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BC’s Career Closet Opens Doors for Marginalized Students

Tucked away in a tiny building on Commonwealth Ave, the Boston College Career Center is a bustling, lively place. Dozens of students come in every day for drop-ins, coaching appointments, interviews, and meetings. Its vision to “empower students to pursue meaningful careers and lives” is a lofty one, and its staff is always brainstorming new ways to provide services to students.

The Center’s newest program, the Career Closet, is a bold attempt to connect students, especially those from marginalized backgrounds, with opportunities for career exploration. 

If a student has a professional event coming up, like an interview, a networking event, or a presentation, but they don’t have a formal outfit, they can come to the Career Closet and pick out up to three items of professional clothing. Any clothes that they select are theirs to keep—there are no returns necessary. What’s more, this resource is available to any BC student. Simply check-in at the front desk, try on a few items, fill out a satisfaction survey, and take them home. No questions asked.

Jabril Robinson, the Assistant Director of Career Education and Diversity Initiatives at BC, spoke about the development of the Career Closet. The idea for the Closet had been in early stages when he arrived at Boston College in 2017. After researching practices at universities around the country, staff discovered that there was a growing number of programs being developed to address wealth disparity and food insecurity on college campuses. “It became implied that if students are struggling to even afford meals on campus, you can imagine what kind of other necessities might be ignored entirely,” he said. Professional attire jumped out as something that many low-income students might be missing.

After more research and outreach, Robinson and his team realized that there were several different ways to address this demand. Some schools hold events at which students can pick out clothing for a limited time. Others have rental programs where the items are expected to be returned. 

Eventually, they settled on something different. The team decided that the Career Closet would be free for all students, and the clothes would be theirs to keep. This might not be the most cost-effective option in the short run, as all inventory that gets taken home will have to be replaced. However, having a rental program or limiting participation through means-testing would detract from the goals of the project and the mission of the Career Center. 

Of course, one of the project’s primary goals was to “remove financial barriers that may impede students from looking, feeling, or performing their best when it most counts.” It is a very tangible resource that is easy for students to use, and it enables them to be taken seriously in professional settings.

Nevertheless, “Access to free attire is just a piece of it,” Robinson said. The initiative is really about “dignity.” Many students, lacking a professional network or career management expertise, feel alone when it comes to the career search, and the Career Closet is meant to be an invitation to start a journey of exploration, regardless of background. “What’s most important is providing respectable, sensitive, and excellent service so that [students] understand that this is really an ecosystem of resources and services we provide,” Robinson explained. Students can switch from feeling lost to feeling a sense of ownership of their future when they “feel respected, not looked down upon, and not stigmatized.”

In the Spring 2020 semester, the Career Center will be putting resources into marketing and awareness so that more people take advantage of the Closet. Staff will also be working on finding ways to collect gently used clothing from students and other organizations on campus. Robinson noted that, unfortunately, the people who might need the closet the most are the hardest to attract. With more “individualized promotion”, he hopes that the initiative will continue to grow and introduce more students to the Career Center. 

Low-income, first-generation, AHANA, and LGBTQ+ students all face barriers in the job search process. The Career Closet is one of the many ways that the Career Center is working to tear down those barriers.

Stop by the Career Center for drop-ins between 11-4 Monday-Friday and visit bc.edu/careers for more information.

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