A letter addressed to the Undergraduate Government of Boston College by interim Vice President of Student Affairs Joy Moore in response to UGBC’s Dec. 9 resolution explained why the University is rejecting most of the legislative body’s requests of the BC.
The letter was originally sent to members of the Student Assembly (SA) on Friday, which discussed the response during the weekly SA meeting Tuesday night. Senators expressed dissatisfaction with the letter, criticizing its content as a response more typical of dealing with an isolated incident rather than a response to a greater institutional issue.
“I think that the administration fails to realize that there is a crisis at this school,” Alex Eishingdrelo, UGBC senator and MCAS ’20, said. “I think that the University sees the incident last semester as an isolated incident, but it’s really a physical manifestation of a larger problem, which is that minorities are not welcome at this school.”
Moore wrote that most of the issues proposed by UGBC are already taken care of by existing BC policy or were unreasonable requests of the University.
“Boston College is and will always be a community that embraces people from all walks of life,” Moore said in the letter. “Our commitment to diversity and inclusion is steadfast, even when sometimes faced with hateful acts and tensions that can arise on our campus. We are, however, called to actively confront those challenges to allow for the greater good in all of us to prevail.”
UGBC asked for the alleged perpetrator–Michael Sorkin, CSOM ’21–to be immediately expelled from the University and for University President Rev. William P. Leahy, S.J., to issue a statement on the matter. BC cannot immediately expel Sorkin—he is entitled to a disciplinary hearing—and Moore noted that administrators issued a summary suspension to Sorkin the same day the University investigation centered on him. Moore went on to say that her statement issued in the wake of the racist incident represented the views of the BC administration and Leahy.
Moore said in the letter that although a University conduct process is underway, BC cannot release any student disciplinary outcomes to the public.
She went on to explain that in December, administrators informed academic deans and faculty that academic accommodations could be made to students on a “case-by-case basis to students preparing for final exams.” The UGBC resolution demanded “immediate implementation and acknowledgement of necessary accommodations by Academic Affairs for students, especially Black students and other people of color, during final exam [sic].”
Senators who attended Tuesday’s hearing specifically criticized this action since it put the onus on affected students to reach out for aid, rather than having professors to reach out to students to offer accommodations.
Moore’s letter noted that University Counseling Services (UCS) has “many close and long-term relationships and partnerships” with outside mental health providers, in response to the resolution’s request that UCS make more of such connections. She also disclosed that UCS’s clinical staff is “just under” 40 percent people of color. The resolution asked for two additional “mental health professionals of color” by Fall 2020.
UGBC asked for a mandatory first-year seminar course surrounding diversity and inclusion in regard to race and social identity in its resolution, and Moore said that the University Core Renewal Committee will “encourage expansion” of sections of Difference, Justice, and Common Good classes.
That initiative offers stipends for syllabi development and can be built to cover multiple core requirements—not just cultural diversity—and will be a new addition to the core curriculum in 2019-20.
Moore noted that there is already a supplemental essay question on inclusivity that is a part of the admissions process. UGBC called for a such a question in its resolution, specifically requesting that the question address the definition of an inclusive environment and “what they believe contributes to a diverse and accepting community.”
Applicants to BC are required to fill out a supplemental, 400-word essay to apply to the University, but there are four prompt options—only one prompt has to be answered, giving prospective students the option not to fill out an essay on diversity when they apply.
Moore said that the SA’s request for doubling the budget of the Thea Bowman AHANA Intercultural Center (BAIC), Learning to Learn Office, and Montserrat Coalition for the 2019-20 academic year was “not feasible.” Their budgets are determined as a part of the University’s overall operating budget, and they cannot be changed mid-year.
Moore did not specifically answer the request to invest $4 million of the endowment in enhancing faculty diversity. She did, however, reaffirm the University’s commitment to attract a diverse faculty and student body—citing the $131 million annual allocation for need-based financial aid as evidence that the University is supporting further diversifying the student population. Moore went on to write that the University would take into account student suggestions regarding what programs and additional resources may be necessary.
This response brought forth a sense of consternation from Eishingdrelo, who said it was “really sad” that BC would not consider investing in the initiatives UGBC suggested needed increased funding. Alejandro Perez, a UGBC senator and MCAS ’21, specifically cited the lack of funding and staffing available to the Bowman Center as a chief issue not being addressed by the University.
Rather than hosting town halls throughout the semester, the University has opted for “smaller community gatherings in venues more conducive to conversation and dialogue on issues of mutual concern,” according to Moore’s letter. The first of these gatherings took place last week. UGBC announced to students in a December email in the wake of the racist incident that full-fledged town halls would be taking place this semester.
“I do think that it’s a good idea to have the smaller gatherings because it is more personal, but I don’t think that it should take the place of the larger town hall,” Michael Lange, a UGBC senator and MCAS ’21, said. “I know it might be uncomfortable for [the administration] to stand up in front of all the students, but I think that it’s important that students can come out and voice their concerns in front of a larger audience.”
The Board of Trustees “does not favor including students among its members,” according to Moore—UGBC asked the University establish a process for bringing a student representative onto the board in an official capacity. Moore noted that Board Subcommittee chairs report to the Executive Committee of the Board and the full Board of Trustees. Students participate in sessions run by the various Board Subcommittees—Moore specifically cited the work of the Student Life Committee within this context.
Moore said in her letter that the DiversityEdu Task Force is looking to “incorporate diversity and inclusion topics” into the First Year Writing Seminar and using assessment tools to “gauge the effectiveness of Diversity Edu.”
The module came under fire after it was released for being toothless: None of the information students inputted during the course of participating in the module was sent to BC.
One of the only demands the University will be taking into consideration is a speaker series on issues of race, gender, class, sexuality, inequality, and inclusion, according to the letter. The University is also looking to add authors of diverse backgrounds to bring in as keynote speakers for First Year Convocation.
Moore closed her letter by noting UGBC’s resolution only calls on the administration to take action when, in the opinion of the administration, BC needs University-wide action and engagement.
“In closing, we wish to point out that the recommendations of the UGBC Student Assembly speak only to what administrators and University leaders should do,” Moore said. “Sustained progress will require the commitment of all University community members working in good faith toward a common goal. It is the hope of University leadership that students will identify ways in which they can help ensure that all students act responsibly, and with care and respect for one another.”
Featured Image by Kaitlin Meeks / Heights Senior Staff