Students And Faculty Stage ‘Die-In’ Protest In St. Mary’s

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

About Gus Merrell 51 Articles
Gus was the Assistant News Editor for The Heights in 2015. He has since moved to the business side as the Collections Manager and plans to make The Heights lots of money. You can follow him on Twitter @gusmerrell.
  • Mike Brown

    No evidence at all
    Liberal agenda alive and well

    • Michael

      Not about a single case
      Racism in America alive and well

  • Krystle Jiang

    how many people were there?? looks like only a few dozen.. UGBC ALC AHANA Caucus where you at?!?

  • Thomas Keenan

    “By encouraging, or even requiring, students to take stands where they have neither the knowledge nor the intellectual training to seriously examine complex issues, teachers promote the expression of unsubstantiated opinions, the venting of uninformed emotions, and the habit of acting on those opinions and emotions, while ignoring or dismissing opposing views, without having either the intellectual equipment or the personal experience to weigh one view against another in any serious way” Thomas Sowell

  • Ted

    This just looks like people sleeping. Not sure what 60 people lying down wasting time hopes to accomplish. These are people who want to be seen as involved and socially aware, but not considering that their actions have no impact. I hope when it comes time to take their final exams soon they don’t feel like they could have used this extra time laying down in the Chapel to have actually done something meaningful.

  • JT

    Are you kidding me? Before I rush to judgement, can someone please tell me what the protestors hope to achieve at BC? What has BC or BCPD done wrong in this matter?

    And shame on a history professor for that quote. Did she read the thousands of pages on the Michael Brown case? (I agree the Staten Island case is much harder to come to terms with). Her statement just sounds uninformed and ignorant, and she’s a professor!

    The protestors would be better suited studying for finals. Studying for your finals and getting decent grades would actually be meaningful, so that you can graduate, get a job, and correct whatever injustices you believe exist. The way to change the system is from within.

    • Michael

      The protesters have probably been studying the past couple of days. Anyway the goal of a die-in like this one is not to change the system immediately, but at least to start a conversation with the rest of the Boston College community and since they got you to comment, I’d say they did their job.

  • Theo

    This is supposed to be a protest that is committed to raising awareness of what has has been happening. BC has not made any comments on this issue and we are saddened by this. I applaud my fellow peers for taking on this protest. For your information, St. Mary’s Hall IS part of Boston College’s University. There may have been 60 students, but do not doubt that we can create change on this campus. It is time that we rise to the inequalities that has occurred. We will not stop fighting to have our voices heard. We, like anyone else on this campus, have the right to protest and raise our concerns of this injustice. Margaret Mead once said, “Never doubt that small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

    Response to “JT”: Dear JT, obtaining an occupation is clearly a goal of mine or else I wouldn’t be here at BC in the first place. However, I will not back down on an issue that means so much to me. You are right, “The way to change the system is from within”.

  • ChrisS

    I stand with the BC administration.

    There are rules to protesting, just as there are rules for war zones. These students violated common sense, university policies (regarding the permitting of demonstrations), and the orders of campus police officers. These students ought to be disciplined for their flagrant misdeeds. They transgressed sensible limits.

    Really, these campus protests which have played out over several days should have been suppressed or channeled into some more positive actions long before they ever snowballed to this point (i.e. staging a rather morbid and disruptive unauthorized protest in the inner-sanctum of the Jesuit community during finals week). A university campus–contrary to the views of some–is not a place where you can do whatever you want, whenever you want without any real consequences.

    • Arlo Perez

      I will be relying on a quote from a close friend for this, because he has said things better than I think I could.

      “Service is not compartmentalized, or controlled, or contained, it is radically transformational. It must change the way you think, the way you walk, the way you breathe, the way you study, the way you dream, the way you envision your future. To allow “service” to remain compartmentalized for 10 hours a week off campus and not let it transform you is the same as Jesus coming to your door hungry and turning him away; It is to be revealed of your privilege then to shove it in the faces of those who have less than you.

      If BC is to accept an honor for service and civic engagement, then it must nourish its students with a transformative service, not a compartmentalized one. So how are we doing?
      —A few days ago, 60 students “died-in” in St. Mary’s to bring the deaths of Eric Garner and Michael Brown to the eye of BC students and administrators. The purpose was not only to bring the severity of our countries race issues to the awareness of this campus, this demonstration meant to show that black students feel disenfranchised and segregated on our campus. These are our fellow students coming out to our community saying that they feel wronged! But when the Black Student Forum advertised this event, the administration threatened BSF with taking their RSO status if they went through with it. When we gathered before St. Mary’s anyway, the administration’s response was to bar the doors, making elderly attendees of a Christmas event wait in the freezing cold alongside us while they made up excuses to legitimate preventing our entry. And during the demonstration, in which we laid peacefully and quietly in the galls, respecting walkways and fire safety protocols, BCPD took pictures of every demonstrator and threatened us with disciplinary consequences. When our fellow students came before to say they feel wronged and excluded in our campus community, the administration responded saying THEY are wrong.
      —Two weeks ago, when 150 students came together at a rally to lift our voices for social justice issues on campus, the administration tried to prevent it from happening by telling us that using microphones and speakers would violate city noise rules. A few students called the city to confirm this, and the respondent laughed and said its private space, we can do as we please.
      —When groups like climate justice or the social justice coalition want to become a registered student organization to bring important social justice issues to the forefront of student life, we are rejected on the grounds that our groups aren’t “sustainable.” Maybe if you gave us the chance to plant our roots…
      —When I reached out to members of GLC to partner with the social justice coalition at the beginning of the semester, I never heard a response. It was only a few weeks ago that I learned GLC was skeptical about joining the coalition in fear of ruffling the administration’s feathers and having them revoked of rights they have fought so hard to obtain. It seems that they may have been threatened before…

      This is not a campus where students can speak their justice or are encouraged to be transformational servant leaders that are called to incorporate justice into all aspects of their lives, including student life. This is a campus where the administration controls student groups by holding them in fear of losing rights. This is a campus where the administration will not tolerate students lifting their voices to break the cycle of conformity and privilege ripe on this campus. This is a campus that prioritizes a contained and pristine image (roll out the grass) more than the development of its students into aware and active citizens. This is a campus where the administration hushes student requests and concerns under the table until the last ember dies because it has no room to breathe.
      If an administrator is reading this, I want you to know that this is not my opinion. This is the perspective of almost every student I have met on this campus of whom social justice is a word in their vocabulary, and I am sure this is true for the students I have yet to meet. If you really want to be able to honestly tell high school applicants that this school embodies the highest degree of service, then you must stop treating your students like they are enemies. When I engage with social justice issues at this school, I feel like I am going to war. And not a war with injustice; a war with the administration and bureaucratic nonsense. I’m tired of this petty war. Why can’t you see that the students you are currently trying to suppress are the very ones that are trying to be transformed by the Jesuit creed “men and women for others!” Please, I came to this school because I wanted to come to life in a student community that is passionate about social justice issues and not afraid to lead our Boston community in taking a stand against injustice. If not at a university, then where? If not a university, then who?”

  • Sean Keeley

    Two things to consider based on the statements from Barb Jones and Jack Dunn:

    1) Jones speaks of the “many avenues for student expression including the opportunity to have permitted rallies and demonstrations.” The implication is that the protesters should have operated within University protocol and had an officially permitted demonstration. Yet as the article states, this is exactly what the original organizers of the event tried to do, and the University rejected their attempt to get a permit. To criticize the protesters for not having gone through the official process when they in fact tried to do so and were rejected seems rather disingenuous. Unless, of course, there was a valid reason for rejecting their permit, but this remains unclear to me.

    2) Since when is St. Mary’s Hall “not University space,” as Jack Dunn claims? It’s a curious claim, considering that BC just poured millions of dollars into its renovation and is planning to move the Communications and Computer Science departments along with the Woods College there. I do understand that it is primarily a Jesuit residence, but nothing about this silent daytime protest strikes me as being particularly disruptive to the Jesuits. Have any Jesuits publicly complained about the protest? I haven’t heard any, but I can think of several who would have sympathy for its aims.