Ojurongbe Discusses University’s Role in Improving Black Student Experience Omolayo Ojurongbe, Black Student Forum president and MCAS '19, delves into the nuances of her experiences at BC and her expectations of administrators going forward.

This article is a part of a larger feature series titled Taking the Temperature of Diversity and Inclusivity at BC in 2018

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oston College professor Régine Jean-Charles characterized what Silence is Still Violence should be over a year ago: “A movement, not a moment.”

Yet, with the protests surrounding racist incidents on campus a year ago beginning to fade in the rearview mirror, it’s not clear to Omolayo Ojurongbe, president of Black Student Forum (BSF) and MCAS ’19, that Boston College is taking the necessary steps as a community to ensure that Silence is Still Violence is anything but a moment.

“There’s certain things that we’ve definitely overcome and have changed over the last 40, 60 years, but there are things that have remained stagnant that needs to continue to be addressed,” she said.

She said she believes her BC experience hasn’t been significantly affected by the events of the last year. Neither the protests nor DiversityEdu materially changed the lack of comfort she feels on campus.

Part of the problem in Ojurongbe’s opinion is that BC is pushing the idea that this campus has always been an inclusive place for marginalized communities on campus.

“BC has had a reputation for not being welcoming to marginalized communities,” she said. “I don’t know how long it’s going to take but we need to get to a place where all students feel welcome at the University.

“Under this guise of post-racialism we are a progressive, color-blind institution—but we’re not that, at all, and you can see that from the student experience, especially for black students.”

BC has had a reputation for not being welcoming to marginalized communities. I don’t know how long it’s going to take but we need to get to a place where all students feel welcome at the University. Omolayo Ojurongbe, president of Black Student Forum and MCAS '19

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he chalks much of this up to a communication problem. To her, the primary reason there is strain between communities of color on campus and administrators is that students don’t believe the administration is ready to admit that some marginalized communities’ feeling like they can’t be themselves on campus is a serious issue.

“[Administrators] don’t acknowledge the fact that racism occurs on campus, they don’t acknowledge the fact that students of color don’t feel comfortable or welcome in a lot of spaces here at BC, and so once they realize that and once they acknowledge that, I feel like students will feel a little more receptive towards making some form of change,” Ojurongbe said.

Administrators have expressed confusion about this sentiment, specifically after the “die-in” took place last month. They felt that with the creation of DiversityEdu and the upcoming Student Experience Survey, the University is working to try to bridge the gaps in understanding between it and students of different backgrounds by providing resources and listening to student requests. Interim Vice President of Student Affairs Joy Moore urged students to reach out to administrators at BC in order to maintain a dialogue and create progress.

Ojurongbe said she doesn’t feel that the administration is pushing to make tangible change within the inherent nature of the community—to improve spaces to make it easier for students of color to be themselves on campus without feeling judged.

Ojurongbe blames the lack of transparency and conversation on campus for why students at BC have been placed in in a position where they fear difficult conversations surrounding inclusivity on campus. Certain people engage in such conversations, but campus-wide the interest and concentration on the matter is not there, according to Ojurongbe.

“These issues are intersectional to our day-to-day lives,” she said. “BC needs to understand that not only are you doing a disservice to people of color, but you’re doing a disservice to white people as well. The fact that you’re not having these conversations or it’s not that accessible is doing a disservice to you because you’re going to graduate from BC and then you’re going to enter a job force where you’re interacting with a … wide range of people.

[Administrators] don’t acknowledge the fact that racism occurs on campus, they don’t acknowledge the fact that students of color don’t feel comfortable or welcome in a lot of spaces here at BC, and so once they realize that and once they acknowledge that, I feel like students will feel a little more receptive towards making some form of change. Omolayo Ojurongbe, president of Black Student Forum and MCAS '19

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espect and unity among marginalized populations on campus is required, according to Ojurongbe, if any progress is going to made campus-wide between marginalized communities and those in the majority. For instance, white students on campus lack the experiential elements of understanding the students of color on campus have, specifically in regards to dealing with microaggressions, according to Ojurongbe.

“I think for a lot of black students it’s hard to get everyone’s experience and everyone’s voice to be heard, because everyone’s experience is different, right?” she said. “Intersectionality is key: My experience as a black woman on campus is different than a black man’s on campus. So class, gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, it comes together to make everyone’s experience different.

“So to be the leader of BSF, it’s very important for me to understand or get as many voices to be heard and understand how a freshman’s experience is different than a senior’s experience.”

By establishing a stronger foundation which can bring together the different communities of color on campus, there will be more power behind leaders’ words when they do go to administrators with requests for change, according to Ojurongbe. She’s quick to add that this isn’t supposed to be an attack on the administration on the part of students of color—it’s a building block for communities of color so that groups can come together and more clearly show the BC administration how something is wrong for a wide range of students.

Along those lines, DiversityEdu was one of those student requests for change, and Ojurongbe endorsed the module’s sentiment: It was intended to start the conversation communities of color are craving.

Ojurongbe said she believed there was too much of a performative aspect to DiversityEdu: With no grade, no stopping points, and no checks beyond the honor system to hold students who take the module accountable, it works against the initial sentiment behind the module, she said. Ojurongbe saw the module more as the administration trying to show it was satisfying student demands rather than digging deeper to try to incite dialogue around inclusivity issues on campus.

Ojurongbe also expressed her disappointment in not seeing BC faculty, students, and administrators as a part of the module. BC chose to contract an outside company to build the module in the image of other diversity modules other universities have used. Ojurongbe said she believed there was another layer that the module could’ve dug into. By adding an in person aspect to DiversityEdu, creating a module both BC students and professors took, grading the module, or gearing cultural diversity classes that fulfill the core requirement toward issues of diversity that are covered in the DiversityEdu module, Ojurongbe said she believed the project could have affected significantly greater change on campus.

My experience as a black woman on campus is different than a black man’s on campus. So class, gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, it comes together to make everyone’s experience different. So to be the leader of BSF, it’s very important for me to understand or get as many voices to be heard and understand how a freshman’s experience is different than a senior’s experience. Omolayo Ojurongbe, president of Black Student Forum and MCAS '19

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n the end, she hopes that the 2019 edition will be an improvement—BC has already begun putting together a task force to work on DiversityEdu according to multiple sources.

Ojurongbe called on University President Rev. William P. Leahy, S.J., to speak out on these issues, rather than relying on vice presidents or University Spokesman Jack Dunn. She said that not seeing the public face of the University talking about the issues that matter most to communities of color leaves those communities with a feeling of abandonment.

“If you truly believe in men and women for others, act like that,” Ojurongbe said. “They’re not living by those Jesuit values that they want us to receive—they’re not even living up to them themselves. It’s unfortunate because they are doing a disservice to students of color and white students as well—not giving them the tools to be a true man, woman, person for other people.”

Featured Image Courtesy of Omolayo Ojurongbe

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About Jack Goldman

Jack Goldman is the news editor for The Heights. Once upon a time, he was one of the copy editors. Through heavy duty recent investigative reporting, he recently fell back in love with lime popsicles and baked barbecue Lays chips. Don't follow him on Twitter @the_manofgold, but do email him: [email protected]