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BC Community Protests University Response to Bias-Related Incidents

One of Chelsea Burns’ professors was told that talking about race in class makes students uncomfortable, Burns said to the crowd on Stokes Lawn Monday evening. Avoidance of racial discussions, though, is harmful to the Boston College community, according to Burns. 

“I think that avoiding these conversations is so detrimental to the white students who need to learn and to the students of color who don’t feel comfortable here,” Burns, MCAS ’24, said.

The crowd gathered in protest of the administration’s handling of racially biased incidents reported on campus this year, including vandalism on the women’s Multicultural Learning Experience (MLE) floor in January, vandalism on classroom chalkboards, and racist, homophobic vandalism in Williams Hall on April 2. The protestors demanded more transparency, as well as more serious sanctions, for bias-related incidents at the University. 

Community members began the demonstration by marching across the lawn, holding signs protesting the administration’s silence, and chanting “silence is violence,” “no justice no peace,” and “we want change.” Following the demonstration, attendees were invited to share a few words with the crowd.

“I, for one, am sick as hell of everything,” Paxton Decker, MCAS ’24, said. “And I’m not alone.” 

In light of the racial incidents this year, the BC administration held a series of mandatory student behavioral expectation webinars in late March and early April. Many students at the protest said these webinars were not enough.

“On a larger scale, I think BC really has a lot that they need to work on when it comes to making this place more inclusive for students of color,” Burns said. 

Burns said the University needs to be more transparent in its handling of these incidents.

“The students that are committing hate crimes in all likelihood are probably not being punished how they should,” Burns said. “BC needs to be more transparent with that so at least people know to be deterred from committing these hate crimes or bias-motivated incidents by just making it known that you can’t do this to students of color.”

Decker said that he is not the only student tired of the University’s failure to respond adequately, and that students have to protest according to BC’s protocols.

“We have to protest on their rules, on their regulation, at times that are convenient for them, because the system is set up to benefit them and not us,” Decker said. “They want us to feel disorganized, small, and meaningless.”

Associate biology professor Laura Hake, who has been at BC since 1997, said that she has repeatedly seen hate crimes, silencing, and complicity. 

Hake said she asked her students if they lost any sleep in the week following the incident on the MLE floor.

“If you didn’t lose sleep, if you didn’t have … your heart go up, that’s privilege,” Hake said. “That’s privilege and people don’t realize it.”

Hake said everyone should stand with their fellow students and learn how to support people of color on campus. As for herself, Hake said she is part of a newly formed group of faculty called Faculty Advancing Racial Equity.

“We are in the final bits of making our mission statement,” Hake said. “And our incredible anger [and] earth-shattering sadness over what we see happening to our students of color has just motivated us to say ‘we’re going to help you.’”

History professor Marilynn Johnson said that the faculty group hopes to take action about issues of racism both on BC’s campus and in society at large.

“But our group, the faculty group, is intent on trying to make change from the bottom up and trying for a long time to call on the powers that be to make changes,” Johnson said. 

Johnson said there has been real movement on racial issues at BC over the past year.

“I’ve been to more of these demonstrations regarding racism and hate crimes on campus, as you can imagine going back to the ’90s, and I want to say one thing,” Johnson said. “I’m really happy to see so many white students here today taking the lead on this issue because it has always fallen to students of color to lead these efforts in the past, so that’s an important step.”

Andrew Collier, MCAS ’24, said he wants justice and referenced the Jesuit value of cura personalis.

“I don’t want stability,” Collier said. “I don’t want, like, the status quo. I want justice, and if asking for equality is too far, if asking for racial justice is radical, then maybe we should reconsider what it means to care about the whole person.”

Philosophy professor Eileen Sweeney said that one of her students saw racist graffiti on a classroom chalkboard that several other students, who found the graffiti, tried to erase. After the student left the room upset, Sweeney said the other students realized that erasing the word was not enough.

“It strikes me that as an institution—for me as a faculty member, for all of us—we have to figure out that erasing it so that it can still be seen is not enough to change who we are and what we do here at Boston College,” Sweeney said. “And I’m trying to figure out how to dedicate myself to respond to what that means for people and to figure out how to really get it erased.”

Emrah Altindis, an associate professor in the biology department, said that his identity as a person of color began when he came to the United States.

“So I came to this country as a Turkish person, an immigrant, but I became a person of color,” he said. “I didn’t have this concept when I first came here, but I became something.”

After moving to the United States, Altindis said, he experienced racism first hand when talking to a white American researcher.

“One day, I was trying to find the words, how to say ‘person of color,’ because I said ‘Color of person? Colored person? Person of color?’ And he said, ‘Oh, we just call them criminals,’ and then he started to laugh,” he said. 

Altindis said it is important for people at BC to gather together to make change against racism.

“I feel empowered in your presence and I hope you’re feeling empowered as well, because it’s very important to be together and organize together,” Altindis said. “There are a lot of things to change in this world, unfortunately, but I’m so hopeful to see you here.”

In order to make these changes, Decker said, students must fight back.

“I just want you all to know that you need to dare, to struggle, to fight, and I know that’s a big ask and it’s something I’m trying to do myself, but nothing happens unless you try to fight back,” Decker said. 

Collier said that the University’s actions are unacceptable, but that students have the power to change the University.

“This cannot be considered okay, and I know we can change the system,” Collier said. “We have a voice, we have power, and we will change Boston College.”

Featured Image by Molly Bruns / Heights Staff

April 21, 2021