Every time I sit on the sleek seats of the 28 bus that heads towards Ruggles Station, I pass the Northeastern University dining hall. With its spotless windows and seemingly comfortable red furniture, the dining hall at any given time is either a bustle of smiling faces or a small coalition of concentrated ones.
Northeastern reflects a level of prestigiousness that makes it distinct from other colleges and universities. With a 28 percent admissions rate coupled with rigorous academics and a “diverse” campus, it is among the more selective universities in the country. However, walking across the street presents a different picture.
When you walk across the street, you come across a housing development made entirely of bricks, piled up on top of each other like Legos. The very presence of these apartments are inherently paradoxical to the pristine image Northeastern projects. Here, the truth becomes clear—24.6 percent of the young people who live in the neighborhood of Roxbury live in poverty according to research done by the Boston Redevelopment Authority in March of 2014. The location of Northeastern University also presents a problem. To any person with a WiFi connection: If you look up Northeastern, the school’s website states that NU is located simply in Boston, not Roxbury.
When you put a microscope on NU and Roxbury, an insidious truth about where we live comes to light. These two places are near each other, but might as well be universes apart.
The looming question is: How did we get here?
I spoke with Marisa Luz, Campus Engagement Coordinator for Northeastern Crossing. Northeastern Crossing is an organization that specializes in curating relationships between Northeastern University and the neighborhood of Roxbury. A native of Roxbury, she described the neighborhood she once grew up in as “a very vibrant community.”
A graduate of Northeastern, she described her alma mater as a place that was very active in the community and afforded her a set of experiences that she still carries with her to this day. When asked about how the expansion of Northeastern has affected the local community, she addressed the fact that some people might feel encroached by the expansion of the university. She told me that the big beautiful campus that Northeastern has become known for wasn't always like this. She said that when she attended Northeastern 20 years ago, it was a commuter school, and they only had a few buildings while the rest of the land was made up of parking lots.
I went to do more research on this subject, and I found a disturbing trend. According to Northeastern’s own college catalogs, tuition in 1985 was $11,538.50. Considering that there were a myriad of scholarships available (115), a Northeastern education was something a middle class person could afford. However, by 2005, tuition shot up to an expensive $39,902. The scholarships that they offered in 1985 practically disappeared—by 2005, only five scholarships were available, four of which were merit-based.
For a lot of people that live in Boston, a Northeastern education is practically out of reach. That sentiment is especially true for the people of Roxbury. Even though Northeastern Crossing has programs such as Afro Flow Yoga and regular meetings addressing the community's concerns about the university, how much does impact does it really have on the community? It's of my opinion that it doesn't bridge the divide that much because even though the community voices its concern about the university expanding, these expensive structures end up being built anyway. Northeastern is prioritizing the wrong things. They are much more concerned with their college rankings than improving the quality of the education that's being offered. This comes at a hefty price: they are trying to become prestigious while isolating people who could really benefit from their education. The ironic thing is Northeastern created the problem that it is hoping to solve with Northeastern Crossing.