News, On Campus

Faculty and Students Engage in Debate at Free Speech Forum

Students and faculty gathered on Wednesday in O’Connell House at an event sponsored by Faculty for Justice to discuss current tensions at Boston College over free expression.

The main conflict right now is that unregistered student groups are not allowed to partake in the opportunities registered groups (RSOs) have. For example, they are not allowed to book rooms, post flyers, or hold demonstrations.

The problem has received renewed attention with recent sanctions against several members of the unregistered group Eradicate BC Racism (ERBC) for their involvement in two  demonstrations last fall.

In addition to holding the forum Wednesday, the Faculty for Justice have endorsed a list of proposals initially compiled by the Undergraduate Government of BC, which pushed for a revamped free expression policy on campus in fall 2014 and throughout 2015, though it had little success. In addition to other changes, the proposal would give groups of five or more students similar rights to those currently held by RSOs: the ability to place fliers or invite speakers to campus, for example.

At Wednesday’s event, Lynch School professor Leigh Patel, reading a letter from Eradicate members, cited problems with the way the administration handled the demonstrations.

“After the administration denied requests from EBCR to post an infographic on campus, Provost David Quigley explained to The Heights that he felt University resources should not be used to promote the message of EBCR, which he believes diminishes the work of BC faculty who have focused their academic careers on fighting racism,” Patel said.

“In other words, University officials justified the erasure of our research under the guise that they were acting on behalf of your interests, as anti-racist faculty,” she added.

The letter ended with a confident statement from Eradicate members.

“After two years of organizing, we are comfortable stating in this forum that we believe the policies and procedures in place at BC concerning free expression and event registration illustrate the operation of institutional racism and other forms of institutionalized discrimination,” Patel quoted.

Additionally, members of UGBC rallied for their peers and the free expression they said everyone deserves.

“As a student government, we’re trying to represent all students on campus, and unregistered student organizations often have trouble expressing themselves,” said Meredith McCaffrey, UGBC executive vice president and MCAS ’17.

Molly Newcomb, a member of UGBC and MCAS ’18, mentioned the problems past UGBC governments have had when dealing with advocacy for free speech.

“In the spring of 2015, we were focused on increasing freedom of expression for students not members of student groups,” she said. “A lot of what ended up in our final resolution is what is in this document today … and ultimately we as a student government passed this resolution about what we envision the free speech policies at BC to be.”

“Ultimately, this was not incorporated into the student guide at the time,” Newcomb said

Olivia Hussey, last year’s UGBC EVP and MCAS ’17, followed up Newcomb’s point about the lack of action on the issue by BC administrators.

“We presented to the Board of Trustees numerous times about these issues … however, at the end of our tenure, we still did not have a comprehensive free speech policy,” she said.

Marilynn Johnson, a professor in the history department, said she disputed the argument that many peer universities that are also Jesuit or private institutions have similar free speech policies. She read aloud the policies from Georgetown University, a fellow Jesuit institution.

“Certain areas on campus shall be considered public squares, and shall be available without prior arrangement for individuals and groups during daylight hours,” she said, quoting Georgetown’s policy. “Certain information and communication channels are open to any individual member of the University community such as flyering, undesignated bulletin boards, chalking messages in the square, or tabling in public square areas.”

“It is time for Boston College to recommit to its educational mission and to reform our speech policies,” Johnson said.

Craig Ford, executive director of the Graduate Students Association and GMCAS ’21, agreed that BC should allow free speech as a critical part of its Jesuit mission. He noted the benefits free speech will have on campus.

“We will be able to hold each other accountable,” he said. “It will help us discover what it actually means to be Catholic and Jesuit, because we will be centered on finding the truth together more than projecting an image that things on this campus go exactly the way Catholic bishops would like them to go.”

He ended saying the discovery of truth should be at the center of everyone’s motivation for free speech.

“It is to choose truth over our own image, and there is nothing more Catholic than that,” he said.

Featured Image by Alex Gaynor / Heights Staff

April 20, 2017