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Set The World Aflame … Just Don’t Do It Here

The University challenges students to fight for social justice, but often, that message is lost here in Chestnut Hill.

In the faraway lands of New York City and Ferguson, Mo. fires raged, protestors marched, mothers cried, and people of all walks of life came together to protest injustice. Meanwhile, in Chestnut Hill, bells rang, students shuffled about, and life went on just as it had: complacently. With the exception of a small gathering of dedicated students from groups such as the Black Student Forum, the large majority of the Boston College population sat idly by while cities burned with frustration and hearts were crushed by the recent no-indictment verdicts surrounding the police killings of Eric Garner and Michael Brown.

As a participant in both the student-led march on campus following the verdict in Ferguson and the Boston march surrounding the decision in the Eric Garner case, I was able to observe the key difference in each protest: there has been a severe lack of white allies at BC. What many students may not realize is that just because you are white does not mean that these recent incidents of racial profiling and police brutality do not implicate you.

In a 1999 interview, Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa claimed—in response to the previous decades of apartheid—“one will never be free unless we’re all free.” Allowing policemen to kill civilians in a chokehold and walk away with it is not freedom, nor is racial profiling. We live in a nation where we can speak our minds without being disappeared or tortured. So why don’t we speak out?

At a recent town hall meeting run by the BSF in the wake of these two decisions, the few white students in the audience spoke about the need to be an ally in this cause. If there are no allies, then the movement does not appear united. As a white student, I have come to understand that this is not my movement to lead, but one to follow. How can we, as a majority white university, show our support for the injustices occurring under our noses? The simple answer: show up.

When protests are being organized around campus and in the Boston area, people power is the fuel to the fire; without it, the flame is extinguished. As evidenced by the turnout to last Friday’s “Rights on the Heights” rally, BC students seem to have a difficult time showing up to anything that isn’t a weekend activity or sporting event. We are consistently told to “go set the world aflame,” but why are we, as supposedly social justice oriented students, discouraged from doing it on our own campus? By organizing ourselves against injustices that still exist on our own campus, in our neighborhood, and our city at large, we have the power to do extraordinary

In a recent talk on campus, renowned poet Carolyn Forche said that working for justice is like “lighting a match and hoping the fire spreads.” The match lighting starts with us. To the white members of the student body, by standing in solidarity with our black brothers and sisters, who are directly affected by these recent no-indictments and the issues that they propagate, perhaps we can all get to the core meaning of what it really means to set the world aflame. We claim that we are all BC … so let’s prove it.

Featured Image by John Wiley / Heights Photo Illustration

December 11, 2014

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