A Bold Step In The March For Free Speech Reform At BC

On Admitted Eagle Day this Sunday, students and parents were given a broad perspective of Boston College—perhaps even a little more broad than Admissions expected.

As prospective students learned that there are 14,100 total students attending both the undergraduate and graduate programs at BC, about 100 college students and other adults protested the University’s free speech policies and advocated for divestment in the plaza in the middle of campus.

Most of these protesters were not BC students. Instead, they came from Brandeis University, Northeastern University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and other places in the surrounding community. Notable environmentalist Bill McKibben spoke, as did Emily Kirkland, an organizer of the event and part of the Better Future Project.

“The crazy part of this at BC is the news that students are getting in trouble for talking about this stuff,” McKibben said.

Members of Climate Justice at BC were notably absent. They, along with other groups like the Social Justice Coalition, have held rallies to protest the administration’s approach to both free speech and divestment from fossil fuel companies. Recently, however, members of Climate Justice have faced disciplinary probation for their roles in previous unsanctioned social justice events. For this rally, the members of Climate Justice chose to opt out in order to avoid further sanctions. As pointed out in a Letter to the Editor, they cloistered themselves in Ignatius Hall, where they watched the rally from a window above.

The protest added a new dynamic to already complex fabric of Admitted Eagle Day, as prospective students and parents came face-to-face with not just the best that the University had to offer, but also with the not-so-glamorous or polished aspects. While admitted students will often ask students on admissions panels what their least favorite aspects of the school are, the protest represents a much more forceful dissent.

This protest decidedly wasn’t meant to just enlighten the prospective students and parents that were visiting campus, but also to garner a response from current students at BC, potentially shocking them out of an indifference that often dominates University-wide conversation on divestment and free speech. Rallies and protests—such as both Rights on the Heights events and the St. Mary’s “Die-In” that occurred last December—did not interfere with students’ daily routines, so there was no need for a majority of the student body to take a stance on the issue of free speech on campus, or of the ethics behind BC’s investment in fossil fuels.

Now, the 40 Admitted Eagle Day Team Volunteers who spent their Sunday addressing admitted students, plus the many other students who tabled for their clubs, volunteered their rooms, and assisted in info sessions with deans and professors, had to face those who were outspoken against BC’s current policies.

It’s a discomfort administrators have felt for some months, and one undergraduates are quickly getting to know.

The fight for expansion of free speech has been focused on public spaces—students can, theoretically, say what they want in class, and in the dining halls. An absence of visceral public forums at BC, however,  has created a culture that segregates discussion of important issues that affect minority factions on campus. The conversation is kept to small meeting halls, and this fragmented student voice can seldom thaw the administrative freeze on campus climate and culture.

At the end of the day, Climate Justice and other student groups can only get the fair consideration of the BC community at large if they are given an open space to state their cause, one less confined by walls or stringent administrative processes. Issues like divestment and free speech aren’t the topics of campus tours, University brochures, or Admitted Eagle Day. If we are only given the opportunity to express what makes us proud of BC and not how the institution we love can often disappoint us, the school will ultimately suffer from our neglect.

Sunday’s demonstration left the University heavily exposed to its critics, and while—for Admissions’ sake—we should hope this does not become an April tradition, it served as a telling moment for many on campus, even those who might not have personally agreed with the protests. And for those prospective Eagles, the afternoon’s events showed just how colorful life at BC can be.

Sunday night, the Undergraduate Government of Boston College (UGBC) voted to approve Climate Justice as a registered student organization, potentially concluding a struggle for recognition lasting over a year. Next, the Office of Student Involvement will need to approve the group for it to gain this formal status, which will allow it to stage demonstrations and post fliers on campus. Climate Justice has been working toward approval since its inception as BC Fossil Free in early 2013. Through a February vigil outside the office of University President Rev. William P. Leahy, S.J., and several appeals to other students in “Rights on the Heights” rallies, Climate has been sparking conversations all year. With the new approval status, there comes an opportunity for a stronger partnership between the organization and the University on addressing the troubling environmental state of the world.

Admitted Eagles Day is ideally meant to portray the University in the best light for prospective students. From the administrative point of view, it is a chance to bring out the best and brightest in students and professors, and show all the exciting and innovative happenings at BC.

But the planners of this year’s event were left to ask whether BC can still look good without its makeup. And if today’s UGBC vote was indicative of anything, it’s that students believe it can.

 

Featured Image by Drew Hoo / Heights Editor

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