LTE: Letter From Climate Justice At Boston College

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On Sunday, April 12, Climate Justice at Boston College watched from the windows of Ignacio as 150 students, faculty and environmental organizers marched through campus in our defense. Most of you have probably seen the articles or rallies on campus about the various difficulties our group has faced at BC. Yesterday, folks from around Boston and the New England area came to voice their support for our cause and their anger for BC’s policies on free speech. They took action, marching through campus on Admitted Eagles Day, to support CJBC in the face of the immense obstacles at BC.

Many of you might ask, “Why didn’t CJBC just work with BC and negotiate this without bringing in outside groups?”

Short answer: we already tried that.

To explain our history with the administration briefly, many of CJBC’s issues with the administration come from the fact we are not a registered student organization. Unlike most universities, BC students in un-registered organizations are barred from the most basic of activities. We cannot hold meetings, post flyers, or even host events outside. We want to work within BC’s guidelines and have applied to become a registered organization multiple times. Unfortunately, each time we have been rejected. We have been trying to cooperate with the administration to get our group and events approved by the university, and while they have been trying to work with us too, our activities have been derailed by these circumstances since our status has remained unchanged in the last few years.

Unfortunately, climate change can’t wait for us to finish getting through the registration process at BC. Scientists from around the globe continue to point to the immediate nature of the problem and the need for action now. We joined hundreds of student groups around the country who have decided to push for divestment as a means to combat climate change by hosting our own events and speakers on campus.

This means that BC administrators have disciplined CJBC members for organizing or attending our events in the past. Two of our members were put on disciplinary probation after a peaceful vigil in February, and now most of our members are terrified of being suspended or facing other disciplinary consequences. It is absolutely crazy that students trying to protect the environment (an endeavor Pope Francis has called for) face such obstacles at a Jesuit institution. BC is all about social justice when it comes to service trips to help low-income people in underdeveloped communities and countries, and climate justice aims to help these same people in a more permanent way since they will be among the first and most affected by climate change. No other university treats students like this, and if you don’t believe us, believe the 150 students and faculty who came to BC to hold a rally in our defense. These supporters have their own goals and their own obstacles, but it truly speaks to the immense faults in BC’s rules that they came from hours away to express their indignation.

To be clear, organizers from the Boston and New England area came up with the idea for this rally after hearing our story. They approached us about their plan, and we were so incredibly excited. We always knew that BC’s regulations were more strict than most colleges, but none of us realized how bad until student groups from the East Coast decided to take time away from their own campuses and events to come support us. Students from Yale have enough to deal with (some of them got arrested last week for climate activism on their own campus), and yet a group of them drove up to speak. We are incredibly thankful for the overwhelming wave of support from the environmental community. There were students and faculty from BU, Harvard, Yale, UNH, MIT, Tufts, Brandeis and other universities as well as Juliet Schor (BC faculty), Susan Lee (Mothers Out Front organizer), leading environmentalist Bill McKibben, social activist Bob Massie and BC alumni like Fran Ludwig and Robert Ryan.

Upon hearing of their plan to come to campus, CJBC decided to inform the administration of the upcoming event and attempt to get a permit. We tried to work with the administration, as we always have, in order to keep working on our relationship with the administration. To be clear, we CHOSE to contact BC about the event. We did not have to, and some of the organizers from other schools actually discouraged it. It was not our event to begin with, but when we decided to take part, we immediately tried to collaborate with BC to make sure that no one would get hurt or punished in the process.

We at CJBC cannot express our appreciation enough to Dean Mogan and other BC administrators for trying to work with us on this event. We applied for a permit for the event and were rapidly rejected. The Dean suggested a few alternative options, but they did not prove plausible with the plans coming from outside organizers. As soon as the permit was rejected, CJBC withdrew all affiliation from the event. Black Student Forum followed a similar course when they were unable to attain a permit for the Die-In, a protest for the handling of the Michael Brown and Eric Garner cases, in December, and their group received no disciplinary consequences for organizing the event. They informed the BC community of their withdrawal from the event and said that anyone attending would go at their own risk. We followed the exact same course of action, immediately trying to end any and all of our affiliation from the event. Two of our members met again with Dean Mogan to explain this, but he told us he could not assure us that CJBC members wouldn’t receive disciplinary sanctions. The members left the meeting on amiable terms with Dean Mogan, and we are still trying to work with him on the registered status of our group. We just want to thank him and the other administrators working with and for CJBC, and we hope that the BC community understands how hard we worked to get this event in cooperation with BC’s guidelines.

After that conversation, we did everything we could to disassociate ourselves from the event. We ate lunch together in Ignacio, far from where the organizers were supposed to march on Linden Lane, for fear of these disciplinary sanctions. When the 150 supporters decided to change course and walk through Lower instead, we watched from the windows, full of excitement and gratitude for those amazing people. As they passed by, supporters recognized us in the windows and cheered, screaming words of encouragement. It broke our hearts to be unable to go and walk with the wonderful people who made their way to BC to support us, many of whom drove for hours to be there. We could not be more grateful for the overwhelming support from this national community, and we hope all members of the BC community can appreciate the immensity of their love and support.

To us, the day was a resounding success of what the climate justice movement is all about. We’re not just all a bunch of tree-huggers out by ourselves in the wilderness. We are a community of people who love the earth and the people of the earth. We in CJBC have tried to recreate that community on BC’s own campus, but it is truly amazing to have students, faculty and organizers come to encourage us in that endeavor, even as we’ve faced immense obstacles in the past.

To finish this note, we’d like to express our apologies to the various BC faculty and police officers who came to campus on that beautiful day. We truly wanted to avoid causing this sort of emergency response, and we thought that we would be able to do so by informing Dean Mogan ahead of time about the nonviolent nature of the event. Thank you again to the BC faculty and police officers for being so cooperative. While we were not at the event, we heard nothing about your supervision but smiles and kind guidance through campus. We’d also like to shout out to SAP for allowing this group of supporters to come in on such a big day. We support all that SAP does (after all, we love BC too), and we never meant to take away from your day. To all in the BC community, thank you so much for allowing folks from other campuses and communities around New England to push BC to be better than we have ever been.

Sincerely,

Climate Justice @ Boston College

Featured Image by Drew Hoo / Heights Editor

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