The following is a letter from the Black Student Forum (BSF) to Boston College’s senior administration. The BSF has alternately published the letter as a petition.
Dear Father Leahy and Senior-level Administrators at BC,
We, as Black students of Boston College, need to share our sentiments. We are extremely disappointed by this institution’s failure to acknowledge the injustices that have been taking place throughout the country and the lack of judicial accountability. We are particularly frustrated because Boston College is Jesuit institution committed to social justice. As students who are receiving an education based on the principles of St. Ignatius of Loyola, we expect more from our school. We interpret the administration’s silence as a sign of neutrality and, as Desmond Tutu states, “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.”
In your Presidential message, you state that your answer to society’s call, “emanates from a world that has experienced an explosion of knowledge, but not a corresponding growth in understanding; a world that lacks trust in its leaders and faith in its institutions. It is a world that has developed wondrous technologies that link continents, but isolate humans, leaving many men and women weary and dispirited, feeling distant from moral purpose, uncertain about knowledge or the very worth of human endeavor” (Boston College News & Public Affairs, 2014). We believe that Boston College still has not yet lived up to this statement. Many of the women and men here are weary and dispirited due to these events that have risen around the nation, and our own home has turned a blind eye to them. We are expressing our voices directly to the Boston College administration, because we want more from BC. We are experiencing a failing system, one that does not seem to be aware of the lives and minds of its own black students. We are struggling to trust our own institution and its motto, “For Here All Are One.” We feel distant from the school’s claim to a Jesuit moral purpose and are disheartened. Our chants of “Black Lives Matter” across this campus and city demand acknowledgement that at Boston College, too, our lives matter.
We are often reminded of our duty as students of Boston College to reflect the Jesuit motto of “men and women for others.” The Pocket Guide to Jesuit Education states, “It is not enough to live authentically in the world. We have to participate in the transformation of the world.” For more than four hundred years, it has been said that Jesuit education educates ‘the whole person.’ A person cannot be considered ‘whole’ without an ability to stand in solidarity with other human beings in their hopes and fears, and especially in their time of needs. We must not only wear the title of “men and women for others”, we must also be active in it. Because you have not taken the opportunity to speak about race, not “diversity,” you do not permit or encourage administrators, faculty and students to enter into this nationwide discussion. It seems as if the Boston College “bubble” has proven impenetrable to national dialogue, expressions of outrages, and testimonies about race. In the letter from the Vice President of Student Affairs, we do not see sincerity. We see a warning against raising our voices, which is not only a right but also a value you encourage in the mission statement of Boston College. We ask for your response to be educational, empathetic, and understanding of what is taking place and how these events have an impact our lives, dreams, and hopes.
We believe this resounding silence reflects a greater institutional disconnect between Boston College and the need for discussions about race on campus. Specifically, the one uniting experience of the student body is the Core Curriculum. It is stated on the Boston College website, that “at the heart of liberal education are questions that have relevance in all time and places and that the search for responses to these questions can dispel ignorance and promote genuine freedom.” In addition, it reasons that, “The Core Curriculum should address issues of Cultural Diversity and consider topics that have not customarily been incorporated into the traditional debate about the perennial issues, topics that gain in importance when the Western tradition is viewed from the perspectives of non-European people and of minorities within European and American societies … These topics can supplement and expand the traditional debate about the perennial questions, and can respond to the urgency that many students and faculty feel about the centrality of these issues in contemporary society.” We want to hold Boston College accountable to this statement. If these are the goals of the Core Curriculum, then there is no reason why our history, Black and African diasporic history cannot also be intersected with classes on philosophy, theology, art, history, etc. Yet at the present moment we cannot major in African and African Diaspora Studies. These courses are only available as electives, and many students do not have room to take electives, much less even minor in African and African Diaspora Studies. In our non-African and African Diaspora Studies, our professors do not incorporate Black history or issues or create a space for students to discuss, learn, and foster an appreciation of our heritage. Our academic requirements do not reflect our personal history, or current events. When we receive our Boston College degree, therefore, it is with the knowledge that we were not incorporated into curriculum. This is bias by omission.
We first and foremost request a letter to the entire Boston College community acknowledging the events that are taking place in this nation and a way that as a campus, we move forward. We need an acknowledgment of our feelings, a willingness to support the greater discussion on race in America, and personal experiences of race at Boston College. We have seen the correspondences from other presidents at Jesuit Universities, including Georgetown University, St. Louis University, and Loyola University Maryland. In the Boston area itself, Simmons College and Harvard University have addressed their student bodies with heartfelt messages.
In continuation of the conversation you have the power to fuel, we demand that African and African Diaspora Studies becomes a major and more fully integrated in the Core Curriculum. Discussions about race and the creation of a space for students to share their experiences and ideas can only reflect Boston College’s academic and Jesuit mission.
- We want faculty and administrators who have proven capable of addressing and explaining racial controversies, intersectionality, privilege and diversity. This is best achieved with the presence of more national and international faculty and administration of color. We continuously notice that most of the people of color we see throughout the day are facilities or dining staff. The kind of dialogue, mentorship, and intellectual opportunities faculty of color provide is invaluable. Their ability to advise and advocate for us from a position of institutional power is crucial.
- Although we are targeting African and African Diaspora Studies Program, it is also invaluable for us to see faculty of color in the schools of management, education, and nursing. We need to see the presence of these faculty where students of color are underrepresented, specifically, but not limited to, the natural sciences department.
- Boston College needs to provide comprehensive diversity training in all areas of the student experience, especially, but not limited to, the Office of First Year Experience and the Admissions Department. We strive for all campus leaders to be competent on issues of race. If the student leaders who represent the Boston College mission publicly, daily, and voluntarily are empowered in this process and knowledgeable about campus resources that facilitate a progressive community, our dialogue will be more productive, inclusive, and transformative.
- African Hispanic Asian Native American (AHANA) students need to be better welcomed to the Boston College AHANA community and connected with current AHANA students in programs other than the single Keith A. Francis AHANA Weekend. Your mission of diversity should also include diversity of dialogue. If students of color are the ones promoting conversations on race, then we should be encouraging their enrollment and welcoming the testimony of their experiences.
- There should be more diversity in study abroad opportunities. Boston College students have proven their passion for studying abroad and the often life changing effect it has on their perspective. As long as traditional locations, such as European cities, are more accessible, financially supported and even count for core classes, there will continue to be little diversity in the experiences of Boston College students abroad and the dialogue that they can ignite on campus.
- Finally, Boston College should makes its academic environment more favorable to students of color who have proven academically worthy and credible. One way is by sufficiently supporting their academic transition, the second is by better advertising academic and leadership opportunities for students of color. Exemplary programs that incorporate, encourage, and continue such goals are Options through Education, the College Transition Program, and the McNair Scholars program.
To reference your message once again, “Boston College endeavors to educate a new generation of leaders—men and women who will be capable of shaping the future with vision, justice and charity—with a sense of calling, with concern for all the human family” (Boston College News & Public Affairs, 2014). We are the future leaders who are capable and desirous of shaping society with dialogue and action based on the principles of social justice, and we will begin with Boston College. These demands aim for institutional and communal commitment to the wellbeing of Black/African/African American students at Boston College. We have presented stunning, undeniable statistical proof of continuous dissatisfaction in Boston College Climate studies. We have raised our voices in testimonies, demonstrations, panels, and dialogue. We are frustrated that we need to prove that our experiences are a problem and controversy worth acknowledging and changing. We need you as a president, as an ally, and most importantly, as a Jesuit, to stand with us.
Black Student Forum
Featured Image by Emily Fahey / Heights Editor