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‘Rights On The Heights’ Rally At BC Brings Together Dissident Voices

“We wanted to make the administration know that there are things in the past that need to change.”

It was cold, windy, and overcast on Friday afternoon, but over 100 students gathered in O’Neill Plaza for the Rights on the Heights rally protesting the administration’s limitations on student free speech on campus. Hosted by a number of groups including Climate Justice at Boston College and the Social Justice Coalition, Rights on the Heights featured a platform for student leaders, professors, and alumni to voice their struggles and concerns about how student groups are operated and organized on campus.

“We got in touch with other people and then we realized, ‘Oh my gosh, everyone is really mad at BC too,’” said Sissi Liu, a member of Climate Justice at BC and A&S ’17. “Not specifically for the same reasons, but for having issues with how the administration has treated us, how we’ve never been taken seriously, and how there are rules set in place to slow us down.”

Registered student organizations are difficult to form at BC and Friday’s student speakers made it clear that they did not believe the administration did not do enough to support these groups in allowing them to become registered. If a student organization is not registered with the Office of Student Involvement (OSI), they currently are not allowed to hang fliers or organize meetings in University spaces.

“In a famous homily by Fr. Himes, he tells us to measure the success of our education not by the number of job offers we receive, not by our mid-career salaries,” said Anthony Golden, a member of United Students Against Sweatshops and CSOM ’17. “He tells us to measure it by how we impact the lives of the marginalized of society who cannot enjoy the privilege of education we have here … the administration constantly subverts the student voice it tells to advocate for others. How can we advocate for the marginalized of society when we graduate, when we cannot even do it here and now as students?”

The various student organizations each presented a specific issue of rights or treatment at BC. The Haitian Society of BC, for example, believed that race was an issue that was still not sufficiently addressed on campus, both by students and the administration. Lakeisha St. Joy, A&S ‘15, said that she believed she was speaking not just for the Haitian community, but for all students of color when she said that the school had a romanticized view of what diversity really is. With the University’s enormous endowment, she also questioned the administration’s lack of assistance when so many culture clubs struggle to make ends meet financially.

Climate Justice at BC, one of the event’s hosts, expressed its frustration with the organization’s current status. It applied to be a Registered Student Organization (RSO) several times, in part because the group includes graduate students, which are not allowed to be part of an RSO. Alyssa Florack, A&S ’17, said that among the reasons they received for their rejection were that their organization’s goal is not sustainable.

“BC does these small, backhanded things where they’re not directly fighting you … like denying us as an RSO is their way of keeping us down without actually being open about doing that,” said Florack.

Climate Justice at BC’s initial goal was to get the school to divest from fossil fuels in their endowment portfolios, but now, Florack said, the group’s goal goes beyond that. The goal has expanded to educating people about the climate injustice that is occurring around the world. Florack and the rest of the group is hopeful that the new Undergraduate Government of Boston College (UGBC) proposal will allow for more freedom for groups on campus to promote causes such as theirs.

“The UGBC proposal comes out today, and we really wanted to draw people’s attention to it,” Florack said. “We wanted to make the administration know that there are things in the past that need to change and that they should look at this proposal seriously because there are students here that care about it and want it to happen.”

The rally itself was held strategically on the same day that UGBC was presenting its proposal to the Board of Trustees and OSI. Its organizers hoped the rally would show that the student body was behind the proposal. UGBC kept some distance from the rally, claiming that while the issues being raised were all supported by UGBC, they were not necessarily related to the Student Guide revisions.

“I think that what will be important in the rally is that students are speaking about issues they care about, and I think in connecting it to the Student Guide, I don’t think that it should be connected to the Student Guide revisions because right now we’re working on the same page as administrators and they are the ones who brought up the inconsistencies in the Student Guide, and that update policies need to happen,” said Nanci Fiore-Chettiar, president of UGBC and A&S ’15. “I think that the rally should really be focused on what are student concerns and what they want to address so that administration knows how students feel, but so that it’s not connected to the revisions of the Student Guide.”

Rev. Raymond G. Helmick, S.J. told those in attendance that if they want to make a difference, they need to unite with students across the country to create the change they want to see. All the substantial change society has realized in the past decades, he said, has come from student activism.

Colton Jones, a student at Syracuse University, exemplified this connectedness, sending a statement to students at BC that was read at the rally.

“People are mobilizing across the planet. No longer are we sitting back and letting injustices occur,” Jones said. “I ask you all to look to your left and right, make eye-contact with your fellow human-being, hug each other if you will, but know that the person beside you, no matter how many differences you share, will stand with you throughout this process.”

Correction: An earlier version of the article stated that Colton Jones spoke at the rally. Jones instead sent a statement to the students at the rally, which was then read aloud. 

Featured Image by Drew Hoo / Heights Staff

December 8, 2014