

What has it been like having your twin at the same school?

Aileen and Chasity: It’s actually very helpful. We were the only students from our high schools, both in Los Angeles and Dallas, who came to BU, so it was much more reassuring moving so far away from home with each other. It’s also helpful when we’re studying because we often complement each other in certain subjects; sometimes one of us understands a subject more than the other, and we can tutor each other when we need to. Plus, we know how to calm each other down if there is a big exam coming up for one of us.

Being a twin is…

Aileen and Chasity: As awesome as people would think it is.

Elise and Leah Tringale

Elise Tringale (CGS’16, SHA’18) (left) and Leah Tringale (CGS’16, SHA’18), photographed in the Metropolitan College 808 Comm Ave test and demonstration kitchen, April 5, 2018.

Elise and Leah Tringale

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Identical twins

Birthday: April 2, 1996

Hometown: Winchester, Mass.


Do you have similar interests and do a lot of things together?

Elise and Leah: We both love cooking, working out, trying different restaurants, and traveling. For the most part, we have the same friends. One of us will usually make a friend, then within a short time, we will all be friends.

As identical twins, did people often confuse you? Do people still confuse you? Did you ever pretend to be your twin?

Elise and Leah: People confuse us on a daily basis. When we go out together on weekends, we will get asked if we are twins dozens of times. Sometimes we will say no just to throw people off guard. And yes, we’ve pretended to be each other. When we were in second grade, we switched classes and got into so much trouble that our parents had to leave work and come to the principal’s office. We also switched classes in middle school all the time, but never got caught.

Did you consciously decide to both attend BU or did you both wind up here accidentally?

Elise and Leah: We applied to all of the same schools and would not have split up.

What has it been like having your twin at the same school?

Elise and Leah: Coming to BU together made the transition so much easier; we had an automatic roommate who we knew we’d get along with. Throughout our four years we have always lived together and we’ve even had several classes together. Most (if not all) of our School of Hospitality Administration professors have been able to tell us apart: a special shout-out to Professor Oshins and Professor Bagnera, who could tell us apart from day one.

Some twins say they share a kind of telepathy—if one feels pain, the other does too. Have you ever experienced that?

Elise and Leah: We have had professors and high school teachers tell us that we both chose to sit in the exact same seat when we were in different class periods. There have been nights where we both had dreams about the same thing. We can tell when the other is happy, upset, or annoyed without even expressing it verbally. Perhaps that’s just due to spending so much time with each other.

Being a twin is…

Elise and Leah: A gift.

Jackie Ricciardi can be reached at jricc@bu.edu. Sara Dyer West can be reached at shdyer@bu.edu.

4 Comments
Jackie Ricciardi, photographer and photojournalist
Jackie Ricciardi

Jackie Ricciardi can be reached at jricc@bu.edu.

4 Comments on Two’s Company

  • Carla on 05.07.2018 at 9:21 am

    Great photo essay, Jackie. So cool to read everyone’s experiences. I loved that my own girls said being a twin was a gift.

  • Carla baratta on 05.07.2018 at 8:10 pm

    Sara, great job on the text of the photo essay, too!

  • Beth Boucher on 05.08.2018 at 9:47 am

    I really enjoyed this piece. Well done!

  • Jose Artigas on 05.08.2018 at 10:42 pm

    I’m the younger twin by a few minutes, & I’ve never been allowed to forget it!

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