Opinions, Editorials

After Unprecedented Week, Coming Together to Make BC a Home for Everyone

Over the past week, the Boston College community has come together in solidarity after a series of racist incidents on campus, including the defacing of Black Lives Matter signs in multiple residence halls and a racist Snapchat sent by a student.

First, on Monday, students gathered on O’Neill Plaza for a rally designed in part to plan Friday’s march. On Wednesday, students walked out of class and filled the Quad to its brim, gathering in support of marginalized students at BC as news helicopters hovered overhead. On Friday, the University community showed up in an unprecedented way, as around 2,000 students, faculty, and administrators participated in the “Silence is STILL Violence” march from McElroy Commons to Lower Campus, where student and faculty leaders shared their stories and shed light on the presence of racism at BC.

Friday’s march was a powerful culmination of a week filled with emotion, conversation, and activism that made it clear to everyone at this University that hate has no home here. Recent events have no doubt tested the resolve of BC and its students. At the march, the University community demonstrated that it was ready to meet that challenge. Acts intended to intimidate and demean students of color instead brought people of all races and backgrounds closer together, allowing the student body to hear voices and stories that all too often fall on deaf ears.

While the conduct of a few bigoted individuals has brought discrimination at BC to the public’s attention, this issue predates the past week. The problem of racism at BC didn’t begin when a racist coward decided to deface Black Lives Matter signs in Roncalli Hall, and the issue will not end after Friday’s march.

No single action students can take will solve this issue in its entirety, and the challenge of expelling racism from this University can only be overcome through consistent effort. Echoing the rallying cry of Black Lives Matter, Regine Jean-Charles, an associate professor of romance languages and literatures and African and African Diaspora Studies, said it best: “Don’t make this a moment, it’s a movement.”

This is a movement in which every student, regardless of race, has a role to play. It involves a decision to engage with the issues that exist at BC—and everywhere in this country—such as racism and white privilege, even if they might make students uncomfortable. Change occurs when students step outside of their comfort zones, and recognize that if we are to be true “men and women for others,” an issue that affects even one student at BC affects us all.

The march was organized by the Undergraduate Government of BC and FACES, two student groups, and executed almost entirely by students on Friday. The University promoted the event on its website and social media, effectively endorsing the occasion.

The obvious presence and response of administrators at the rally itself, as well as during the week through email, serves as a positive indication of their future engagement as the BC community continues to grapple with these important issues in the coming years. BC administrators and professors must continue remaining involved to this high degree at subsequent rallies.

Dean of Students Thomas Mogan, who spoke at the march, and Vice President for Student Affairs Barbara Jones have been vocal allies for students, and have indicated that they want to work with the student body. Mogan is well known to be willing to meet with students to discuss their concerns and work with them to accomplish their organizing and activism goals within the guidelines of the University. Mogan has served as the main linking element between students and high levels of the administration, and it would be wise for students to not lose this voice.

Nevertheless, the administration at BC must understand: The rally was organized by students for more than just to protest racism. Students actively expressed, through the signs they held, the speeches they gave, and in interviews with The Heights, that they are not content with how BC is handling acts of racism, even after the administration’s response on Friday.

At the end of the day, these students felt unsafe because of these acts. And, as we’re sure the administration agrees, the safety of its students is the highest priority.

Black student leaders who spoke to The Heights have taken issue with University President Rev. William P. Leahy, S.J.’s lack of response to the racist incidents on campus last week.

Leahy, who on Friday was at Santa Clara University at a board of trustees meeting planned months ago, serves as BC’s foremost representative. In the past year, he has made his stance clear when it comes to some national events, such as acts of racism in Charlottesville, Va., and the repealing of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. During this time, in which racist incidents have occurred on his own campus and members of the student body have been made to feel unsafe and believe a statement from him would help, Leahy cannot remain silent.

Marches and rallies are important ways to express the concerns of students and to call on the leaders of the University to take notice. The next step involves cooperation with those who have the power to facilitate the requests that students are making, and members of the administration, through their words and actions, have indicated that they are ready to come to the table.

On Friday, Akosua Achampong, UGBC president and MCAS ’18, introduced three demands of the University on behalf of UGBC and other student organizations with the goal of making BC a more inclusive place for all. The Heights believes that these demands are reasonable, practical, and necessary.

The establishment of a diversity education program for freshmen would represent an important step in increasing student awareness of issues involving race at BC. Programs involving alcohol education are already required of students prior to their arrival on campus, and introducing a module on diversity, as Achampong said, would provide students with at least a basic level of cultural competency so that they may engage in well-informed discussions on campus.

A pilot program called Campus of Difference, in which students learn about diversity at BC, has been introduced in a couple freshman residential communities. The program should be extended to the entire freshman class to contribute to the same goal.

BC has recently made efforts to expand its African and African Diaspora Studies Program, and the University should devise a plan to see the program become a full department in the coming years if it has not already. Like many university cores, BC has an academic program that is largely Eurocentric. The University has made strong strides over the last several years to grow and develop courses and departments from a wealth of traditions—that push must continue.

Hiring more faculty and administrators of color is a goal that the University has made strides in, but needs to continue to work toward. Increasing diversity within BC’s academic departments is essential to ensuring that underrepresented identities and voices are present in the education of every student at BC. As Achampong noted, a student at BC could currently go their entire four years without taking a class with a professor of color. Furthermore, increasing diversity in areas of the University outside the classroom in which students would interact with mentor figures, such as Campus Ministry or University Counseling Services, is also paramount to that mission.

Conducting a regular survey to assess the needs and concerns of underrepresented student populations at BC would help administrators to better serve the University’s diverse student body as they seek to establish a school that is welcoming and inclusive for all.

BC is a university, but for many, it is also a home. As students, faculty, and administrators, we within the University community have a responsibility to ensure that each and every member of our community feels like he or she can call this place home, regardless of race, religion, sexual orientation, or any other unique identity.

Moving forward, students, faculty, and administrators alike must realize that if we work together, we can redefine this University’s culture, and through resilience, persistence, and solidarity, make BC live up to the statement, “for here all are one.”

Featured Image by Zoe Fanning / Heights Editor

October 23, 2017