News, On Campus

‘Solidarity at BC’ Panelists Define Service

Six panelists gathered to discuss the meaning of solidarity at Boston College and beyond on Thursday. Sponsored by the Arrupe International Immersion Program, “Solidarity at BC: For and With Others” began by asking audience members to write down their definition of solidarity.

The panel was billed as the “marquee event” of BC’s “Solidarity Week,” which ran from Monday to Thursday. Each day was devoted to a special topic: storytelling, immigration, fair trade and sustainability, and solidarity. Over the course of an hour, the group touched on their own definitions of solidarity, where they see solidarity at BC, and how solidarity can be improved on campus.

Participants represented a wide range of organizations and roles at BC: Biz Bracher, director of the Courage to Know program and BC ’91; Dan Ponsetto, the Welles Crowther director of the Volunteer and Service Learning Center; Mary Troxell, an associate professor of philosophy; Michael Osaghae, president-elect of the Undergraduate Government of BC and MCAS ’20; Julia Barrett, a staff member at the Women’s Center and MCAS ’19; and Jorge Mejia, a member of the Organization of Latin American Affairs (OLAA) and MCAS ’19.

Troxell spoke briefly before the panel began. She is the co-chair of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Committee and has served as an adult mentor on multiple Arrupe trips.

She began by speaking on the concerns of “service tourism” that often arise when BC students come back from their various volunteer trips.

“This concern stems from the fact that they’re spending a week in a country they may never visit again, meeting people they may never see again,” she said. “At the same time, the experience has been transformational for them… so the concern is, ‘was this trip really for me?’”

The answer, according to Troxell lies in solidarity—which she defined, borrowing from BC theology professor Stephen Pope, as “loyalty to a cause or community.” The difficulty, according to Troxell, is in extending our natural solidarity, which connects us to our family and immediate surroundings, to those outside of our daily lives.

She shared the story of Paul Farmer, co-founder of Partners In Health, a physician, and a global health expert, who carries with him a picture of both his own daughter and a young girl whose life he was not able to save in Haiti—a reminder that the lives of his patients are just as precious as his own daughter’s.

“Solidarity includes a sense of moral responsibility,” Troxell said. “If you come down from a service or an immersion trip and don’t feel responsible for responding in some ways to the injustices you have discovered, that you may be guilty of service tourism.”

Troxell wrapped up her speech by explaining that solidarity can be practiced at a distance, giving the example of buying fair trade and urging others to do the same.

Following the example set forth in Troxell’s speech, Barrett, Bracher, and Ponsetto all provided definitions on their understanding of solidarity.

Barrett, who spoke first, cited author and activist Sonya Renee Taylor’s distinction between allies and accomplices.

“Being an ally is like standing with people that are marginalized individuals or marginalized groups,” Barrett said. “Whereas being an accomplice is more focused on dismantling systems of oppression, it’s more focused on action.”

Bracher and Ponsetto both endorsed the importance of action and personal connection. Bacher also stressed the importance of acknowledging social privilege and being willing to either give it up or leverage that power in a meaningful way. Ponsetto reinforced this message by invoking traditional Christian ethics and Catholic social teaching.

“There’s this commitment to working for a just social order, this commitment to seeing the dignity of every human being,” he said. “But, on a personal level, the ability to do that means that I have to become vulnerable.”

Later, Mejia would double down on Ponsetto’s point about Catholic social teaching by invoking Gustavo Gutiérrez Merino, one of the founders of liberation theology, which teaches the importance of rectifying systems of social and economic oppression.

“For me, solidarity is really simple,” Mejia said. “It’s the link of theory and practice.”

From there, the questions pivoted to the subject of solidarity at BC. Panelists were first asked to give example of where they see solidarity on campus.

Osaghae praised Climate Justice of Boston College, a group of students trying to draw attention to the issue of climate change by pressuring the University to divest from the fossil fuel industry. He especially drew attention to the fact that the group has been working to raise awareness before climate change recently entered mainstream discussion.

“[Climate change activism] is popular right now, a lot of people are talking about it, lots of people are getting involved,” he said. “It’s at the height of the issues in terms of politics, but real solidarity starts when the issue is not popular.”

Turning to ways in which solidarity at BC can improve, Bracher called on people to show a willingness to make changes to their own lives. Drawing on history as a guide, she said that in order for Jackie Robinson to be the first black baseball player in American history, somebody had to give up or lose their seat.

“When I think of the place where we could do better, it’s in those places where people have power,” Bracher said. “And while we want [progress], and we are supportive, and we stand with, and we care for, can we give up our seat?”

Featured Image by Jack Miller / Heights Editor

March 25, 2019