“We are college students in Massachusetts organizing in concert with students, parents, teachers, and other community leaders to improve educational policy and practice, in order to create a more just and equitable system.” This is the mission statement of the Massachusetts chapter of Students for Education Reform (SFER). SFER is a national organization with college chapters, and in 2012 Lindsey Murphy brought a chapter to Boston College.
Murphy, A&S ’15, founded SFER at BC almost as soon as she arrived on campus. After taking a gap year and serving with AmeriCorps, Murphy had a better idea of what education in the United States looked like. “I had small indications of what other parts of the U.S. and the world looked like, but hardly, and I felt that I couldn’t come to BC without a wider perspective,” Murphy said. Over her gap year, Murphy traveled to Louisiana and Mississippi, serving in food banks, building houses, and tutoring. “One of the projects I was working on was working in a middle school in Louisiana, and that experience really gave me an insight to what American education looked like as a whole.”
When Murphy arrived on campus the following year, she was looking for an organization that provided a political space to talk about changing educational policy and how to make education more equitable. Although she found organizations that direct community service, she saw the absence of political activity around this issue. So in the fall of 2012, when Murphy was a sophomore, SFER was brought to the Heights.
In the past years the club has focused on organizing some events on campus. SFER and Americans for Informed Democracy, along with some other organizations on campus, brought Geoffrey Canada, the founder of the Harlem Children’s Zone in New York City, to Robsham last year to discuss his work and his organization. Harlem Children’s Zone is a non-profit organization for families living in Harlem and provides parenting workshops, education, and health care programs focused on children. Canada spoke to a full audience, and “it was a tremendous success,” Murphy said.
In the past two years the club has moved more off-campus, focusing on political action. “A majority of our work is geared towards working with the other chapters on specific campaigns,” Murphy said. Members of the club have staged a T stop canvas, during which they would stand at MBTA train stops and obtain signatures for their petitions.
And over this past year the club has focused on the English Language Learner (ELL) programs in Massachusetts. Massachusetts, Arizona, and California are the only three states in the country that have laws that declare all students must be taught in English. This is problematic for ELL students, who are learning English for the first time. For these students, the laws mean that “the students are trying to learn English while simultaneously learn the content,” Murphy said. As a result of these laws, there is an incredibly high dropout rate, and very few students are able to go onto to two or four year universities. “It’s sink or swim, and unfortunately right now a lot of students are sinking.”
At the moment the club is trying to find potential allies in the House and the Senate who are supportive of making changes to educational policy. To reach these allies, the club recently hosted a phone bank. Members of SFER called politicians asking if they were aware of the issues and if these issues were ones they were willing to work on. The club also had the opportunity to write a question about the ELL programs for the gubernatorial forum.
Murphy hopes that the club will continue to make strides to move legislation forward and become a political force in Massachusetts. Murphy also hopes to move the club forward on campus, and raise awareness among BC students about issues surrounding educational policy. This club, to Murphy, provides a way to bring students together now who care about this issue, as opposed to later.
Murphy thinks this club is a way to provide students a way to think about the systems in place in this country. “It’s a hope of mine and a frustration of mine that BC students not only care about serving directly, but also think about the systems that create the need for service, and I think that policy work and action need to be informed by peoples’ lives and experiences.”