News, On Campus, Featured Story

At Trustees Meeting, UGBC Execs Share Student Narratives Of Racism

With a hope to make an action plan public by Jan. 19, Thomas Napoli, Undergraduate Government of Boston College president and MCAS ’16, Olivia Hussey, UGBC vice president and MCAS ’17, and Afua Laast, UGBC vice president of diversity and inclusion and LSOE ’16, met with the Board of Trustees on Friday. At the meeting, the third of four planned presentations, they discussed race, institutional racism, and inclusivity.

Napoli said that right now the group has a working proposal for the University to take institutional action. He said the proposal was created by looking at how other institutions are responding, and by looking at requests from student groups on campus. They did this by sending out an email to the student body asking for general suggestions, which got a large response, and yielded the basis of a working proposal.

“By working together to create that community consensus, I think BC, as a whole, has the opportunity to really be a leader.”

– Olivia Hussey, Executive Vice President of UGBC and MCAS ’17

Hussey said that they have planned conversations with administrators and faculty to talk through the details of their plan more before the expected release on Jan. 19. She said that they will be including student leaders from all across campus in these conversations.

“Many students of color, at the end of the day, don’t feel like BC’s a home for them,” Napoli said. “You could put a lot of definitions on it like institutional racism, but at the end of the day, BC is not an equal home to everyone.”

Hussey explained that their efforts right now are focused on institutional support. She said that while there has been a lot of dialogue about race, they believe institutional change is necessary for the University to improve.

The three shared a slideshow that started with a timeline of race-related events throughout their time in office, from the “Your UGBC” campaign, which introduced UGBC’s top five issues, to last month’s “Blackout”, through the second protest led by the AHANA Leadership Council. Both protests served as examples of the community coming together in response to instances of racism. Information about national events, like the resignation of the University of Missouri’s president and Brown University’s response to protests earlier this fall, were also included in the presentation.

“We really wanted to set the stage that this is a national conversation going on around everywhere,” Hussey said. “A lot of times people from the outside may think, ‘BC, we’re in Chestnut Hill, things are fine here.’”

Laast said that the timeline made use of a range of sources, including Letters to the Editor published in The Heights,  to show the number of people who care about the topic of inclusivity at BC. She said that they stressed to the Board that the letters were from faculty, students, and staff, and that not just one set of ideologies was included, but rather the views of a broad group of individuals.

In order to address the issue, the three presented two narratives from students of color to show the concrete impacts racism has on a day-to-day level at BC.

Napoli said that the narratives and facts were meant to first talk about the paradigm of institutional racism and then segue into the proposal for an action plan.

UntitledThey next provided screenshots of three Yik Yak posts written in response to the BC “Blackout,” which they said provided evidence of individual racism on campus.

“While there are 300-plus students who are willing to walk out of class and stand in solidarity, there are a lot of students who will sit behind phones and computer screens and say blatantly racist and disrespectful things about their peers,” Hussey said.

To further support the issue of racism on campus, the presentation had a slide of facts, one of which noted that 45 percent of the 27 Black student respondents to the April 2012 Campus Climate Survey indicated that in the past 12 months they were the target of threats or derogatory events.

“It’s very difficult to say we’re going to be the ones who end racism, but if we can create a more inclusive environment, create a BC that wants to give institutional support, and ultimately, create an environment where we can attract the best and brightest minds and diverse backgrounds and support them, that is something to strive for,” Napoli said.

Laast said that these actions can make the school stronger and make the students who graduate stronger, while changing the racial climate.

The three agreed that the Board of Trustees was very responsive to the presentation and were in agreement that they want BC to be as inclusive and safe a space as possible for the student body.

“Many people noted that this isn’t just a trend,” Hussey said. “Having diversity and inclusivity is in BC’s character, which is by the nature of the fact that we are a Jesuit school and we believe that we should be men and women for others.”

Napoli said that he thinks there’s good intent, and they just have to see what they can do to translate those intentions into messages of support and action.

The group created a working document for the board presentation, which they want to turn into an opportunity for the community to come together. There are a lot of different voices involved in the discussion right now, Napoli noted, and they hope that they can offer their input to transform the document into something of a community consensus.

“By working together to create that community consensus, I think BC, as a whole, has the opportunity to really be a leader,” Hussey said. “A lot of schools are struggling with how to handle this issue, and I’m hopeful that administrators, different students outside of UGBC, faculty, and alumni can all come together to do something to change.”

Featured Image by Kelsey McGee and Abby Paulson / Heights Graphics

December 7, 2015