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COLUMN: BC Should Walk The Walk

Published: Sunday, February 3, 2013

Updated: Monday, February 4, 2013 00:02

"I hate this place," my professor says on the first day of classes, "I can’t put the tables the way I want to, there’s no podium, and you guys get distracted with the pretty view from the window." She was partly kidding about the last part, but she is right about one thing—Stokes was not designed with teachers in mind. Instead, it serves as a pillar of one of Boston College’s most iconic features—the beautiful campus. And BC puts a lot of effort into keeping it that way. Every year they lay down more carpet grass, just to have it trampled by throngs of students trying to skirt slow walkers on the paths. When high school students tour the campus, the best looking buildings are highlighted—Gasson, Fulton, Bapst, and now Stokes.

There is something to be said for attracting an incoming freshman class, getting alumni donations, and making BC a place that the current students want to be. There is even something to be said for justifying the amount of money spent on fancy buildings by teaching the students they attract how to go out into the world and spend their time, money, and knowledge on making the world a better place. BC provides it’s students with ample opportunities to learn what it means to serve others through service trips, volunteer organizations, classes, and other social justice groups, but have they impacted the entire student body in a permanent way? It feels like everyone does some kind of community service. But the kind of service students take part in is in practice, not in lifestyle. The people who end up going to BC are mostly people from well-off backgrounds, where the priorities of the students are all very similar. Yes, we go out into surrounding communities and volunteer our time, but beyond that we fail to live in a way that may prevent some of the suffering that those communities feel. A lot of the culture of the student body is centered on what people own—Hunter boots, summer homes, and alcohol budgets. It is easy to get caught up in the materialism, even if you volunteer. Living simply doesn’t seem like an option here. And by the time graduation rolls around, we’re more concerned about getting a good job, or getting into an even more expensive grad school than becoming men and women for others—a concept that is mostly emphasized in philosophy and theology core classes that we’re done with by sophomore year. Most of us come from families that expect us to succeed in our chosen field, and oftentimes that means taking a job that doesn’t promote the well-being of the marginalized in society. The pull to become a successful, functioning adult is a lot stronger than the one to serve others. Catholic social teaching is all about helping the most vulnerable, but when BC constructs a building like Stokes, which doesn’t even have wheelchair accessible doors, it makes me think that BC only puts out this message of agape and service to others to keep up with its Catholic reputation in an effort to appeal to students and parents who want their kids to have that good ole,’ well rounded, Jesuit education from a respectable school that will land them their dream job.

I appreciate what BC already does to serve others—paying our workers living wages, giving away unused food from dining halls, and implementing practices that decrease our carbon footprint are just a few examples, but these good deeds do not excuse excessive spending on buildings that are more for show than for learning. The most frustrating thing to me is when people complain about how ugly Carney is. All of my favorite classes were in Carney. I never feel that the standard of the building in which I learn should be better than the quality of the class I’m taking, or the professor I am taking it with. When how "pretty" our surroundings are become equally as important as the quality of our education, you know the Jesuit message has not gotten through. Even if the upkeep of the grounds is essential to keeping the school running, all that I ask is that we make the system more efficient. Gold elevators are not going to make or break a prospective student’s decision to go to BC. BC can have a respectable campus with a more cost-effective budget. Building new facilities may be an important part of maintaining BC’s competitive edge, but that does not justify spending excessive amounts of money on unnecessary features. Efforts to give opportunities to a wider variety of students, or putting more money into service programs so that they are more inclusive is a much better use of funds than letting me spend four hours a week in a pretty building. By building Stokes, BC is telling its students that maintaining appearances is more of a priority than giving more scholarship money, or paying for good professors.

The irony here is that I am finding fault in the social conscious of the school that taught me everything I know about social justice—so it could be argued that BC is doing it right. My concern is that most of the student body hasn’t realized the disparity between BC’s mission and its actions. We all love BC. But that shouldn’t stop us from taking a step back and considering why the administration makes some of the decisions they do. Because we love our school, and because we are men and women for others, we should encourage BC to do everything with the most vulnerable in society in mind. As an educational institution, BC is best equipped to inspire the future leaders of this country to commit to serving those most vulnerable. If attracting donors and students who can afford tuition here takes precedence over it’s commitment to promoting social justice, it is an institution founded on a false sense of doing good for others.

Editor’s Note: The views presented in this column are those of the author alone and do not represent the views of The Heights.

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