News, On Campus, Top Story

Student Raises Concerns About Free Speech on Campus Amid Israel-Hamas War at UGBC Meeting

During the public comment portion of the UGBC’s Senate meeting on Tuesday night, an undergraduate student, who did not identify themself by name, raised concerns about a lack of free expression on campus amid the ongoing Israel-Hamas war. 

“I feel like there’s kind of a free speech problem at our school right now,” the student said. “I feel like that’s a really serious matter and should really be at the forefront of what an organization like this one is discussing amongst yourselves and also with the student body.”

The student said that while the University has attempted to create spaces for dialogue and reflection on campus, these spaces are insufficient.

“I feel like when we’re not addressing these things that are happening, it feels like even those spaces don’t feel safe to speak in,” the student said.

The student cited a petition, started April 3, calling for administrators to take a stronger stand in support of Palestinian students and drop the disciplinary probation of two graduate students who participated in a protest marching from Carney Hall to Boyden Park—a public parcel of land in front of St. Ignatius Church—on Feb. 15.

The gathering, held on City of Boston property, was moving and appreciated by students who attended, many of whom voiced feeling alone and isolated in their grief due to the sheer silence and inaction of Boston College,” the petition reads.

The petition, which has over 1,900 signatures, alleges that the two students who faced disciplinary action were unfairly singled out due to their ethnic backgrounds—both were students of color and one was Palestinian, according to the petition. The petition notes that the protest drew a crowd of people from a variety of religious and racial backgrounds.

The student said the issue is especially urgent as the 2023–24 academic year comes to a close.

“I feel like if we let things go over the summer, and we come back, and the issue’s kind of died down, I feel like it leaves a precedent of people having been afraid to speak out about things in the past,” the student said. 

Multiple student senators thanked the student for expressing the concerns and emphasized the importance of UGBC’s responsibility to support student voices.

“I think it’s really important for students on this campus to know who is advocating for them and making sure that they feel supported and heard,” said UGBC Vice President-Elect Katie Garrigan, MCAS ’25. 

Alexis Thomas, Montserrat student representative and MCAS ’25, said many students were likely unaware of the petition and its contents.

“I hope that we, as UGBC—even though it’s the end of the year—take steps to really address this the best we can,” Thomas said. “I hope you know that this is something I care about as well.”

Earlier in the meeting, student senators weighed options to make the Senate’s community relations committee more effective and productive, including the possibility of disbanding the committee entirely. 

“If there is a strong passion in this group to reignite the vision and create a firm list of responsibilities that I think we could uphold throughout the next year, then I don’t see why we couldn’t have CRC here again,” Garrigan said.

According to Meghan Heckelman, UGBC president-elect and LSEHD ’25, the community relations committee historically took on a regulatory role, overseeing UGBC’s budget and presiding over impeachment trials.

“The role of CRC historically … used to be pretty hostile,” Heckelman said. 

In recent years, however, the Senate has shifted its focus from debating and passing legislation to advancing initiatives through direct work with administrators, Heckelman said. 

“Now I think it’s a lot more of a team, which I really, really appreciate,” Heckelman said.

This change has been beneficial, she added, but it reduced many of the community relations committee’s primary responsibilities.

“The way that we do business has pivoted a little bit to where that role of CRC and also the leadership team has expanded,” Heckelman said. 

Cristina Gregory, one of two returning members of the community relations committee and MCAS ’26, proposed keeping the committee but shifting its focus toward developing relationships with administrators and offices that UGBC has historically not worked with or struggled to work with. 

Heckelman floated the idea of having committee members regularly attend the meetings of different clubs on campus to foster closer relationships between UGBC and student organizations.

“I think our job is to go to them,” Heckelman said. “I think that going to other club meetings could be part of the reimagining [the community relations committee].” 

Other student senators expressed doubts about assigning those duties to the community relations committee and argued that every student senator has a responsibility to promote UGBC and develop relationships with administrators. 

“I think that the role of transparency, the role of reaching out to other clubs and speaking with other divisions within UGBC should fall on every senator,” said Delphine Gareau, student senator and MCAS ’26.

If the community relations committee were eliminated entirely, the Senate and the communications division alike would have to find ways to reach students directly to share progress on initiatives, multiple student senators said.

Tuesday night’s meeting marked the final Senate meeting of the 2023–24 legislative session, so no further action will be taken in the immediate future, Heckelman said.

“I’m open to continuing to have these talks over the summer,” Heckelman said. “I think that’s a good step for now. I don’t know if we’ll be able to get to the place of official vote and I think that that’s okay.”

Correction (4/24/2024, 9:40 a.m.): This article was corrected from a previous version to note that Cristina Gregory, MCAS ’26, is one of two returning members of the community relations committee along with Elie Assi, MCAS ’25, not the only returning member.

April 24, 2024

Leave a Reply