Opinions, Column, Featured Column

Interpreting the Language of BC

Walking out of my room to go to class I heard a shout.

“Set the world aflame!”

It was my roommate appropriating one of Boston College’s favorite slogans, trying to be funny. Of course, I responded with a yell of “Talons of fury get ready!”

It is a common occurrence to hear BC students mocking the sayings and chants that come with surviving over o150 years as an educational institution. “Ever Rising to New Heights,” the slogan on the class of 2018’s Superfan shirts is often countered with “Ever Sinking to New Lows,” in reference to the campus culture around alcohol.

Some are more lighthearted, like the jocular utterances of “Eagles on the warpath, hoo-ha!” notoriously taught during Welcome Week to freshmen, but almost never seriously used.

When these phrases are coined, they are done in all seriousness, but due to the fashion of young and cynical college students, they’re quickly stripped of their meanings and appropriated as the student body sees fit. In many ways these slogans do firmly overlap with campus culture.

I personally wrote my Common App supplement for BC around the context of “men and women for others,” focusing on philanthropy. In this sense, the BC culture matches the slogan. The rampant abundance of service organizations is a common BC trope, and the philanthropy even expands into the curriculum with courses such as PULSE.

Dropping the University’s own language in your supplement shows that you did your research and understand the values of the institution, and that you’re ready to embrace what the school has to offer before you even step onto campus.

Theses slogans, however, have also been used as calls to action on campus. “For Here All Are One” is the slogan on the back of the class of 2011’s Superfan shirts, but it was also used in 2015 as a rallying call for the administration to institute an LGBTQ+ resource center.

In 2017, the official BC Youtube account released a video of the same title highlighting diversity on campus, including in sexuality. This is even more potent now, as the movement to provide a resource center for LGBTQ+ students continues on.

It is BC’s right to use its phrases however it wants, but the difference in use is something to note, though one was not University-sanctioned.

These phrases become unequivocally real for students via their politicization. What used to be a seemingly innocuous slogan carries the weight of a campus movement. Turning the University’s own language against itself is a powerful tool and understanding what lies behind is vital.

As with any school, BC has its own slang. But the way BC’s slogans correlate to campus culture, or fail to, is hard to understand from the outside.

Perhaps these slogans represent something to aspire to. Lofty, intangible ideals that sound poetic and provide an air of exclusivity to pamphlets and marketing tools. Even BC’s own nickname, “the Heights,” reflects this. In other contexts “the Heights” can have a negative connotation, as referenced in Lin Manuel Miranda’s musical “In the Heights,” where the term is used to describe Washington Heights in New York City.

But like water off a duck’s back, in the context of BC, “the Heights” is something mystical, an intellectual atmosphere that is so special it is elevated even in its nomenclature.

Like any other university, BC has its controversies, but unpacking the slogans and phrases used for marketing can be helpful in understanding them. Language is a powerful tool and nuances impact the way a message is understood.

When one considers the slogans in question more closely, the layers are stripped back. These slogans are coined to represent the good that BC has to offer.

Language, however, can be appropriated by anyone to change its meaning. Many of these slogans have taken a place in BC culture that cannot be controlled or regained by the administration.

These varied meanings interface directly with the common perceptions of BC, replacing them with an understanding of how diverse cultures function, and giving students the power to use language to define their own experience.

Featured Image by Meg Dolan / Heights Editor

September 28, 2017