“People gonna rise like water, we’re gonna calm this crisis down. I hear the voice of a great granddaughter, we’re gonna divest BC now.”
Boston College students were not leading the pack this time, as protesters called out the BC administration on policies regarding free speech and the University’s investment in fossil fuel companies. Over 100 protesters—from both the general public and Boston schools like Brandeis and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology—marched through BC’s campus on Sunday afternoon and gathered in the O’Neill Library plaza.
Starting at the BC Green Line T stop, the protesters chanted and sang songs calling for divestment on their way to the plaza. Once there, they heard from speakers such as Bill McKibben, a prominent environmentalist and leader of the anti-carbon campaign group 350, and Bob Massie, an Episcopal priest, politician, and social activist best known for his opposition to the apartheid in South Africa.
The rally was organized by members of the Better Future Project (BFP), a Cambridge-based climate advocacy project, who decided to hold the rally in the middle of Admitted Eagle Day, when admitted prospective students would be visiting campus and hearing from the admissions department, student tour guides, and various student groups on campus.
“We wanted admitted students to know that although Boston College claims to be committed to its Jesuit values, administrators are willing to let those values fall by the wayside when it suits them,” said Emily Kirkland, an organizer of the event and part of the Better Future Project. “Admitted students should be aware that BC administrators are willing to punish students for working towards social justice.”
The main portion of the protest took place on the quad near the entrance of Devlin, placing the protest in direct view of admitted students. Although the admissions office warned visiting families that there might be protests during their visit, prospective families generally seemed to accept the protest.
“It wouldn’t be a deal breaker,” Kathleen Linch Moncata said, describing whether it would impact her decision to send her daughter to BC. “I mean, no place is perfect.”
Garrett Fitzgerald, a senior at Donovan Catholic High School in New Jersey, liked seeing the protest. It shows how passionate the voices are on campus, he said, and he believed it offered a different look at the student life at BC.
“It’s good to see that they’re out here but it’s not good to hear they’re being suppressed or that so many people feel they’re being suppressed,” he said.
Kirkland said that students from other schools and other members of the community came to BC to protest the way students were treated on campus in terms of the right to free speech. She noted that students from Climate Justice at BC—an unregistered student organization that has called for the administration to divest from fossil fuels and protested free speech policies in the past—were placed on disciplinary probation for taking part in a vigil a few weeks ago. Kirkland also claimed that alumni who were supportive of the divestment campaign have been threatened with arrest after gathering signatures for various petitions related to divestment.
“Students and off-campus supporters of divestment recognize that we’re all part of the same movement and that we have to stick up for each other,” she said.
Climate Justice had been approached by several off-campus groups who were interested in holding an event on campus in solidarity with Climate Justice’s goals, according to members of the group. They approached the administration to see if they could receive a permit for the protest, but after several meetings with Dean of Students Thomas Mogan, their application was rejected, in part because, as an unregistered student organization, they cannot apply for permits unless they partner with a registered student organization. At that point, Climate Justice decided to disassociate themselves from the event because they feared they could face disciplinary action if they were participants, a member of Climate Justice said.
In an email to Climate Justice shared with The Heights by another member of the organization, Mogan assured the group that the administration wanted to work with the students to provide them with an appropriate forum to exercise their right to free expression on campus. He also said that it would be difficult to argue that Climate Justice had not been involved with the event, however, since they had been in contact with 350 Massachusetts, a climate justice network in Massachusetts and a creation of BFP.
“As we discussed, I would like to reinforce the Boston College Student Demonstration policy indicates that ‘participation in a demonstration without prior authorization could result in conduct action,’” Mogan said in an email to the group.
Mogan also gave alternative options to Climate Justice to help the group organize the rally, but those options would either make the event available to only BC students or limit it to an off-campus location close to the school.
University Spokesman Jack Dunn said that the protest was peaceful and did not disrupt the day’s activities. Although the organizers had planned the rally to show the prospective students that some believed the administration limited the right to free speech on campus, Dunn believed that the event did not detract from Admitted Eagle Day or the Campus School Bandit Run on Commonwealth Ave., which occurred at the same time.
McKibben expressed at the rally that BC, as a Jesuit institution, needs to uphold the values that the school is based on. He was happy with the positive stance that Pope Francis has taken on climate change and is hopeful that other Jesuits and Catholics will follow his lead.
McKibben also endorsed the decision of the University of Dayton—a Catholic university in Ohio—to divest last year because of its Catholic social teachings, and said that many hope BC will join other schools in divesting.
“The crazy part of this at BC is the news that students are getting in trouble for talking about this stuff,” McKibben said. “That seems the opposite of the message that’s coming out of Rome right now you know, everyone should be free to talk about everything, so it seems strange that up here on the Heights people are having to watch their language.”
Featured Image by Drew Hoo / Heights Editor