The president of Boston College Republicans, Thomas Sarrouf, spoke at a Climate Justice of Boston College (CJBC) protest in response to the administration’s handling of racial, gender, LGBTQ+, and environmental issues on campus—which he said was too many issues.
“Here we have a number of angry warriors fighting a crusade against the administration, for what exactly?” Sarrouf, Lynch ’22, said. “The email said you could protest anything. Honestly, what? When you protest everything, you end up protesting nothing, and you undercut the moral force of any argument that you’d give at any real injustice.”
The May 7 protest on the Quad centered around student speeches and came after an off-campus protest advertised—but not officially hosted, according to club leaders—by CJBC, was canceled on May 3.
On May 3, Associate Vice President for Student Engagement and Formation Tom Mogan emailed leaders of CJBC early in the day, writing that the organization’s University-sponsored status could be revoked if it moved forward with the demonstration.
All events sponsored by student organizations must be approved by the Office of Student Involvement (OSI), Mogan wrote in the email. He also wrote that off-campus events would not be approved by OSI due to concerns surrounding COVID-19.
Audrey Kang, CJBC vice president and MCAS ’22, said at the May 7 protest that the administration is often uncooperative with CJBC.
“What I want to talk about specifically, once again, right from the heart, is the administration’s inability to work with us,” Kang said. “Now this can apply to every single issue on campus [that] gets shut down at every corner. And I think it comes to this point where you don’t know what there is left to do.”
During the May 7 protest—which garnered an audience of around 50 undergraduates—speakers cited the administration’s response to a series of incidents of racial bias, LGBTQ+ issues, and sexism, as well as the University’s continued refusal to divest from fossil fuels, as reasons for holding the protest.
“Students have been loud and clear about what we want this year: divestment, racial justice, LGBTQ+ inclusion, and simply for BC to listen to us,” said Nickolas Constantino, CJBC treasurer and MCAS ’23, giving a speech on behalf of a freshman member of the club. “As men and women from others, listening to your students should be the bare minimum, but Boston College has failed to do so this year.”
Kang said she knew that Sarrouf wanted to speak before the protest where he approached the club’s leaders, who handed him a bullhorn about 20 minutes into the protest.
Sarrouf sent a direct message to the CJBC Instagram prior to the protest, requesting to speak at it, according to Constantino. A post on the Instagram account advertised the protest with the slogan, “Every student voice deserves to be heard!”
CJBC denied him the opportunity to speak, according to a statement the club sent him in a direct message on Instagram prior to the protest.
“We realize the value of diverse voices and appreciate your openness to share them with us,” the statement read. “Unfortunately, in an event centered around LGBTQ support, divestment, and intersectionality, we cannot – in good faith – provide you with this platform.”
Despite CJBC’s initial statements, though, Sarrouf—who was inaugurated on May 10 as president of BC Republicans—did speak at the protest.
“[Constantino] came over to me and tapped me on the shoulder and said, ‘That’s the guy,’’’ said Kang. “And I was like, ‘Oh no, what should we do,’ and he’s like, ‘Well, we can’t stop him.’ Especially because he came in like bulin’ with the, ‘It’s my right to speak.’ So, we just let him speak.”
Sarrouf told The Heights that he had a right to speak at the protest, as advertisements said anyone could speak.
“But I mean, if they tried to stop me, that would have been a violation of my 14th Amendment rights under the Equal Protection Clause,” he said. “Because they don’t have to grant free speech rights to everyone, but if they grant people the right to speak, then that has to be equal across the board.”
Sarrouf said at the protest that BC Republicans is a suppressed group, citing Heights editorials and coverage of the club’s speakers, as well as the alleged tearing down of pro-life posters around campus and protests at club events.
“I’m the president-elect of Boston College Republicans, like I said, and I’d like to just say this: We are a suppressed group on campus,” Sarrouf said.
“You literally have a megaphone right now,” a protester shouted back.
The protesters responded to Sarrouf’s statements by turning their backs to him and, at one point, chanting, “Hey hey, ho ho, Father Leahy’s got to go.”
University President Rev. William P. Leahy, S.J., Sarrouf said, is the only reason students were on campus for in-person instruction this year. Sarrouf called on Leahy and the administration to embrace conservatism at BC.
“I was inviting the administration, Father Leahy, the Board of Trustees, other high level administrators to stand with conservative students, and I think we have a lot in common,” Sarrouf said to The Heights.
Kang said Sarrouf’s conduct was “incredibly inappropriate,” and that she had never interacted with BC Republicans before.
“I have never, ever had contact with that club before, in a professional sense of being the CJBC representative, or on my own,” Kang said. “So, this was very, like, shocking for me to see. We have never attacked them, we have never tried to attack them. So I would say moving forward, I don’t know, I want to be respectful, but he obviously doesn’t respect us.”
Rayne Peralta, MCAS ’24, said Sarrouf’s comments were upsetting.
“Everyone is upset,” Peralta said. “Everyone was upset. You know, this is unexpected. It was unneeded.”
Peralta, who is not a member of CJBC, first heard about the protest when someone mentioned it in one of her classes. She said the others who headlined the protest, like Paxton Decker, MCAS ’24, spoke powerfully and beautifully.
“I am Paxton and I am very pissed off at BC right now,” Decker said.
Decker, who also is not a member of CJBC, felt inspired to take the bullhorn after hearing the first speakers talk about gender and divestment issues. Decker said BC is operating a toxic, capitalistic system.
“There’s space at BC for white supremacists, for polluters, and for the wealthy, but not for people of color, … queer people like myself and our allies, or other progressive voices,” Decker said. “The fact of the matter is, BC is operating an increasingly toxic system we call global f*****g capitalism.”
Decker said more students need to call out the administration’s actions against marginalized groups, referencing Mogan, who was in the audience.
“There’s someone right there, you know, who you’re criticizing and I think at some point, you know, you got to say what you think,” Decker told The Heights. “If you don’t, you know, you can’t really sugarcoat it for people if you’re trying to get them to change.”
Another speaker, Lauren White, MCAS ’22, spoke on her experiences as a cisgender woman at BC.
White said women’s issues at BC deserve much more recognition than they get, citing anecdotes of alleged harassment toward herself and her roommates by male neighbors, and being told freshman year to avoid a Mod that was known for allegedly drugging female guests, she said.
“I’m here,” White said. “We are here. The administration should respect all of us as much as they respect money, because we deserve to be here. And trust me, women are strong. We are resilient. We are brave. And despite what we seem to be told on this campus, women, above all, are people and deserve rights as well.”
After the protest, Decker told The Heights that the demonstration could be a start to a much larger movement.
“It’s always, with things like these, you know, you’re just trying to get something off the ground, you know,” he said. “You’re starting out with small protests and you’re trying to work your way up to an actual movement.”
Sarrouf told The Heights that pushback, like the heckling during his speech, will not stop conservatism on campus next year—a new conservatism, according to him.
“I’m not going to stop,” he said. “Conservatism on campus next year is not going to stop. We will not be suppressed. We will not be bullied. We will not be assaulted. … We will not be stopped by people who disagree with us.”
Decker said anyone who has interests in human rights should be involved in protests like the one that occured on May 7.
“I love BC, and I want to want to be here,” Decker said. “And that’s, that’s been hard. And so I want BC to change and I think everyone who’s interested in having an institution that respects the human spirit needs to do that.”
Featured Image by Aneesa Wermers / Heights Staff