Boston College students of all colors gathered on O’Neill Plaza this afternoon, dressed in shades of black.
The peaceful demonstration—organized by Afua Laast, vice president of diversity and inclusion for the Undergraduate Government of Boston College and LSOE ’16—was staged as a sign of solidarity with the University of Missouri in response to recent online death threats directed at the university’s black students. At the “Blackout,” BC students shared their experiences with racism on campus and spoke about why they stand with Mizzou.
Laast developed her plans for the demonstration on Wednesday night, promptly creating a Facebook event to which 770 students responded that they planned to attend.
“I just felt like I should come out to support—I have a cousin at Mizzou.”
“I was reading a number of articles, and Facebook statuses and the pain that people were feeling was tangible,” Laast said in an email. “In reading through everything and by being a Black woman on this campus I heard what other students were saying and felt that something had to be done to acknowledge the current struggle particularly at Mizzou, but also acknowledge that BC also has students hurting from similar narratives.”
On Thursday morning before the “Blackout,” Laast met with Dean of Students Thomas Mogan and UGBC president Thomas Napoli, MCAS ’16, to discuss the demonstration and receive permits to hold it on the lawn. Mogan granted the last-minute permits. He said he believes solidarity is an important concept within Catholic social teaching and students should express this when they feel called to do so.
“Vice President of Student Affairs Barb Jones and I had dinner with a group of students recently who shared some painful experiences related to race that they have had on campus,” Mogan said. “I believe that the University has done a good job of responding to incidents of bias and racism that have occurred on campus when they have been brought to our attention. While we address these individual incidents, we are also committed to continuing our work on the larger issues of race and inclusion on campus.”
Approximately 200 students gathered outside of O’Neill Library to share their stories on the rainy Thursday afternoon. Rev. Michael Davidson, S.J., started the demonstration with a prayer praising the idea of solidarity and communion. The demonstration at BC validates the struggles that Mizzou students are currently facing, Laast said.
“We have to stand in solidarity to reach any kind of success,” Laast said.
Students from the crowd volunteered to speak about their personal experiences with racism on campus. Many students spoke about their lack of comfort on BC’s campus and their frustration with the administration’s lack of effort to address racial tensions.
“The Mizzou thing is not unique to that school because it’s in the south or because it’s in Missouri,” James Kale, chair of AHANA Leadership Council and LSOE ’16, said. “We all go through this across the board at different institutions. It’s something we have been fighting for. At least we know another school is going through what we are going through.”
Sadiq Ervin, MCAS ’19, then spoke about his cousin at the University of Missouri, and how he hopes to show her that there are people who stand with her across the country.
“I just felt like I should come out to support—I have a cousin at Mizzou,” Ervin said. “I look forward to posting pictures, and having this [event] get around so I can tell her, ‘We stand with you and we support you.’”
“The vitality of University life depends on a safe environment, one that is free of racism and fear.”
Associate Sociology Professor C. Shawn McGuffey, who has worked at the University for 10 years, spoke about the stories of racism he has heard from students of color during his tenure. He said that the demonstration held today was the largest showing of solidarity that he has witnessed while at BC.
Sociology professor Stephen Pfohl, who was at the rally but did not speak, echoed McGuffey after the event, saying that he believes racism still exists on campus. On the afternoon of the demonstration, Pfohl wore an “Eradicate Boston College Racism Movement” T-shirt in support of the group whose aim is to eradicate injustice and racism at BC.
“While it is fortunate that BC has not recently experienced dramatic displays of overt racism, such as those apparently manifest at University Missouri, it is important to recognize that a variety of more subtle forms of institutional racism and the microaggressions that accompany it remain in place on our campus as in society as a whole,” Pfohl said in an email. “This was underscored in some of the moving comments made by students at yesterday’s rally.”
Pfohl said that Mogan’s approval of the demonstration shows the administration’s efforts to work with students to solve issues that arise from racial injustice on campus.
Laast said that students and faculty should take the love that was shared at the “Blackout” with them into their daily lives at BC. Laast also contacted Cai Thomas, MCAS ’16, to film the rally on Thursday. The footage that Thomas gathered was shown on CBS’ local affiliate, which airs in the Greater Boston area.
“With events surrounding race, you start to see the same people, but I saw faces at the rally that I had never seen before, which was really cool,” Thomas said. “There are so many students who are really trying to facilitate a different type of change so that freshman students of color come and don’t feel uncomfortable within the first two weeks. It’s very hard to hear stories from freshmen already who are facing intimidation on campus.”
The Thea Bowman AHANA and Intercultural Center plans to hold additional events in the coming days concerning the threats at the University of Missouri. Laast said that AHANA Leadership Council is currently planning a vigil for those affected by the violence in Missouri.
Olivia Hussey, vice president of the Undergraduate Government of Boston College and MCAS ’17, said the UGBC Executive Council was in support of the “Blackout” and stands in solidarity with the students at the University of Missouri. She hopes that BC students will continue to come together to fight racism and discrimination on campus.
“The vitality of University life depends on a safe environment, one that is free of racism and fear,” Hussey said. “By uniting together today at the center of our campus, we hope to show Missouri students we stand with them.”
Correction: the vigil for those affected by violence in Missouri will be planned by the AHANA Leadership Council.
Nov. 16: This article has been updated.
Featured Image by Julia Hopkins / Heights Staff