UGBC Debates Response To Vandalism on MLE Floor

The Undergraduate Government of Boston College held an emergency meeting Thursday night to discuss their response to the vandalism that occurred early morning Jan. 30 on the Multicultural Learning Experience (MLE) floor of Xavier Hall. 

During the meeting, members of UGBC’s Student Assembly approved an official statement responding to the Jan. 30 incident, calling for BC to expand diversity education and increase its transparency to students, faculty, and administrators regarding bias-motivated behavior. 

The act was co-sponsored by Mitzy Monterroso-Bautista, AHANA+ Leadership Council (ALC) policy coordinator and MCAS ’22, and Jhon De La Cruz, SA first-generation representative and MCAS ’22.

The statement, which was uploaded to UGBC’s Instagram account after the meeting on Thursday, said that UGBC condemns the actions of the perpetrators and the “silence” of the administration.

“As members of a Jesuit, Catholic university, these activities are contrary to our commitment to cura personalis,” the statement reads. “This issue is emblematic of the work that is yet to be done on the part of administration. A prejudiced and discriminatory culture of impunity cannot continue to harm the physical and mental well-being of BIPOC students at Boston College.”

The Thursday statement comes a day after UGBC faced criticisms for a prior statement that was first uploaded to the organization’s Instagram page on Wednesday, but was later deleted after some members of UGBC took issue with the fact that it had not been approved by the SA.

Shortly after, a statement attributed to UGBC President Christian Guma, CSOM ’21, was uploaded to the account, which specified that the SA was in the process of writing an official resolution. 

Guma’s statement said that UGBC has offered support to students and immediately opened discussions with administrators, just as they have done previously in response to prior instances of vandalism in residence halls.

“Since Saturday, we have discussed these events in multiple meetings with senior administrators and offered our support to those directly affected,” Guma said. “Through our actions, not simply words, we’ve made efforts to ensure that no students, especially students of color, feel unsafe in their residence halls or anywhere else on campus.”

Following Guma’s post, ALC released a statement on its Instagram page, condemning the vandalism and addressing Guma’s response. 

“We, the AHANA+ Leadership Council (ALC), condemn the racist incidents that occurred on Saturday, January 31st and again yesterday night on the third floor of Xavier Hall, a Multicultural Learning Experience,” the statement reads. “ … Unfortunately, the executive administration of UGBC has failed to provide a meaningful response to the vile acts that cultivated this weekend, and have not effectively outlined or implemented ways to unify our community and make campus a safe space for all students.”

Alexandra Katz, SA representative and Lynch ’23, said that she was shocked when she saw the initial Wednesday post, as it had not been approved by the SA or the UGBC Community Relations Committee.

It is standard for posts on the UGBC Instagram account to be released by the UGBC Community Relations Committee, she said. 

“It came to my attention that Christian had produced the statement entirely on his own and uploaded the statement entirely on his behalf,” Katz said. “However, it didn’t seem that way to the outside viewer, as this statement seemed to be speaking on behalf of the entire organization when in reality a large portion of the organization was not consulted before this information was released.”

Community Relations Committee Chair Dennis Wieboldt, an SA representative and MCAS ’22, said in an email to The Heights that his first concern upon seeing Guma’s post was a lack of clarity.

“Not many students understand UGBC’s internal rules, so any public statements that don’t clearly delineate who the statement is coming from are likely to lead to confusion, as in this case,” Wieboldt said. “I am glad that the initial post was quickly deleted and replaced by another statement clearly identified as being the President’s and the President’s alone.”

Wieboldt confirmed that the statement had not gone through the committee, a required process outlined in the UGBC constitution for an organization-wide statement. 

Some SA representatives criticized Guma’s statement and said that it outlined no plan for action. 

“Christian’s statement omitted anything related to a tangible plan of action on how we as an organization were going to hold ourselves accountable for representing the student body,” Jack Bracher, SA representative and MCAS ’22, said. 

Several members of UGBC, including Katz, criticized Guma’s post for not explicitly referring to the incident as a “hate crime.”

“I disagree with the way that the statement was worded,” Katz said. “Christian’s statement did not openly condemn this incident as a race-based and misogynistic hate crime, which I firmly believe that it was.” 

Monterroso-Bautista, De La Cruz, and Urwa Hameed, SA intersectionality chair and MCAS ’22, began working on an official UGBC statement after they heard about the vandalism on Jan. 30. 

Monterroso-Bautista said she was disappointed that several SA representatives and UGBC members did not stay for an optional meeting following the Jan. 31 general meeting to discuss the drafting of the statement. 

“It was definitely frustrating when Christian’s statement came out because I felt that it undermined our work and it wasn’t reflective of our voices, not to mention that it was the opinion of a white man,” Monterroso-Bautista said.

Much of Thursday’s emergency meeting was spent debating whether UGBC’s statement should have included the term “hate crime.”

Leonardo Escobar, SA representative and MCAS ’22, motioned to replace the phrase “bias-motivated act of vandalism” with “hate crime” in the first paragraph of the statement.

Some SA representatives, including Wieboldt, Doug Baker, student life chair and MCAS ’22, and James Freirich, CSOM ’21, said that UGBC should not deem the incident a hate crime until the Office of Student Conduct concluded its investigation. 

“I think us calling it a hate crime at this point would be jumping the gun,” Wieboldt said. “Look, if it comes out that it was, then I have no issue saying that then, but I don’t understand necessarily why we’d put ourselves at the risk about saying something inaccurate or outright false in advance of the information coming out.”

Baker spoke about the implications that the statement could have on UGBC’s reputation within the BC community. 

“To call this a hate crime without it being finalized would basically make us a joke,” Baker said. “As much as we want to represent the student body, we have to have a sense of reason behind it, behind our actions. Calling it a hate crime without it being confirmed by the school is just not the road that I think we should go on.”

Some representatives said that the impact that the incident had on the women of the MLE floor justifies calling it a hate crime. 

“I trust the words of the freshmen in the hall who had to suffer through a semester long worth of harassment,” Bracher said. “ … For me at least, I’m going to go with the words of my peers. That’s enough for me.”

Julia Spagnola, SA representative and MCAS ’23, also spoke about the responsibility of UGBC to be allies to the AHANA+ community. 

“Language is important,” Spagnola said. “But at the end of the day we need to get across a feeling, and the feeling needs to set a tone that we are here to make change—and positive change. … If this is how the AHANA students at our school are feeling and if this is the language that it requires to truly address the issue, then we need to do it.” 

The amendment to include the language “hate crime” passed by one vote.

Wieboldt, who abstained from the final vote, said in an email to The Heights that the statement failed to reflect the research and advocacy of the SA Working Group on Student Policies & Conduct and the SA Working Group on Policing. 

“I abstained from the final vote because I agreed with the sentiment of support that UGBC has a responsibility to offer to the impacted students, but I disagreed with some of the statement’s language, especially around the specific policy changes that the Student Assembly will now supposedly pursue,” Wieboldt said.

After the statement was passed, Sasha Wong, SA representative and MCAS ’24, asked if there was anything that UGBC could do to delete Guma’s post. 

UGBC Chief of Staff Jack Lewis, MCAS ’21, said in an email to The Heights that Guma’s statement was an important step to ensure transparency. 

“As UGBC President, this statement was Christian’s way to make it clear that BC’s student government was in the midst of working on the students’ behalf, as the Student Assembly continued to deliberate on their more comprehensive statement, which was published the day after,” Lewis wrote. “Such actions by President Guma have helped to ensure better communication and transparency of the work UGBC has been undertaking for fellow students.” 

Wieboldt, who serves as the organization’s parliamentarian, said that the second post attributed to Guma that was on the Instagram page was permitted by the UGBC constitution. 

Monterroso-Bautista said that the original unattributed post was not constitutional, as it did not go through the UGBC Community Relations Committee as a formal statement on behalf of UGBC.

“That was a mistake and that’s why it was deleted shortly after,” Guma said. 

Guma’s statement has since been deleted.

In an interview with The Heights, Monterroso-Bautista said that unconstitutional actions made by the president can be handled in three ways: an impeachment process, censure, or by not responding at all.

“Student leaders should be held accountable for all of their actions, especially when they are in the highest positions such as the president, so I think that one of those options is definitely possible,” Monterroso-Bautista said.

On Thursday afternoon ahead of the emergency meeting, Kevork Atinizian, UGBC vice president and CSOM ’22, released a statement on his personal Instagram page in which he referred to the incident as a “hate crime” and said that there is a need to evaluate how BC handles hate crimes on campus.

Some SA representatives, including Wieboldt, said that there remains strong disagreement between members of the Student Assembly and the president as to how best to respond to this incident. 

“I, for one, do not completely agree with the way the President responded, nor with the way that the Student Assembly responded in last night’s statement,” Wieboldt said in an email to The Heights

Some representatives said that members of UGBC are failing in their responsibilities as student leaders. 

“The failure of certain individuals within the organization to condemn and recognize this hate crime for what it was very dangerously diminishes the experiences of the marginalized community that this hate crime directly victimized, and that is the biggest issue here,” Katz said.

Bracher expressed a similar sentiment. 

“I think we can be doing better,” Bracher said. “We should be doing better. At the end of the day, the responsibility falls on us.”

Featured Image by Vikrum Singh / Heights Editor

February 8, 2021