(Photo by Caitlin Cunningham)

Returning to the Heights

MLK Jr. Scholarship keynote speaker and past winner Philip McHarris ’14 reflects

Philip McHarris ’14, the 2013 Martin Luther King Jr. Scholarship recipient, returned to Boston College on February 19 as the keynote speaker for this year’s MLK Scholarship Banquet. A faculty member in the University of Rochester Department of Black Studies and Frederick Douglass Institute, McHarris pursues research on racial inequality, housing, and policing; he is the author of a forthcoming book, Beyond Policing, which explores community safety and building strong, accountable communities beyond the criminal legal system. Prior to the banquet, he shared some thoughts about his BC experience and what winning the scholarship meant to him.

Philip McHarris

Philip McHarris

What interested you in attending BC?

My interest in Boston College was sparked by the promise of a rigorous education and an environment where I felt I could thrive both academically and personally. When I visited BC, it immediately felt like the right place for me—like a community where I could be challenged, grow, and contribute. The programs BC offered, such as the College Transition Program (CTP), indicated a supportive structure that would not only prepare me for the challenges of higher education but also set me on a path to achieve my career aspirations.

You participated in the Ronald E. McNair Postbaccalaureate Achievement Program as well as the CTP while at BC. From your perspective today, what impact did these programs have on you?

Their impact on me was profound and multifaceted. CTP provided me with a foundational understanding of what academic life at BC would entail, boosting my confidence and helping me forge lasting social connections even before my first semester began. This early introduction to the college environment was invaluable. The McNair Program played a pivotal role in my academic and professional development, offering resources, support for graduate school applications, and a global perspective through study abroad opportunities. These programs were instrumental in my successful transition to a Ph.D. program and have continued to influence my career trajectory.

Who were some of the people who made your years at BC memorable?

My years at BC were enriched by numerous individuals who left a lasting impression on me. Connections with esteemed faculty and staff members such as C. Shawn McGuffey, Kalpana Seshadri, Karl Bell, Dan Bunch, Rossanna Contreras-Godfrey, and the supportive communities within the Sociology Department, African and African Diaspora Studies, Learning to Learn Office, and Bowman AHANA and Intercultural Center were pivotal. Each person, department, and program contributed uniquely to my academic and personal growth, providing guidance, encouragement, and a sense of belonging.

You were studying abroad during the semester you were selected for the Martin Luther King Jr. Scholarship. How do you look back at this achievement now? What significance did it have?

The circumstances surrounding the receipt of the award were anything but usual—receiving it in South Africa, in the middle of the night via a Skype call, added an extraordinary layer to the experience. This unconventional scenario made the moment even more memorable for me.

Receiving the MLK Jr. Memorial Scholarship stands as a monumental achievement in my life, embodying the collective support and belief of the BC community in my potential.

Reflecting back, it holds a significant place in my heart, symbolizing not just a personal achievement but also the collective support and belief of the BC community in my potential. It was a milestone that underscored the importance of perseverance, passion for social justice, and the impact of scholarship support in realizing academic and career goals.

Then, a scholarship award recipient; now, keynote speaker for the same event. How does it feel to be coming back to BC?

Returning to the Heights as a featured speaker, a decade after graduating, feels surreal and incredibly rewarding. It’s a full-circle moment that brings into focus the vision I had for my future and the realization of those dreams through hard work, support, and opportunities BC provided. This return not only allows me to reflect on my journey but the potential to share insights and experiences that might inspire current and future students. It’s a testament to the enduring impact of BC’s community and the transformative power of education.

I am immensely grateful for the foundation BC provided, which prepared me for the challenges and opportunities of academia and beyond. The journey from then to now has been enriched by the people I’ve met, the lessons learned, and the experiences shared. I look forward to continuing to engage with the BC community and contribute to its legacy of excellence and service.