“I came out better on the other side.”
The experiences of three Eagles illustrate the ways student formation—the kind that equips students not just with useful knowledge, but also a profound understanding of how to live— extends beyond the classroom, beyond campus, to every facet of life at the University.
Tuesday mornings, Delaney Coyne ’23 wakes in the marrow of the night and gathers herself for another day with the unhoused guests of St. Francis House. Quiet footfalls her only company across an empty Lower Campus, she hunches through the stubborn cold to greet the Green Line’s first train from Boston College. Eventually—after a predictably unpredictable MBTA delay—the train screeches to life and carries her to Boylston Street as the sun creeps over Commonwealth Avenue.
In her final semester at BC, Delaney relishes this time each week. As difficult as it is to wake up on time, it’s a deeply centering ritual. Some days find her in the kitchen cleaning dishes or rolling yarn into balls so guests can knit themselves gloves or a hat. Other times, she just sits and talks with the guests of St. Francis House, listening to their stories and lending a sympathetic ear to people who are frequently regarded as little more than an obstacle on the sidewalk. “Society often sees the poor as just their material needs, rather than full people. They’re reduced to a list of things that need to be done for them, instead of people who deserve to express themselves, live in community, and lead full lives,” she says.
Often, her role as a team leader calls her to mentor students volunteering at St. Francis House for the first time. It can be jarring for otherwise sheltered students to see the realities of poverty and homelessness laid so bare.
Delaney meets them in that discomfort, encouraging them to confront it. “These issues shouldn’t make you comfortable,” she says.
Some 1,300 miles away from Chestnut Hill, Taji Johnson ’24 tightens his shoes in preparation for a long day of walking. One lace after the other, the wide receiver threads his sneakers as snug as he would his football cleats before a game at Alumni Stadium.
It is July 2022 in Selma, Alabama, the humidity heavy in the air as a dirge. Flanked by a delegation of Eagles and student-athletes from other Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) schools, Taji is here representing Boston College for the league’s social justice platform, ACC Unite. A Meier Scholar, Schoen Memorial Scholar, and New Balance BC Student-Athlete, Taji is a tireless advocate for social justice at the Heights and beyond, and this is only the beginning of his journey.
One foot after the other, he steps across the Edmund Pettus Bridge, following the path marched by his heroes nearly 60 years ago. Much has changed since that fateful “Bloody Sunday” in 1965. There’s much work left; you’ll find Taji in the thick of it.
When the leaves turn in Central Massachusetts, they change like a performer switching outfits before an encore—a flurry of wind, a swell of color. A river runs through the retreat grounds where Chloe Chaple ’25 and 150 other BC women in the Ascend program meet to decompress and escape the anxieties of college life.
Her first year at the Heights was a grueling one, marked with isolation and loss. Already prone to a measure of social anxiety as well as mental illness when the weather turns, she suffered a concussion and a prolonged bout with COVID-19 in her first winter away from her home in Westport, Connecticut. A loss in her family compounded her suffering, and Chloe knew she needed help in the form of community.
Here in Charlton, she’ll walk with mentors along leaf-laden trails, laugh with first-year women she might not have otherwise met, and hear upperclasswomen who used to intimidate her share stories about their own struggles. An hour’s drive from the Heights, this is the place she’ll find a home at BC.
[Serving with 4Boston has] been a great way of reminding me why I’m getting my education and whom it should ultimately serve.”
—DELANEY COYNE ’23
Back in Boston, Delaney’s served for four years with 4Boston, BC’s largest weekly service organization, wherein students volunteer with community partners for several hours a week in the areas of social service, healthcare, or education. Run by Campus Ministry, 4Boston’s pillars of community, spirituality, and social justice align well with her dual majors in theology and international studies.
“It’s been a great way of reminding me why I’m getting my education and whom it should ultimately serve,” Delaney adds. It’s easy to hear the influence of one of Delaney’s favorite writers, the late BC theologian, Reverend Michael Himes, in her reflections. Fr. Himes’s famous three questions—What am I good at? What brings me joy? Who does the world need me to be?—permeate every corner of campus, compelling Eagles to consider their identity, desires, and the meaning of success in a different way than the world typically does.
What makes the BC experience unique is how core elements of campus life—academics, service, Campus Ministry, Athletics, and extracurriculars, etc.—intertwine, like a braid of hair, instructing each other and strengthening the overall experience for Eagles.
It’s always been bigger than myself.”
—TAJI JOHNSON ’24
“Selma changed me,” Taji says. “It was such an immersive experience, being in that space with people who were actually there.” The second youngest of five siblings, he’s always had an acute sense of the ways in which you depend on those who’ve gone before you, and the importance of helping those who follow after you. “It’s always been bigger than myself.”
The founding president of the Black Male Initiative (BMI), a student-athlete-led group committed to empowering students of color and being a voice for the unheard on campus and beyond, Taji personifies what it means to be more than an athlete at the Heights. You can find him organizing panels or speakers for BMI events, getting involved in the wider Boston community, or volunteering at the Campus School and other on-campus initiatives.
An applied psychology major, Taji is passionate about sports psychology and promoting mental health for athletes. He’s recently passed the BMI leadership baton on to BC football teammates Nick Thomas ’25 (a Hovsepian Family Scholar) and Alex Broome ’25 (an O’Donnell Family Scholar and New Balance BC Student-Athlete), who have hit the ground running in their new positions. Over the summer of 2023, they joined Taji and fellow members of the BC Athletics community on the latest ACC Unity Tour, visiting the nation’s capital for the 60th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s March on Washington. From there, Thomas and six teammates hosted a Pop Warner program for 150 children in Roxbury, Massachusetts, connecting with the community beyond Chestnut Hill. Despite the considerable academic and athletic demands on their day-to-day schedules, Eagles like Taji, Nick, and Alex demonstrate the myriad ways athletics integrates into the wider life and mission of the University.
Nick Thomas ’25, Alex Broome ’25, and Taji Johnson ’24 at the ACC’s Unity Tour in Washington DC in July 2023
Ask first-year women at BC the biggest challenge they face and you’ll get a range of different responses. For Chloe, the answer is easy: uncertainty. “You’re so full of self-doubt,” she says, “and that fear ends up infiltrating every part of your life.”
“It just felt like I was taking hit after hit,” Chloe says. “Outwardly, I seemed like a perfectly happy, put-together person. I was getting good grades. But I wasn’t feeling confident in my place here, and I wasn’t finding ways to engage in campus life or enjoy my studies.”
Grappling with depression, grief, and loneliness, she could have turned inward and further isolated. Instead, Chloe applied to Ascend, a Center for Student Formation (CSF) program for first-year women to participate in weekly small-group meetings with peers, talk through their experience at BC, and connect with junior and senior women mentors (AKA “leads”). The retreats, held twice a year, are as restorative as they are empowering, providing a forum for students to be vulnerable with one another, build organic relationships, and share their struggles with junior and senior mentors.
As is typical at BC, people made all the difference. The relationships Chloe formed in Ascend built her back up and equipped her to enjoy a fulfilling, complete BC experience. “To hear these older girls who looked like they had their lives all together share these really vulnerable stories of anxiety, or relationship issues—my heart just opened up,” she says. “It helped me realize no one has everything figured out and sent me on a track of really investing in myself and my mental health.”
[Ascend] helped me realize no one has everything figured out and sent me on a track of really investing in myself and my mental health.”
—CHLOE CHAPLE ’25
Nearly two years, three Ascend retreats, and countless coffee dates after that cruel semester, Chloe’s found her place at the Heights. She’s adopted reflective habits in the form of the daily examen, a practice of Ignatian spirituality; developed close relationships with faculty and mentors; and interned for Ascend in her sophomore year before applying to be a lead in her junior year. Her experiences have helped her come to know and care for herself on a deeper level.
“As difficult as that time was,” she says, “I came out better on the other side.”
In the words of Fr. Himes, “Education is the process through which we become more fully human and also more like God.” This is what formative education looks like at Boston College. Not only does it teach students to ask questions, engage with new ideas and perspectives, and respond to their calling in the world, it also imparts the necessity of community and asking for help.
The experiences of Delaney, Taji, and Chloe illustrate the ways in which formative education—the kind that equips students not just with useful knowledge, but a profound understanding of how to live—extends beyond the classroom, beyond campus, to every facet of BC student life.
Every student brings their own baggage and needs to Boston College. Every student finds themself—their passions and quirks and communities—in different ways at the Heights. The common denominator is a university that truly cares for their whole person, making a home for each and every Eagle where they can find themselves, over and again.
Soaring Higher: For the Heights
Boston College and its culture profoundly affect both the students who are drawn to the University and also the lives they lead after they graduate. The University dedicates significant resources to fostering rigorous intellectual development as well as religious, ethical, and personal experiences—also known as student formation. BC’s reputation as a leader in this area is one of its greatest distinctions, and philanthropic support through Soaring Higher is critical to continuing its success. In particular, the campaign seeks to raise $750 million for student life, including $400 million alone for BC Athletics.
Athletics are at the heart of the Boston College experience for many and are a crucial part of the University’s identity. Student-athletes demonstrate intensive self-discipline, motivation, and heart, excelling not only as competitors but also as advanced and committed scholars. Their BC experience is buttressed by scholarships, enhancements to facilities, support for the whole student-athlete, and so much more.
“A thriving BC student-athlete is well-balanced,” says Michael Harris, director of student-athlete academic services and designee of diversity and inclusion efforts for BC Athletics. “Ultimately, we want to see our student-athletes maximize what they do on the field and in the classroom, integrating into the larger BC community, and taking advantage of all the opportunities BC has to offer,” says Harris.
Thanks in part to the efforts of Harris and colleague Kenny Francis, assistant athletics director for student-athlete formation and success, Athletics has built an environment that BC student-athletes of color especially are proud to call home. In fact, in the past five years, retention rates of Black student-athletes have risen considerably, even as transfer restrictions have eased. Additionally, the University’s Athlete Ally Index Score has increased from 66 to 95 (out of 100).
Forward-looking support for athletics facilities will help recruit the top student-athletes to BC, while investments in residence halls and gathering spaces will promote community, enhancing the overall wellbeing of our student body.
“Students don’t live in siloes,” says Colleen Dallavalle, the assistant vice president for student engagement and formation. “The ways in which they’re engaged and formed are constantly in conversation and influencing each other.” Dallavalle and her team in Student Affairs take a holistic approach to their work, collaborating with the Division of Mission and Ministry to develop material for retreats and amplify formative programs across campus.
Mission and Ministry’s Montserrat Office ensures any and all students who wish to participate in such opportunities are able, whether or not they can afford to pay for a service trip, retreat, or on-campus experience. Offerings like 48Hours (for first-year students), Halftime (for sophomores to seniors) as well as Pause and Pray, Kairos, and silent retreats aim to develop contemplative habits among students and strengthen the social fabric of campus.
“Success is not mutually exclusive—it’s holistic,” says Francis. “Part of why I love BC is that you’re not putting athletics in one basket over here, academics in another, maybe sprinkling
in some spirituality on the side. No, it’s all integrated; it all contributes to their self-realization.”