Piercey Graduates but Leaves BC Something to Lean On Reed Piercey, MCAS '19, transplants the Samaritans hotline phone room to BC

He spent five years in California, the next four in Paris, then found himself on a plane back home to Palo Alto—all before the age of 10. Sure, spending his formative years in Europe never gave him the quintessential American childhood—“pickup basketball still terrifies me”—but for Reed Piercey, MCAS ’19, his compelling childhood, which started him on his eventual path toward international politics, was anything but a crutch.

As Piercey prepares to depart for Southern China with the Peace Corps on June 15, he’s begun to reflect upon the past four years at Boston College, from Welcome Week to Commencement.

“Coming into freshman year, [I thought] I had finished growing and I knew who I was and I was set,” he said. “As any senior would tell you, that’s very mistaken.”

From initially joining the Undergraduate Leadership Academy (ULA) to becoming the president of UGBC, Piercey’s, getting rejected from 4Boston his freshman year and creating a BC branch of the undergraduate peer support network Lean on Me his senior year, his imprint has been palpable. But Piercey hasn’t always been so comfortable in a position of leadership. As a shy kid, he avoided stepping out of his comfort zone.

At the age of 5, his parents moved to Paris, forcing the young introvert to adapt to a new culture. At 9 years old, when he moved once again—this time back to his home state of California—he found it equally difficult to readjust to the American life he had left behind. It wasn’t until he attended Bellarmine College Preparatory for high school that he began to become more social.

Though Piercey didn’t grow up religious, he chose to attend Bellarmine, an all-boys Jesuit school, because of its emphasis on service. Piercey and his students completed service in the hours before and after school for their surrounding community. Bellarmine taught Piercey to be more outgoing when he needed to be. The confidence he built in high school eventually led to him becoming the vice president of the Bellarmine student body.

“In high school I had [gone abroad] on service trips where you go and observe poverty,” he said. “They were pretty straight up about the fact that you weren’t going to fix it, you were just there to witness injustice and hopefully change your opinion on it.” Reed Piercey, MCAS '19

When it came time to choose a college, his interest continuing a Jesuit education drove Piercey look at BC. The University’s political science program motivated him to apply, and when he received the Presidential Scholarship, Piercey was all in.

Like other incoming students, Piercey’s first year was a maze of uncertainty speckled with moments of clarity. Even though he perused other clubs and joined ULA, Piercey recalls the process of applying—and initially getting rejected from—4Boston as one of the most important moments of his four years.

4Boston’s selective application process turns away a number of first-year students. While students who are rejected from the club typically leave their hope to join 4Boston on the back burner, Piercey took matters into his own hands. Hopeful that he would join a small group of 10 to 15 students in a placement at Samaritans, a suicide hotline in downtown Boston, Piercey decided to apply directly to the organization after being rejected from 4Boston. His interest in helping at Samaritans sprung from his desire to try to provide a different kind of service than he did in high school.

“In high school I had [gone abroad] on service trips where you go and observe poverty,” he said. “They were pretty straight up about the fact that you weren’t going to fix it, you were just there to witness injustice and hopefully change your opinion on it.”

Piercey believes this type of service is useful in hopefully debunking people’s previous assumptions, but he didn’t think it was effective for him to continue this kind of service. Instead, he wanted a more hands-on experience in a closer environment. Samaritans provided him the opportunity to commit to service long term and develop stronger relationships with the people he was working among. Piercey began his training for Samaritans in January of his freshman year.

Trained in how to deal with suicide ideation and improved compassion, among other subjects, Piercey’s experience was unique. Tucked away in a room in downtown Boston for hours, Piercey had only himself to talk to about what he heard on the other end of the phone line.

“That made it a lot harder to process the types of things I was hearing and interacting with,” he said. “I didn’t have a great experience at first because I didn’t really know how to talk through what was going on.”

Piercey knew the work he was doing was important, not only for individuals who called the hotline, but also for himself. His interest in tackling mental health issues grew significantly. In his sophomore year, Piercey applied to 4Boston again, this time securing a spot in a placement. With a support group to lean on, Piercey continued working at Samaritans. Through the club BC Talks, he gave a presentation at his sophomore year about the difference between empathy and sympathy, and eventually went on to run for the Samaritans Boston Marathon team his sophomore and junior years.

“I feel pretty relieved to have passed on the torch to [Michael Osaghae, UGBC president and MCAS ’20, and Tiffany Brooks, UGBC vice president and MCAS ’21]. Not necessarily because I didn’t find it fulfilling in a lot of ways, but a year of that really wears you down.”
Reed Piercey, MCAS '19

While his comfort in the Samaritans phone room grew, an idea began to form in Piercey’s mind—transplanting this phone room to BC. Initially, Piercey wanted to start an in-person peer counseling service, but after running the idea by a couple of other students in UGBC, he was discouraged from pursuing that endeavor. The previous year, Tom Downing, BC 18, had been the Assistant Director of Mental Health Programming in UGBC. Downing had attempted to start something similar, without success. Lines became blurred, and students who used the service began reaching out to to their peer counselors when they were off the clock. Piercey admits that as college students, it’s hard to stop the students from bonding outside of the constraints of the service.

Piercey shifted gears to proposing a call and text hotline that students could use at at any time rather than an in-person peer counseling service. With his experience at Samaritans under his belt, Piercey decided to press forward and make this idea come to fruition.

The path to success for this project was a slow climb, a long and arduous uphill battle. Companies that provided call and text hotlines were out of the price range for the independent club that Piercey imagined without a corporate entity supporting it. A breakthrough came when of one of Piercey’s supervisors at Samaritans told him about a student program at MIT called Lean on Me, which had been created due to an increase in suicides at MIT between 2014 and 2015.

During MIT’s annual hackathon a few students created an early version of the texting platform that they then used for the program. When Piercey reached out to the MIT students, they told him they were looking to expand it to other schools. So, together they came up with a plan to start a chapter at BC. What Piercey didn’t realize was the pain the administrative approval process would provide. Piercey succeeded at passing a resolution in the Student Assembly of UGBC, but that was only the beginning. It then had to be approved by the Office of Student Involvement, the Dean of Students, and then go through BC’s legal adviser.

“That process ended up taking almost two years from the day that I actually passed the resolution,” he said.

After two years of hard work, both from on campus and abroad in Beijing, Piercey’s resolution that was passed in April of 2017 was finally implemented this past January.

“When it finally launched at the beginning of this semester, that was really gratifying because it had been a long time coming for me and the other three e-board members who were still involved,” he said. “It’s gotten a really good response so far.”

While Lean on Me was ruminating in the background for nearly two years, Piercey continued to work his way up in UGBC, eventually stepping into the role of president for the 2018-19 academic year. But after a year of working to implement his platform ideals, he finally has the time to take a step back and reflect upon his term.

“I feel pretty relieved to have passed on the torch to [Michael Osaghae, UGBC president and MCAS ’20, and Tiffany Brooks, UGBC vice president and MCAS ’21],” he said, chuckling. “Not necessarily because I didn’t find it fulfilling in a lot of ways, but a year of that really wears you down.”

Like the UGBC presidents before him, Piercey knew that it was impossible to fulfill all of the  proposals on his platform, especially considering that they’re impractically all-encompassing. An academic year is barely enough time for a president to check even four or five projects off their list, much less all of them, Piercey explained.

“I think Reed is someone that has always been really oriented towards using his voice as a conduit to advocate for and serve others,” she said. “I think he’s very passionate about using his interpersonal skills and his ability to connect with people in order to really strike at the heart of how he could best be serving other people.” Lauren Schadt, MCAS '20

For Piercey, the hardest thing to accept was that a lot of the decisions surrounding the changes he wanted to make depended on people who outranked him. While administrators expect a certain amount of work from the students in UGBC, they also shoot down the majority of the proposals that said hard work produces. It’s a paradox that students have a hard time wrapping their heads around.

“The contradiction is that UGBC isn’t endowed with a lot of power to compel institutional change,” he said. “So, you put in all this work because the nature of your position demands it, but then you find the administration has the power to still disregard whatever parts of that they want.”

Piercey’s realistic outlook on his term shouldn’t be confused for bitterness, he clarifies. For him, UGBC is integral to campus life, as it creates small but important changes over time. Along with the smaller projects he’s proud of, like heated bus stops and composting stations, he highlights the broader and more long-term projects that he’s seen either completed, like Lean on Me, or moved forward, like an LGBTQ+ resource center. If Lean on Me showed anything to Piercey, it was that though change from within is often an uphill battle, perseverance pays off. This attitude has permeated into his UGBC peers’ work ethic, explains Lauren Schadt, MCAS ’20. This year, Schadt was the Director of Women and Gender Planning under the Student Initiatives branch.

“I think Reed is someone that has always been really oriented towards using his voice as a conduit to advocate for and serve others,” she said. “I think he’s very passionate about using his interpersonal skills and his ability to connect with people in order to really strike at the heart of how he could best be serving other people.”

As he passes on the presidency to Osaghae, Piercey recognizes the flaws of the current student government. But, he’s confident that UGBC will continue on an upward slope.

“My greatest hope for UGBC, and I guess for the institution as a whole, because I don’t think a lot of UGBC’s problems originate with the organization itself, is that we can increase the opportunities for shared governance at BC,” he said. “I think that would be a huge step forward.”

And forward he moves. As experiences from youth, high school, and college culminate, Piercey is following his path to the Peace Corps—more specifically, to Southern China, as a college English teacher. Piercey will spend three months learning how to build a curriculum before receiving his city assignment. While the fact that he won’t be back in the States until 2021 is daunting, Piercey’s never had any hesitations about going through with the Peace Corps.

Piercey’s appreciation for his time on UGBC has led him to ultimately realize that his place is not in the domestic political sphere—rather, he hopes to pursue a career in international politics. Despite recognizing that, by serving on UGBC, he’s experienced many levels of conflict, involving both the administration and the students, Piercey cherishes what BC has given him.

“I’m so grateful for the experiences I’ve had here, the people I’ve met, and the administrators that really do care about the student body,” he said. “[The ones] that do the most they can with their positions to create change.”

Featured Image by Maggie DiPatri / Heights Editor

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