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For Unregistered Student Organizations, An Ambiguous Future

As BC administrators revisit student guide, representatives from UGBC push for compromise on unrecognized campus clubs.

Talks on the revision of Boston College’s student guide began between the University and the Undergraduate Government of Boston College (UGBC) in December, the central complaint lodged by UGBC’s Free Speech and Reform team being the restriction the current guide places on groups other than registered student organizations. The conversation initiated with Office of Student Involvement (OSI) and the University’s Board of Directors is expected to continue this semester, with concerns about how registered organizations are to interact with unrecognized entities still mounting.

Over 200 organizations at Boston College are identified as registered student organizations (RSO), focusing on a specific category: academics / pre-professional, campus ministry, honor societies, intercultural, music, art, and performance, political, publications and media, service, or specific issues. An undocumented group of organizations, however, exists outside the parameters for RSO’s outlined by the University.

When a fledgling student group attempts to become a Registered Student Organization, it must follow a set of steps outlined by OSI. According to Dhara Bhatt, vice president of student organizations for UGBC and CSOM ’15, the group must begin by submitting an application on OrgSync that includes a constitution outlining its name, mission, and vision. The group then undergoes an interview with UGBC’s Board of Student Organizations, which consists of 12 undergraduates ranging from freshmen to seniors.

UGBC then provides its recommendation based on the interview to OSI, and the two parties jointly come up with an accept, reject, or deferral decision. According to Bhatt, most decisions end up being deferrals, giving organizations feedback prior to a second interview to further explore the group’s candidacy.

When each group meets with the UGBC board to interview, they are evaluated based on a rubric created by UGBC in conjunction with OSI. The rubric’s main tenants call for the organization at hand to first, enhance the BC experience and create an inclusive environment, second, to not duplicate or be repetitive of an existent organization or office on campus, and lastly, be sustainable in the long run, according to Bhatt.

While these considerations provide the basis for UGBC and OSI’s joint consideration of groups seeking to become registered student organizations, Bhatt added that other factors play a role, such as the organization’s ability to further BC’s mission as a Jesuit, Catholic university as well as space, facilities, equipment, legal, and risk management concerns.

Boston College’s Social Justice Coalition (SJC) is a group that acts as an umbrella organization for multiple social justice groups on campus. According to Thomas Napoli, chair of UGBC’s Institutional Policy Review Committee and A&S ’16, at least one of the organizations over which SJC acts as an umbrella is unregistered. In situations with umbrella organizations, UGBC and OSI’s concern generally focuses on the financial aspect of the larger organization funding smaller groups within it—even if the larger organization was legitimate, its ability to fund unregistered organizations would negate its own candidacy as an RSO, said Napoli.

According to Napoli, many groups under SJC that are registered seek to unify under one umbrella in order to amplify their voices on campus, with the hope that their various social justice missions will become more transparent and ultimately more powerful when branded under a common name.

“There is this idea that there is too much of a discrepancy between what your regular individual student can do and what a recognized student group can do,” Napoli said. “For a lot of us in UGBC and a lot of these unrecognized student groups that are trying to have a voice, they feel like just because they’re not getting the recognition they can’t exist in other ways.”

For a student organization, recognition from the University is necessary for certain administrative functions associated with the running of a group on campus. UGBC’s Free Speech and Reform team noted that unregistered organizations are barred from posting fliers on campus, bringing speakers to the school, reserving a space for meetings, holding demonstrations on University grounds, and distributing literature at BC.

“My personal perspective is that they should be able to say their name, hold meetings, post flyers, disseminate literature,” Napoli said. “Right now there are a lot of limitations—they can’t say their name in a public forum, the posting policy is reserved for recognized student groups.”

Napoli noted that the neither the University nor UGBC should be forced into recognizing any group due to funding and administrative issues, but measures can be taken to ensure unregistered groups have a right to their free speech and can still contribute to the academic discourse on campus.

Napoli then outlined a specific revision to the Student Guide that the UGBC Institutional Policy Review Committee passed onto OSI and the Dean of Students Office (DOS), which hinges upon five students signing a petition in order to achieve the right to express their group opinion.

“The way the free expression policy handled it was by saying that if five individual students sign a petition that they want a poster or banner, they can do that,” he said. “If five students think an idea is worth sharing, then it can be heard on our campus.”

Slated to be discussed by various administrative departments including the DOS and OSI alongside the rest of the committee’s proposed revisions of the Student Guide, the five-student petition rule would go into effect during the fall of 2015 if approved.

“The hope is that by the beginning of next school year, we will have compromises in place that allow a unified and cohesive free expression policy,” Napoli said.

The policy would be an instrument through which unregistered student organizations could implicitly—not explicitly—exist and have a voice on campus after being denied by OSI and UGBC. At the present time, there are no efforts to reform UGBC and OSI’s approval process for student organizations.

Napoli and others within UGBC continue to attend SJC meetings to remain updated on the organization and its student leaders’ efforts. The University has yet to publicly take a stance on the proposed revisions on the student guide, and plans to continue discussions with student groups on the guide this semester.

Featured Image by Drew Hoo / Heights Editor

January 26, 2015