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Freshmen React to Week of Activism

Following racist incidents that occurred on campus last month, The Heights spoke to 13 Boston College freshmen about their reactions to a historic week of activism on campus. After three events of activism during the week of Oct. 16-20—a rally on Monday, walkout on Wednesday, and march on Friday—some said they were assured by the solidarity of the student body. Others said they are concerned, and somewhat wary of their experience at BC.

The Chronicle reported last week that the Class of 2021 is BC’s most diverse ever, with 31 percent AHANA representation. Of the freshmen interviewed for this story, 10 identify as being of color and three identify as white.

BC sent out a statement on Monday, Oct. 16, as the incidents, which included the vandalism of “Black Lives Matter” signs and a racist social media post, got some traction among students. After rallies that Monday and on Wednesday, at which some students voiced disapproval of the Monday statement—which some saw as too short and not strong enough—Vice President for Student Affairs Barb Jones and Dean of Students Thomas Mogan sent out a much longer statement on Thursday, Oct. 19.

Several freshmen said they expected a more “confrontational response” from the administration.

Nish Varma, MCAS ’21, said he thought administrators should have been more responsive.

Sireesh Vinnakota, a senator in the Undergraduate Government of BC’s Student Assembly and MCAS ’21, said he came from an extremely diverse high school, and he said the demographics at BC are much different. He was disappointed in how the University handled the incidents.

“There is absolutely no excuse that the students had to work so hard to even get the response that we did,” he said.

Some freshmen found the student response encouraging.

Joe Okafor, also an SA member and MCAS ’21, was upbeat, despite some frustration.

“It’s obviously discouraging and disappointing, the events that occurred, but it also made me proud,” he said. “I feel a sense of empowerment because there are so many likeminded individuals in this community, so many individuals that care about the wellbeing and safety of the people around them.”

Many were amazed at the determination and solidarity of some of the students.

“It helped me to like the school a little bit better,” said Berlindyne Elie, MCAS ’21. “Knowing that over 300 students walked out of class against hate and racism was really encouraging … My mind was racing, my heart was racing … I could see people who were Black, white, Latino, Asian, Native American, and it made me feel better. And then on Friday there were over 1,000 people and that made me feel even better.”

Daniel Dixon, CSOM ’21, said that the freshman class should adopt a sense of responsibility to address racism on campus.

“We as freshmen play the most important role because we are the future of BC,” he said. “It is a monumental weight on the community of the freshmen class to have to deal with such a tragic ordeal during a blossoming phase of our lives.”

However, while some have primarily been struck by students’ quick unity, others remain wary because of these racist occurrences.

“It was really great to see that sense of solidarity among the students, however, I don’t think that I felt resolved,” said Nina Bombole-Boimbo, CSON ’21. “There’s still so much to be done.”

Bombole-Boimbo was unsatisfied with the administration’s response and with the amount of support from the student body. She said she is reconsidering her place at BC.

“I’m really upset that students have that mindset of being really apathetic about a situation that’s really severe,” she said.

Bombole-Boimbo said she felt a lack of concern among students, and hoped that soon could be resolved.

“Everyone is entitled to do whatever they want to do, but when this happens you should try and support everyone else,” she said.

Many freshmen attribute this response to what they perceive to be a lack of diversity among the students. Markus Joseph, MCAS ’21, came from a largely diverse area and he said he frequently notices the lack of diversity at BC. He thinks that people tend to congregate and cling to their groups, rarely branching out.

“Where there is diversity, everyone hangs out in their own cliques; people don’t really hang out and move into others’ cliques … [they] don’t get exposure to other cultures that are here,” he said.

Amani Barnes, CSOM ’21, thinks that the perceived lack of diversity explains students’ discomfort with unfamiliar cultures.

“I think the problem is the comfortability factor,” he said. “I think some people are definitely too comfortable with just embracing a racist culture.”

Still, he is optimistic, saying, “There’s definitely room for change.”

Vinnakota explained the emotions through which he progressed during the events.

“At first it was really disheartening … but as the week went on I was a little bit happier that this went on my freshman year because now we have four years, and I took that as a call to action,” he said. “There’s a lot of work for us to do.”

“It just put me in a setting to make me aware of [racial injustice], which I think is a good thing, because when we come to a new place we often aren’t concerned with everyone else’s issues,” Olivia Keirby-Smith, MCAS ’21, said.

“Students should have this perspective that some people here are minorities who are having completely different experiences coming to a predominantly white university,” she said. “It’s good that it happened as I got here, so that during my four years here I am aware that my reality isn’t everyone else’s reality [and am] more empathetic towards those who are the minority.”

Elie agrees, and called for further action from fellow students and the University.

“You have to use your privilege as a platform to speak on behalf of people who do not have a voice,” she said.

Likewise, Markus believes that educating the masses would create a more accepting environment not conducive to such offenses.

“More knowledge about other cultures will give us more knowledge about how to act toward others … [without] saying something that could be offensive to them and their culture,” he said.

Because these events occurred during their freshman year, many of these students feel a sense of responsibility to address this issue in their years to come at BC. Despite their overall disappointment, freshmen are confident that by continuing to address racism on campus, they will change the trajectory of University and student involvement regarding this issue.

Arturo Balaguer, MCAS ’21, acknowledged that the last few weeks might have made some freshmen uneasy, but he’s still optimistic.

“I feel like it’s hopeful,” he said. “Some freshmen would say, ‘Oh, I’m here, two months in, and all this turmoil is happening’. But no, I like that it’s happening, because it’s addressing something.”

“It might be premature for me to say that it’s a really big problem, but people who have been here longer than me say it is and say it has to be addressed,” he added. “And it’s being addressed right now. And I’m happy for that. I’m hopeful for what’s to come.”

November 5, 2017