Updated Dec. 10, 10:47 PM: Over 60 students and faculty lay on the floor in the main hallway of St. Mary’s Hall Tuesday afternoon while, in the background, the voices of the University Chorale sang “Peace on Earth” in the newly opened St. Mary’s Chapel. Some students sported duct tape over their mouths with the now-popular slogan “I Can’t Breathe” while others simply linked hands. This particular “die-in”—as such protests related to police brutality have come to be called—was not affiliated with any organization on campus.
There were numerous reasons for the protest that participants listed: police violence against people of color and what protestors view as an inadequate response from the University. Demonstrators also mentioned the die-in was meant to challenge University policies on free speech.
“We as students are trying to have our voices heard on a few issues that we believe that the administration is not talking openly about and also in terms of censorship that is happening on campus, and the rules and the hoops that we have to jump through to actually make some sort of change on campus and actually be the activists that this University wants us to be,” said Danny De Leon, A&S ’15.
The majority of the protestors were not initially allowed inside of St. Mary’s by officers of the Boston College Police Department because of the construction happening inside, according to a policewoman guarding the door of the chapel. A few protestors, however, had entered earlier and were already staging the die-in inside.
“I think it’s absurd,” said Zack Muzdakis, A&S ’17, when asked about the police involvement. “I think we have the right to be in there just as much as any other person. It’s an act of peaceful protest, it’s free speech.”
At least one member of Boston College faculty, history professor Deborah Levenson, was also present after she heard about the event from fliers.
“It would be great if the University said something condemning these Grand Juries that don’t indict when there’s so much evidence to indict,” she said.
Barbara Jones, vice president for Student Affairs, pointed out that there are other avenues for students to express their concerns that did not involve disrupting the normal flow of the University.
“The University understands the students’ desire to express themselves and engage with the University about issues of concern,” said Jones in an email to The Heights. “We have many avenues for student expression including the opportunity to have permitted rallies and demonstrations. The disruption last night was not a permitted event. That it happened in St. Mary’s, the home of the Jesuits, is completely unacceptable.”
University Spokesman Jack Dunn echoed those sentiments, strongly admonishing the protesters’ choice of location.
“While we understand that many within the BC community have strong feelings of anger in light of recent events in Ferguson and Staten Island, there is a strong sense of disappointment that they chose to violate sacred space by protesting in St. Mary’s, the campus residence of the Jesuit community,” said Dunn in an email. “St. Mary’s is the Jesuits’ home—it is not University space, and as a place of prayer, consolation, and hospitality for the past 95 years, it deserves to be respected.”
The die-in was originally supposed to be an organized event hosted by the Black Student Forum, but due to University restrictions, the organization was not able to get a permit for their event and subsequently canceled it.
The students that showed up did so voluntarily and unaffiliated with any particular group.
“After reviewing the Code of Conduct and discussing the logistics of the demonstration as an executive board, we have decided to postpone the demonstration in order to proceed with the demonstration permit request in the manner described in the description you provided,” said Black Student Forum officials to the Dean of Students Office, per Jones in an email to The Heights.
The students were ultimately allowed into St. Mary’s Tuesday, because they weren’t affiliated with any group and entered without interrupting the concert inside the Chapel.
“It’s a simple act of protest, it’s not disobedient, it’s not violent, it’s just protesting,” said Muzdakis.
Featured Image by Arthur Bailin / Heights Staff