Xavier University, a small catholic school in the heart of New Orleans, created a pre-med program on campus that has consistently produced more black medical school students than any other college in the U.S. How the school achieved this despite the its small size and the setbacks historically black colleges & universities have faced in recent years is the subject of a new story in New York Times Magazine.
One main reason is the school’s recently retired former president, Norman Francis. While only a couple of year’s into his job, a report came across his desk. It was an alarming accounting of the nation’s medical students, and it found that the already tiny number of black students attending medical school was dropping.
It was the 1970s, at the tail end of the civil rights movement. Francis, a black man in his early 40s back then, the son of a hotel bellhop, had pushed past racist gatekeepers when he became the first black student to be admitted to Loyola University’s law school in 1952.
Francis believed he was in a unique position to address the absence of black doctors. At the time, Xavier served a nearly all-black student body of just over 1,300. And most of Xavier’s science department was housed in an old donated Army building with no air-conditioning a loud heater (think “always too hot” or “always too cold”). But the science program had always been strong, and it began producing its first medical-school students not long after the university was founded in 1925.
Today, Xavier’s campus boasts around 3,000 students and consistently produces more black students who apply to and then graduate from medical school than any other institution in the country. More than big state schools like Michigan or Florida. More than elite ivy league schools like Harvard and Yale. Xavier is also first in the nation in graduating black students with bachelor’s degrees in biology and physics. It is among the top…