While many may be focused on the ongoing election season of the Undergraduate Government of Boston College (UGBC), the current UGBC president, Thomas Napoli, MCAS ’16, and executive vice president, Olivia Hussey, MCAS ’17, are still working to accomplish their goals for the rest of their presidential term. This remains true despite the earlier news that Hussey and her campaign partner, Meredith McCaffrey, MCAS ’16, formally withdrew from this year’s UGBC elections.
In its own candidacy last spring, the team offered a 42-page platform detailing plans for implementing proposed policy goals, which highlighted a comprehensive free speech and expression policy. The proposal suggested that the landscape of campus be redesigned to better allow for student activism with the goal of complementing a more liberal, transparent policy on the approval of campus events, flier postings, and protests.
“In terms of free expression, there really hasn’t been any policy updates the entire year.”
-Thomas Napoli, UGBC President and MCAS ’16
After being elected, the two have headed UGBC while the Student Assembly attempted to pass a free speech and expression proposal last spring, which sought to limit the University’s ability to control the scheduling of protests and distribution of fliers on campus. The proposal included the suggestion that a committee for free expression be formed on campus. In Fall 2015, however, the University released an updated Student Guide that included changes in formatting but left out policies approved by the Student Assembly in the spring.
Though the changes to the Student Guide did not materialize in the fall, Napoli and Hussey led UGBC in their launching of two initiatives in October that give students tools to target or bypass restrictions around free expression on campus. The first is the Free Expression Reporting form, an online way for students to privately report incidents in which they believe their free speech was curtailed, and the second is the 10-Student Service that would allow students not in registered student organizations to stage demonstrations on campus, which only recognized groups could do this at the time.
Still, when asked about the progress of such initiatives and whether the time they have left in office is long enough to realistically accomplish their goals with free expression, Napoli and Hussey did not report administrative changes.
“In terms of free expression, there really hasn’t been any policy updates the entire year,” Napoli said. “I know that a couple of drafts were sent to legal counsel and up to University leadership, but were ultimately rejected at the top level. So right now, from my understanding, there’s not a lot of wiggle room within the lower offices to address free expression issues.”
Still, Napoli did find outcomes from the Free Expression Reporting form and 10-Student Service initiatives.
“There has been, at least in my opinion, some cultural shifts in terms of demonstrations this year,” Napoli said, recalling that no demonstrations have been denied this year, despite the protest by Eradicate BC Racism in December that was never registered.
Napoli explained that this change in accepted protests is a positive shift and demonstrates that people in those roles are being more supportive. Still, he expressed a desire for policy changes to sustain this support for the long run.
Hussey noted that UGBC created a committee this year dedicated to student rights in the Student Assembly, which has been working this year with the Office of Student Initiatives (OSI), facilities, and dining teams to get more spaces on campus for banners, polls, and flyers.
“I’m personally very hopeful and optimistic that [the expansion] will happen by the end of the year to go in effect for next year,” Hussey said.
Hussey said that the expansion might not be to the full extent that they would like it to be, but believes their current efforts to allow students to hang posters on the second floor of Corcoran Commons and to have removable poles to hang banners on in the Quad will be successful. She said that this would be for registered student organizations.
For student groups that are not official, Hussey has been working on the Incubator phase since last summer. The Incubator phase has been in place to give some rights to student groups that are not registered and to streamline the process in which they can become official groups. This phase gives a two-month window for these unofficial student groups to come to UGBC. In return, UGBC will book rooms and post flyers for them in order to help them become registered.
Leah Nowak, a student on the UGBC Board of Organizations and MCAS ’17, who has been working on the Incubator phase, explained that she initially got involved in the project through the head of her division, Russell Simons, MCAS ’17, who came to her with the idea over this past summer. She has since been working on the program with Ellie Schaefer, MCAS ’17, who is also on the Board of Organizations, as well as the head of UGBC Student Assembly, Monica Coscia, MCAS ’17, and Michael Celib, MCAS ’17, to pull together the final proposal for this phase over Winter Break.
Nowak said that the phase has not yet gone into action, though the team has tried to implement it within one group in terms of the mentoring aspect, where it sat down with a trial group to talk about the feasibility of the group’s being official on campus.
“As it exists in the proposal, it needs too much approval from the administration and the Office of Student Involvement for us to really implement it without it being approved first,” Nowak said.
Nowak said that they have been doing as much as they have been able to do without getting approval, but are waiting for their proposal to be accepted in order for the phase to fully take off.
“We’re hoping this is a good first step in allowing clubs that are still getting started to have those rights and potentially prove to the University their value,” Hussey said.
Napoli said the Incubator phase takes some risk of blame off the University when certain groups might be in question for their content or reasons. He said that OSI has understandable hesitancies when looking at new groups, as it is difficult to rescind a group’s registration once it is administered. As a result, the Incubator phase decreases the reluctance of OSI to consider new groups in the process. Hussey said that both she and Napoli will be meeting with administrators in OSI and the Dean of Students about this phase the week before this upcoming Spring Break.
Hussey said that the administrators, such as Dean of Students Thomas Mogan, Mark Miceli, the associate director of student engagement, and Gus Burkett, OSI director, are all willing to work with UGBC on these initiatives, though concrete policy changes are typically made by higher levels of the administration, and are thus more long-term.
Napoli agreed with Hussey that the big policy changes will require a sustained effort, specifically targeting conversations with the leadership of the University.
Hussey noted that there were more protests and demonstrations last fall than there were throughout her previous two years at BC. She also said that though the two haven’t seen concrete policy changes, their efforts, in addition to those started by former UGBC president Nanci Fiore-Chettiar, GSSW ’16, have started a previously-missing conversation about free speech among the administration.
“By keeping that conversation very alive and well, we hope to continue those efforts,” Hussey said.
Featured Image by Drew Hoo / Heights Editor