News, Administration

Rougeau Discusses Need for Conversations on Race Through Racial Justice Forum

When protests for racial justice swept the nation this summer after the police killing of George Floyd, the Black Student Forum launched a petition urging the University to release a list of tangible steps that it would take to combat racism. The petition asserted that BC had continually failed to speak up against acts of racism on campus, placing the burden on marginalized students.

“It is inappropriate for the BC administration to turn a blind eye and place the burden of progress on the oppressed,” the petition read.

After BC community members made calls for increased anti-racism measures at BC over the summer, the University established the Forum on Racial Justice in America to provide a place for conversations regarding race and racism in the BC community and in the country.

The forum kicked off its events earlier this month, most recently hosting a faculty discussion of Black Lives Matter and formative education. The forum has several other events planned this month, including a discussion on anti-racism practices, an event on racial justice in a democracy, and a solidarity event on Maloney Lawn.

The University tapped BC Law Dean Vincent Rougeau as inaugural director of the forum. Rougeau outlined its significance in an interview with The Heights, illustrating it as an avenue for the BC community to grapple with the issues of racial justice on campus.

“The forum is designed to be a meeting point for the campus community to engage with racial justice and anti-racism in the BC community,” Rougeau said. “It will also be a way for us to be a voice in higher education and public policy for the work of racial justice.”

Earlier this month, the University hosted the Service of Hope and Reconciliation, a Catholic service focused on racial justice, as one of the forum’s first events. Rougeau said the forum hopes to initiate conversations on race through the lens of Catholic teachings, emphasizing the importance of intertwining faith into racial justice dialogues. 

“I believe that Boston College has a particular responsibility in this regard as a Jesuit Catholic University,” Rougeau said. “Our mission and our values make it clear that racism is a moral problem that needs to be addressed.”

A central objective of the forum is to bring Black students together on campus, Rougeau said, and he hopes that the forum will enable students of color to feel more at home on the Heights.

“I hope for students of color that this will send the signal to them that they matter and their views and needs are an important part of how we think about community here,” Rougeau said. 

There have been several documented incidents of racism on BC’s campus in recent years, including racist vandalism in Welch Hall, the defacing of “Black Lives Matter” signs in Roncalli Hall, and a racist Snapchat that circulated around Facebook. 

At a university in which 65.9 percent of undergraduate day students enrolled in the fall of 2019 identified as white, Rougeau emphasized that bringing diversity to campus enhances the BC community.

“We’re not just bringing diversity to BC to check boxes, but we’re bringing diversity to BC so that we can be a stronger and more representative community,” he said.

Aside from fostering inclusivity among Black students, Rougeau said that the forum strives to encourage involvement in racial justice issues among students who have not been directly affected by racism in the community. 

“There are a lot of people who assume [racial justice] conversations don’t involve them, or they aren’t focused on the role that they may play in these issues,” Rougeau said. “One of the things we need to do is encourage all members of the community to be involved.”

Rougeau said that the participation of white students in fighting racial injustice is integral to the success of the forum and to the movement as a whole.

“It’s really important that white BC community members recognize the role that they play in fighting racism,” Rougeau said. “If you believe that racism is wrong and racial justice is important, then it’s something that everyone needs to take up in everyday life. 

Featured Image by Maddie Haddix / Heights Editor

October 19, 2020