It was eerily similar to the first “Rights on the Heights” rally held last December—the scene was cold, windy, and overcast, with close to 100 students gathered in front of Gasson Hall on Friday afternoon to express their concerns about free speech on campus.
“Rights on the Heights II: The Struggle Continues” brought together speakers from several different groups on campus including the Undergraduate Government of Boston College (UGBC) and the Social Justice Coalition. Since the event was focused on efforts from the administration perceived as limiting to expression, the rally also featured speakers from non-registered student organizations Climate Justice at Boston College and Students for Sexual Health—both groups have, in the past couple years, faced disciplinary action for unsanctioned activities at BC.
In the week leading up to the rally, unidentified students placed nearly 500 fliers around campus. The fliers—reading “This Poster Is Illegal – Support Free Speech @ BC”—were hung without the approval of the Office of Student Involvement in places fliers are restricted from being posted.
“The irony of this is that the students who were given a permit on Friday to go ahead and have a forum where they’re exercising their free speech rights are the same students who are saying there’s no free speech on campus,” Dean of Students Thomas Mogan said several days prior to Friday’s rally. “So those students who have gone through the correct process in terms of applying for a permit and getting a permit will have that opportunity to exercise their free speech rights on campus to complain that there’s no free speech on campus.”
Connor Bourff, executive vice president of UGBC and A&S ’15, shared his perspective on what it is like to advocate for student rights when working with administrators. Though he readily admitted that UGBC is not forthright with students about their meetings with administrators, he believed it was for a good reason. He said administrators had told him that if the content of his meetings were shared with the student body, it would “awaken the beast” of conservatism within the administration and alumni and would impede UGBC’s progress as advocates for students.
Bourff said while the work that UGBC has done this year on behalf of students exceeds that of others, many of its tangible improvements have been pushed back by administrators, including revisions to the Student Guide. At the same time, he acknowledged that there were Jesuits, faculty, and administrators who are supportive of the call for increased transparency and freedoms for students.
“We must be clear in our message that the problem is not with the ‘administration’ at-large, or with individuals, or with the Church,” Bourff said. “The problem is with the culture of fear and protectionism that plagues the management of this institution.”
The theme of conservatism within the administration was brought up again by Laurel Ciccaglione, part of Students for Sexual Health and A&S ’16. Members of her group are best known for standing on the corner of College Rd. and Beacon St. to hand out free condoms—a location that is technically not BC property. The distribution of birth control is currently forbidden on campus, as incidents of sexual intercourse outside the bonds of matrimony are subject to disciplinary action, per the University’s student guide. Ciccaglione said that the University’s conservatism on sexual issues goes beyond banning the distribution of free condoms and extends to BC not providing enough sexual health resources for students.
Billy Shyne, part of the GLBTQ Leadership Council (GLC) and CSOM ’15, spoke about his experiences as a gay student at BC and told the story of how he contemplated transferring after his junior year because of the environment at BC. He said the intolerance that gays face from the student body and the administration prevents GLBTQ students from calling BC their home.
Shyne said that although he has never encountered an openly homophobic faculty member or administrator, he considers the administration’s current treatment of GLBTQ events to be homophobic. He believes that steps are being made in the right direction with more educational resources available in dorms, but still calls for more transparency from the administration in regards to why GLC events are modified or cancelled.
Several speakers at the rally specified that the allowance of this event was a step in the right direction, while maintaining that the administration was preventing some groups from being heard.
“Just because we’re having this one rally … does not mean free speech is unfettered here,” Bourff said.
Featured Image by Drew Hoo / Heights Editor