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Warby Parker funds scholarships for Black students at Back Bay optometry college

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Warby Parker co-CEOs Dave Gilboa and Neil Blumenthal are working to bring more Blacks into the field of optometry.
Warby Parker co-CEOs Dave Gilboa and Neil Blumenthal are working to bring more Blacks into the field of optometry.Photo courtesy of Warby Parker

Warby Parker is eyeing a college in Boston as the best place to start an effort to draw more Black students into the field of optometry.

The New York-based eyewear retailer has pledged $440,000 to the New England College of Optometry to give two Black students free tuition for four years, starting in September 2021. The scholarship donation is one of the first tangible steps that Warby Parker is taking to meet a series of diversity and inclusion goals it established in the wake of George Floyd’s killing and the subsequent Black Lives Matter protests.

Black people are dramatically underrepresented in the field of optometry: Roughly 3 percent of those in US optometry schools are Black students, and even fewer are practicing optometrists, compared to being roughly 13 percent of the general population.

NECO president Howard Purcell said his 600-student school in the Back Bay was the first college to sign on to a pledge to bring student and faculty numbers up to 13 percent. Called the “13% Promise,” the goal was established by a group of optometrists called Black Eyecare Perspective to make the industry more inclusive.

“The only way we’re going to achieve this is if we’re able to address what’s going on at the schools and colleges,” Purcell said. “People want to come to a place where they see people who look like them.”

Purcell concedes NECO has a long way to go, too: Its Black student population resembles the 3 percent average among the 23 optometry schools in the country. “That’s not acceptable to us,” Purcell said. “That’s why we’re making these efforts.”

Warby Parker co-CEOs Dave Gilboa and Neil Blumenthal said