Column, Opinions

UGBC’s Failed Response to On-Campus Racism Highlights Its Uselessness

The Undergraduate Government of Boston College held an impeachment trial for Christian Guma, UGBC president and CSOM ’21, on Feb. 17 on the grounds that Guma intentionally made an unauthorized statement in response to a series of bias-motivated incidents on campus in order to undermine the UGBC Constitution. While Guma’s conduct on the whole may have merited impeachment, the totality of UGBC’s actions in the wake of the incidents is just another reason why its executive branch and Student Assembly (SA) are useless to the student body.

The Heights reported that the Multicultural Learning Experience (MLE) floor in Xavier Hall was vandalized on Jan. 30 in what appeared to be targeted, racist attacks. It has since come to light that the vandalism was not a one-off incident, but rather part of a larger pattern of racist harassment of students of color on that floor.

The University’s response was predictable. Just as he has been with every public incident of racism at BC in recent memory, University President Rev. William P. Leahy, S.J., was dead silent. BC News has written nothing about the racist incidents. There has been no mention of the incidents on any of BC’s public platforms, concealing the commonality of bias-motivated incidents on campus from the public—including prospective students of color.

Executive Vice President and Acting Vice President for Student Affairs Michael Lochhead sent two emails to the student body condemning racism and committing to reviewing BC’s diversity policies. Lochhead also wrote that two students from the Jan. 30 incident had been disciplined—though he offered no other details—and that he and other administrators recently met with students from MLE floors and other students of color to discuss “bias-motivated incidents on campus.”

Racism is prevalent at BC, and even good-faith efforts by the administration would be unable to entirely eliminate it. But students at BC, whom the administration should prioritize, deserve more than the University’s lackluster response. This is where an effective student government would be useful.

Unfortunately, BC’s undergraduates are graced with the benign presence of the UGBC SA and executive branch. This isn’t to say that our student government is bad. I don’t dislike UGBC, it’s just useless. It adds nothing to the BC community. Asinine, the name of one of BC’s improv groups, might be better utilized as the name for our current student government. UGBC is nothing more than a glorified elementary school student government with a few hundred thousand dollars in its budget.

After the vandalism, the SA focused on impeaching its president because he posted a statement that was not clearly attributed to him. All that the SA has done since the racist incidents came to light, according to Heights coverage and UGBC’s social media, is offer a statement of support for AHANA+ students, ask the University to do more, and attempt to impeach the UGBC president.

Guma posted an offensively underwhelming statement in response to the events, and later claimed that an impeachment co-sponsor displayed “racially motivated bias” against him—a claim made only more outrageous by the fact that his response to the incident never once referred to the vandalism as racist.

I’m not going to argue for or against Guma’s impeachment (though the UGBC Constitution is so inane that Guma had an absurdly strong case despite his incompetence and dismissiveness of students of color). Rather, I want to use the stunning ineptitude of the SA and executive branch’s responses to illustrate why students deserve more.

In the face of real student issues—from the lack of an LGBTQ+ resource center, to the troubles of returning to college in a pandemic, to increasing tuition costs, to BC’s continued investment in fossil fuels, we need a centralized student advocacy organization much more effective than the UGBC SA and executive branch.

In UGBC’s most recent presidential election, the winner didn’t even receive the most votes—Guma and his vice president, Kevork Atinizian, CSOM ’22, won by 18 votes after an anonymous committee deducted 65 votes from the second-place ticket for receiving an endorsement on a podcast and “smear campaigning.”

Shortly after the election, the SA attempted to amend the UGBC Constitution but failed to do so in the allotted time. Rather than extending its meeting hours, the SA just asked the BC administration to amend its constitution. Our student government doesn’t even have autonomy over its own constitution.

When it comes to UGBC’s student advocacy efforts, the organization is similarly impotent. In 2019, the editor-in-chief of BC’s satirical publication The New England Classic acutely described UGBC as “basically a dressed-up advocacy group,” because its resolutions on University policy are entirely non-binding

The University has either rejected or ignored the last three referendums on the UGBC ballot, each of which passed with support from more than 80 percent of the student body and garnered more than 2,000 votes. While UGBC can’t be blamed for the BC administration’s unsympathetic response to explicit demands from the student body, time and time again UGBC has failed to budge University policy.

A student government does not have to be so shockingly inadequate. In response to a massive tuition hike in the 1970s, UGBC voted for a student strike, ultimately forcing the administration to negotiate with students. That’s an effective government—but we’ve come a long way since then. At this point, UGBC is nothing more than an echo chamber, bogged down by procedural inefficiencies and a lack of any real policy power.

Keep the AHANA+ Leadership Council, GLBTQ+ Leadership Council, and the Council for Students with Disabilities, since they’re the only parts of UGBC that consistently benefit the student body. But the UGBC executive branch and SA need to be dissolved, and a new, effective student government needs to be established in its place.

Featured Graphic by Olivia Charbonneau/ Heights Editor

February 28, 2021