One year ago, romance languages and literatures and African and African Diaspora Studies (AADS) professor Régine Jean-Charles told students at the Silence is Still Violence march to take the emotions they were feeling and channel them into activism. This was the way to move toward creating a world without hate, she said.
She told the crowd of students that what they started at that march should not end at the end of the day, at the end of the month, at the end of the year, or even at the end of their BC careers.
“Don’t make this a moment, [because] it’s a movement,” she said.
Today, Jean-Charles sees the impact that movement has had on student activism on campus—students have continued making demands of the administration, and many have refused to be silent or let racial incidents go.
“I’ve been so inspired by the students—I think the students are amazing,” she said. “I think that they have had the threat of … discipline, and they have still nonetheless stood up for things that they believed.”
Jean-Charles, who currently teaches the Complex Problems course “From BlackLivesMatter to MeToo” with sociology professor C. Shawn McGuffey, said that many of her first-year students have actually pointed to the student activity of the past year as a reason they wanted to come to BC. Even though they knew BC was predominately white and that they would be in a majority-minority culture, they also knew that there was a wealth of student activism on campus, which they were inspired by and looked forward to participating in.
“I’ve seen a huge change in the students from when I started my position at Boston College 10 years ago to now—that the students are much more engaged, much more ‘woke,’ which I think is awesome,” she said. “And I hope that it continues.”
While Jean-Charles said there has been a huge impact in terms of student activism on campus, it has had more of a “medium” impact in terms of the demands that are being made actually being realized.
She said that she is not sure about the effectiveness of DiversityEdu, which the University implemented in response to demands that students made last year. She also noted that the realization of another one of those demands—making AADS into a department—is going to be a long process, something that is typical of departmentalization.
But Jean-Charles doesn’t just think that AADS should be departmentalized—she thinks that every first-year student should be required to take a class in the program. Every time she teaches her class on black feminisms, she said, her students say they wish it was required for everyone.
“I think it would be more effective than DiversityEdu. … [With DiversityEdu,] you’re not engaged,” she said.
On the administrative side, Jean-Charles said she believes that BC students should not have to fill out forms in order to protest, nor should they be disciplined for protesting—to her, protests are supposed to be spontaneous.
Jean-Charles said that it is important to continue working on the demands that were made by students last year, but also to think about how to expand the influence of programs that already exist to combat racism on BC’s campus, such as FACES.
She suggested bringing people from different activist movements to speak on campus, and she noted that when many AADS programs at other universities began to be departmentalized in the late ’60s and ’70s, it was because of student demands.
“It would be interesting, I think, to bring … former student activists … or people that were instrumental in some of the big changes that happened on college campuses [to BC,]” she said.
Jean-Charles also encourages students to think about the relationship between activism and their academics. Jean-Charles—herself a student activist when she was an undergraduate at the University of Pennsylvania—recalled a senior administrator who was an ally to the black student activists on UPenn’s campus. He had students, one of whom was Jean-Charles, participate in a summer research project in which they did research on the history of black student activism at the university.
“I learned so much about what people had done in the ’50s and the ’60s and the ’70s, you know, even though here we were in the late ’90s, early 2000s,” she said. “That really was formative for me, not only as a student activist, but also as a thinker. … I think through AADS we can probably bring those types of opportunities to students.”
Jean-Charles noted the importance of seniors working with underclassmen to ensure the legacy of student activism continues—something she believes will happen based on the interactions she has had already with this year’s freshmen.
“They had a lot of student activists in [last year’s senior] class, and so the concern was like, ‘Oh is the next class going to hold the mantle in the same way?’—but they are, right?” she said.
Jean-Charles has been thinking about the words that she told the students at last year’s march.
“I told them to find places to channel whatever the emotion is that they feel—whether that’s rage, whether that’s passion, whether it’s anger. It could be sadness, it could be frustration, it could be love,” she said. “You need to channel those emotions into something else, whether that’s your schoolwork, whether that’s your activism, [whether] you’re going to write something. Maybe you’re an artist, maybe you’re a dancer.
“But then also remember that you’re here to be students and that the arc of your life is long, right? And how are the four years that you’re here going to impact you for the greater world? I know for me—I was a student activist when I was in undergrad, and it never left me.”
Featured Image Courtesy of University Communications