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Student Petitions Demand BC Do More to Act Against Racism

In the week after University President Rev. William P. Leahy, S.J. sent a letter to the Boston College community condemning racism and offering prayers for George Floyd, Boston College students released several petitions calling on the University to better address racial injustice within the BC community and across the United States. 

The Black Student Forum, alongside eight other student organizations, launched a petition on Monday saying that Leahy’s statement did not adequately address the issues of racial prejudice and injustice. The petition, which has 1,534 signatures at the time of publication, called for the University to provide a list of tangible steps to support the Black student body at BC. 

“Father Leahy and the Boston College administration have traditionally remained silent throughout the decades of hate crimes that have taken place at our institution,” the letter reads. “Their silence has time and time again proven their reluctance to ensure that all Black students feel safe, welcomed, and included as part of the BC community. … Father Leahy’s statement revealed he had the ability to speak up against acts of racism on campus in the past, but had simply chosen not to.” 

Leahy issued a second letter on racism Wednesday, which explicitly stated “Black Lives Matter.” The letter listed several steps BC will be taking to address racism on campus, including a Forum on Racial Justice in America, a series of multi-faith services, and the designation of $50 million toward the Pine Manor Institute for Student Success, which will coordinate outreach and academic support programs for underrepresented, low-income students.

“America today stands as a nation divided and wounded because of longstanding tensions concerning race, police conduct, and civil liberties,” the letter said. “The current anger, division, and alienation result from long-term, systemic causes, and they call for resolution of underlying issues through immediate and sustained action.”

The Black Student Forum did not respond to a request for comment on Leahy’s second letter. 

Associate Vice President for University Communications Jack Dunn declined to comment on any recent student petitions.

Climate Justice at Boston College published a petition on Friday, prior to Leahy’s second letter, calling for BC to divest from private prison companies. CJBC is a group of BC students, alumni, faculty, and staff that fights to mitigate climate change, with a focus on BC. The petition has over 800 signatures at the time of publication.

“Private prisons sign massive, multi-year contracts that have quotas for inmates, leading police to arrest more people for unnecessary reasons, states to enact stricter, unjust laws and criminalize things like race and sexual identity, and deny parole to people who deserve it in order to keep people in prisons and expand contracts to build more facilities, reinforcing the cycle,” the petition reads. 

John Zona, BC’s chief investment officer, did not respond to a request for comment on whether BC invests in private prisons.

In a statement to The Heights after Leahy’s second letter, CJBC said the University has not made any clear policy changes to support the Black community.  

“Despite BC sending an email saying Black Lives Matter, we want to emphasize that that came only after over a week of massive pushback from students, alumni, faculty, and prospective students through petitions, emails, and social media, which were clearly effective,” reads the CJBC statement. 

“However, it’s clear BC still hasn’t made any tangible policy changes or sought to address any of the petitions directly. We would hope the simple, yet clear 3 words would have come immediately and until we see real change, this effort will continue, especially to get BC to stop pouring money into private prisons.”

Following a video posted to Twitter on June 2 that showed BC Police Department officers conducting crowd control at a protest in Franklin Park, the Young Democratic Socialists of Boston College released a petition calling for the University to fire BCPD Chief William Evans. The protest in the video was peaceful, and neither the protesters nor the officers in the video can be seen engaging in any violent acts. The petition has 1,072 signatures at the time of publication.

BCPD has worked with BPD for years at events such as the Boston Marathon, parades, and demonstrations, Associate Vice President for University Communications Jack Dunn said in a previous statement to The Heights. Dunn said that BCPD sent three officers to the protest on bicycles to help ensure public safety and assist with traffic control, and that several other local colleges also sent officers to assist with the protest. Vice President for Student Affairs Joy Moore released a statement saying the same.

“Father Leahy sent out an email asking the BC community to pray for George Floyd. Then mere hours later BC sent BCPD to police a protest against his murder,” James Mazareas, a graduate student at BC, said in a statement to The Heights on behalf on YDS of BC. “It’s outrageous, and Jack Dunn and Joy Moore trying to equate this to BCPD officers helping out during the Boston Marathon is insulting.”

YDS of BC has previously called for Evans’ removal due to the collaboration of the Boston Police Department with Immigration and Customs Enforcement while Evans served as BPD commissioner.

“Members of the BC community cannot condemn police brutality and a racist criminal justice system in relation to national events and ignore the fact that a man involved in upholding that same system is employed by our university,” the YDS of BC petition reads.

Akshay Desai, MCAS ’23, created a petition calling for the University to donate to the Massachusetts Bail Fund, eliminate BCPD presence at protests, and replace Evans as Chief of BCPD. The petition has 214 signatures at the time of publication.

Four undergraduate students—Ellie Shaker, Julia Warchol, and Maria Ibanez, all MCAS ’23, and Isabella Feliciano, CSOM ’23—wrote a letter and created a petition detailing widespread racial injustice in the United States and calling for BC to offer more than “thoughts and prayers” in support of the Black community. The letter and petition, which was released a day prior to Leahy’s first letter, specifically asks that the University donate to the NAACP. It has 2,300 signatures at the time of publication.  

“There is no single story for oppression, but many people of color face, among other things, unjust violence and death, overt and covert discrimination, disproportionate percentages of incarceration, subsidiary roadblocks in the face of seeking professional medical care, and unequal opportunities to housing, education, and vocation,” the letter reads.

In a statement to The Heights, the students said that the University should use its financial resources to combat racism.

“Students themselves have been persistently donating to these organizations out of their own pockets, even while in trying financial situations and unemployment,” the statement reads. “As a privileged institution that prides itself on its Jesuit values, it seems only just that [BC] would do the same on a much larger scale.”

June 12, 2020