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Column: Moving At A Glacial Pace

Heights Senior Staff

Published: Thursday, February 7, 2013

Updated: Thursday, February 7, 2013 01:02

“Everyone is so polite!” One of my professors made this surprising epiphany in class a few days ago. He commented that unlike at other universities where he previously taught, students and faculty at Boston College rarely overtly criticize the administration. At Cornell, for example, he explained that students and even professors routinely lambast the university leadership in the student newspaper or in class. BC is the one exception.

At first, I was proud of my professor’s observation. I absolutely despise the toxic cloud of rhetoric that envelops Washington D.C. politicians routinely compare each other to Hitler, question their opponents’ patriotism, and lob other personal attacks via MSNBC and Fox News. BC, on the other hand, maintains a refreshing air of civility. The Heights in particular resembles a peaceful marketplace of ideas and compromise. Newswriters report the University stance through front page articles, students respond through letters to the editor, and the paper itself comments through editorials. Personal attacks are the exception rather than the norm in the student faculty relationship.

However, this initially positive view melted away when I examined progress on student proposals while at BC. Undergraduates have been clamoring for a student center since the dawn of time, yet it hasn’t materialized. Medical amnesty, a widely supported policy at numerous universities across the country, remains only partially implemented at BC, despite years of student lobbying. Finally, Students for Sexual Health’s demand for reforms as basic as free STI testing has been continuously rejected by University leadership. Glaciers move quicker than student initiatives at BC.

Universities have long been associated with student dissent. UC Berkeley’s Free Speech Movement in 1964 is arguably the most famous. Thousands of students occupied Sproul Hall on campus to protest the school’s restriction on political speech. However, even BC has a history of conflict between students and the administration. In the early 1970s, members of The Heights published the supposedly confidential transcript of a Board of Trustees meeting, fired the newspaper’s managing editor who was suspected of leaking information to the administration, and subsequently lost its University funding. More recently, in 2005 BC infamously cancelled a GLBTQ Aids Benefit dance because it conflicted with Catholic doctrine. Hundreds of students gathered in the Dustbowl (may it rest in peace) to protest the administration’s decision.

The dance fiasco in particular brought concrete change. The student body mobilized in protest, and the University responded by adding sexual orientation to its non-discrimination clause. Yet medical amnesty, basic sexual health resources, and the fabled student center remain tantalizingly out of reach. Does politeness undermine an argument? Can the administration keep teasing us with unfulfilled promises, knowing we are too polite to put up a fight?
Paul Valery, a French philosopher, once said that, “politeness is organized indifference.” The BC student body’s overly civil attitude toward student initiatives suggests that we don’t care strongly about them. What should we choose as a replacement for politeness? Should Students for Sexual Health occupy Gasson? Should The Heights publish political cartoons caricaturing University President Rev. William P. Leahy S.J., or expose secretive Board of Trustees meetings again? I don’t think so. I believe that there is a middle ground between politeness and rebellion: a way to treat the administration with respect while forcefully advocating student proposals. BC’s motto demands that we set the world aflame, so why not start right here on campus?

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