After several racist incidents sparked a widely attended week of demonstrations in October, the Student Assembly (SA) of Undergraduate Government of Boston College passed “A Resolution Concerning Bias-Related Incidents” with almost unanimous agreement on Oct. 24.
During questioning before voting, almost all of the senators agreed on the need for the immediate investigation and expulsion of the student responsible for vandalizing the Black Lives Matter signs. Almost all agreed on the need for a cultural competency module similar to AlcoholEdu. Almost all agreed on the need for BC to hire more faculty members of color and to “revitalize traditionally colonialist curricula with histories and contributions of people of color.”
But nobody, according to Steve DiPietro, MCAS ’19, then a UGBC senator, could agree on the definition of a person of color.
“Now for them, they may use that term every day, and they happen to know what it means, but in reality, that’s not a technical term used in academia,” DiPietro said. “So I raise my hand and say, ‘What is a person of color?’ and half the room starts laughing as if it’s a joke.”
The need to more concretely define “person of color” was proven, DiPietro felt, when those who laughed at his question struggled to answer it.
“People were contradicting themselves back and forth,” DiPietro said. “‘If you identify as a person of color’ and I said ‘Well what if I identify as a person of color?’ No one could could give a legitimate answer to the question.”
But according to Taraun Frontis, the AHANA+ Leadership Council (ALC) chair and CSOM ’19, there are plenty of resources available to students to educate themselves on issues regarding identity.
“We have programs to engage in this,” Frontis said. “When you come into spaces when we’re talking about Dialogue on Race, or Campus of Difference, or when AHANA+ Leadership Council has a bunch of events, most of the time we explicitly say this is your time to ask these questions.”
DiPietro, who resigned his seat on Feb. 17 after a call for an emergency meeting regarding articles of impeachment against him in response to a Facebook post he made, had another question. The resolution asked the University to “affirm that Black Lives Matter” and DiPietro wanted the SA to clarify what that meant.
“The bill included Black Lives Matter in capital letters, as in the movement—not just that black lives matter, but that we support the movement,” DiPietro said. “With that comes everything they stand for and everything they do, and I don’t know if it’s smart to affiliate our university and our organization with that movement.”
DiPietro felt the need to distinguish the statement from the movement in light of the violent protests in Ferguson, Mo.
“We are not referring to [the movement], we are referring to simply the fact that black lives matter,” said Aneeb Sheikh, a UGBC senator, Frontis’s running mate in this month’s UGBC presidential election, and MCAS ’20. “It was clarified then, we’ll clarify it now again that it’s just a statement of fact—literally black lives matter.”
Although Sheikh differentiated between the movement and the message, the SA decided to keep “Affirm that Black Lives Matter” as the last demand in the resolution. When it came time to vote, DiPietro got up and left. On the UGBC website, he is on the voting record as “Absent,” despite actively questioning the resolution throughout most of the meeting.
After that night and into the winter, DiPietro continued to be a voice of dissent in the SA, disagreeing not just about topics up for debate but even the basic philosophy behind the organization.
“At the last vote we had on the LGBT-whatever resolution, I raised my hand and said, ‘Do we really want to pass this bill if we all know it will damage our relationship further with the administration?’ DiPietro said. “And some girl behind me says, ‘Our goal is not improve our relationship with the administration—we’re supposed to be activists.’ And that’s what people think it is, and it’s sad that that’s what it’s come to.”
Once this year’s UGBC election came around, DiPietro said he sensed a growing emphasis on race and identity, although he did not specify from whom.
“There were plenty of people during the election, most of which did not support [Reed Piercey, MCAS ’19, and Ignacio Fletcher, MCAS ’20] who wanted to make the election about race, and they did make the election about race,” DiPietro said.
He was not the only UGBC senator unhappy with the racial climate of the election.
“I was fed up with some of the comments made during the election, specifically directed toward Reed and Ignacio and their supporting base,” said Matt Batsinelas, CSOM ’19, a former UGBC senator who resigned in solidarity with DiPietro.
On Feb. 7, Reed and Ignacio for UGBC 2018 made an unassuming post on Facebook that attracted a wave of critical comments. It was a picture of its campaign team, captioned “Meet our team! We are so excited to speak to all of you during dorm walks soon!”
Six days later, someone commented on the picture, “Wow. As a black women [sic] I feel SO represented by your team…” The next day, a member of ALC, and a friend of Frontis’s since their high school days at Democracy Prep, shared the picture on Facebook and captioned it, “Where’s my representation?” The comments were in apparent reference to Piercey’s campaign team photo featuring fewer people of color than Frontis’s.
“Our campaign team was just a function of the people I asked and who agreed to it,” Piercey said. “It wasn’t representative of everyone I reached out to, and in terms of diversity, it wasn’t representative of the entire student body. I think ideologically, the thrust of our campaign was very similar to the other team in that both were very progressive and in line with a lot of the work UGBC has been doing.”
Frontis and Sheikh say they had no qualms with the lack of representation on Piercey’s team.
“Just because Reed is a white man doesn’t mean he can’t advocate for marginalized communities,” Sheikh said.
According to a screenshot obtained by The Heights, during the elections, Sheikh messaged a member of Piercey and Fletcher’s team asking, “Question for ya’ll. […] how come your campaign team has no black people? Especially considering the incidents last semester.” Sheikh declined to comment on the message.
Frontis and Sheikh feel the election was read as a situation of black-versus-white because of their identities. The two maintain that they made no effort to present themselves as more caring about BLM issues and point out that there were black people and BLM supporters who voted for Piercey.
The Frontis-Sheikh 2018 campaign saw no problems with Piercey’s identity or his support for marginalized communities. For them, the distinction was in the people on each team.
“It’s what we experienced last semester as opposed to what they experienced in their BC careers,” Frontis said.
Frontis and Sheikh experienced a lot last semester in the wake of the racist incidents on campus, organizing marches, walkouts, and resolutions.
“Obviously this isn’t Reed’s fault, but I think the fact that he was abroad [last semester] and that Taraun and Aneeb were leading the charges against the shit that was happening on campus, I think coming back from abroad having not experienced the march and everything people were posting on Facebook, like campus has changed so drastically since then,” said Fidelia Ge, a policy advisor on the Frontis-Sheikh campaign and MCAS ’20. “I don’t think he can stand in for the marginalized voices we need to be listening to.”
Despite the concerns of Ge and other students, who pointed to Frontis’s and Sheikh’s track record as proof of their ability to advocate for marginalized communities, the majority of voters believed Piercey would still be able to fulfill the role of UGBC president. He and Fletcher won on Feb. 15.
DiPietro took to Facebook shortly after, not to celebrate, he said, but to start a conversation.
He posted: “Good thing those blm freaks aren’t anywhere near ugbc leadership #staywoke #yacoubian” and linked to a Heights article on the election results.
“The fact that Reed and Ignacio won the election, I thought there were a lot of feelings that were kept kind of suppressed now that the other two candidates didn’t win,” DiPietro said. “And honestly I knew that when I made the post a lot of people were going to be mad about it, especially people in UGBC who already know how I feel with certain issues because I was in the Senate the whole year.”
But other students interpreted the post much differently.
“It was clearly [aimed at] Taraun and I, and you could extend it to—I know Steve had to redefine it to supporters—you could extend to whoever, but like it’s first aimed at Taraun and I because we were the ones running for UGBC leadership,” Sheikh said.
“We are currently in UGBC leadership by the way,” Frontis added.
DiPietro said his post was not aimed at Frontis and Sheikh specifically, but rather at the movement behind them, which he felt was only further dividing the BC community.
“‘BLM freaks’ was not directed at any candidates in the election or anyone in particular,” DiPietro said. “It was directed at certain people during the election who supported some of the candidates who were running, who were using racially motivated statements throughout the entire election, and who themselves were saying things far worse than what I said.”
The racial divide between the two teams, which DiPietro insists is intentional, was never part of either team’s plan.
“In terms of our political viewpoint, I would say [we are] pretty in line with UGBC and the circles of people who’ve been really involved with these initiatives, but also I think our campaign had a broad appeal of a message that wanted to reach out to everyone, but where that becomes a danger is in encouraging people like Steve DiPietro because that was never our intention,” Piercey said.
Despite Piercey’s best efforts, the inevitable happened.
“We were seen as more BLM than them, but Taraun is a black man—how could he not be seen as more BLM?” Sheikh said. “It’s not an active effort that we made—it’s a reflection of our identities.”
Frontis and Sheikh say they and other senators received hundreds of emails from concerned students demanding DiPietro’s impeachment. Samuel Szemerenyi, MCAS ’20, wrote the resolution “Articles of Impeachment against Senator Stephen DiPietro, MCAS ’19,” and it was co-sponsored by Sheikh and Fletcher, among others.
The resolution states, “The phrase ‘blm freaks’ explicitly refers to the Black Lives Matter movement and is clearly directed at Taraun Frontis and Aneeb Sheikh, their campaign team, many of their supporters, and black students in general.”
“He called us freaks,” Sheikh said. “Freaks is a very dehumanizing term … What is a freak? Define a freak.”
“I figured, unless you identify as a ‘blm freak,’ you wouldn’t be offended by this statement,” DiPietro said. “It’s not necessarily targeted at the Black Lives Matter movement, but it was mostly targeted at individuals who wanted to the make the election about race.”
After the impeachment resolution was written but before the process began, DiPietro resigned, and Batsinelas resigned in solidarity with him.
“I was fed up with some of the comments made during the election, specifically directed toward Reed and Ignacio and their supporting base,” Batsinelas said. “And after Steve’s comment, I believe that within the SA, you should be able to advocate for the views that you want within reason. And Steve put out there his perspective on a political movement that not everyone on this campus agrees with.”
DiPietro asserts the impeachment resolution was not his primary reason for leaving UGBC.
“It wasn’t that Aneeb introduced impeachment that made me resign,” DiPietro said. “Ultimately the reason that I wanted to resign was that UGBC decided because I made a post on my personal Facebook account that they had to come out and denounce my viewpoints publicly. I, as a senator, can’t have my own viewpoints without them coming out and publicly denouncing them. It’s almost like a thought police.”
DiPietro said there are other senators in UGBC who feel similarly to him who have yet to resign, but declined to name anyone.
“Unfortunately most people on this campus, one, are not represented by UGBC and, two, don’t care about UGBC, and as a result you have a number of students who have, in my opinion, extreme views on issues that are so far from what the average student at BC actually believes, and it’s just an echo chamber of outcasts,” DiPietro said.
But UGBC says it remains dedicated to welcoming different voices.
“To any student who doesn’t feel represented by UGBC, I would say join, don’t leave. Represent yourself and continue to challenge things,” Sheikh said. “How will we fix representation if the people who don’t feel represented are leaving?”