How To Attract Students To BC’s Many Lectures

We, the 9,110 undergraduate students of Boston College, are a fortunate few. For four years, our job is to seek truth, stretch our minds, and discover what we can do for the world. We have the privilege of pursuing these goals at a Jesuit university, meaning that we are pushed to reflect on our worldviews and educate ourselves by “observing, wondering, opening [ourselves] to what is new, allowing the reality of people and things to enter one’s conscious on its own terms,” as is stated on the BC website.

This openness is what Alissa Heller, A&S ’15, expected when she arrived at BC in 2011. Supplementing her classroom experiences, she attended as many on-campus lectures as possible. At these lectures, Heller noticed what most students who have ever attended a lecture at BC have undoubtedly observed—the lecture rooms are tiny, the seats are barely a third full, and most of the attendees are there by the will of some professor.

The speakers that come to our campus every year can bring the world to us. While classes can touch on political campaigning or the Wall Street corruption of 2008, Matt Taibbi can tell you what it felt like to experience it. More importantly, speakers have the capacity to start discussions we might not have in the classroom with people with whom we might not normally have the opportunity to talk. Instead of discussing nuclear proliferation with the same 20 students you’ve studied beside for four years, you might find yourself sitting next to an economics major who can reveal a completely new dimension of the story.

Determined to invigorate attendance for speakers, Heller set out to create a student-run speaker series. She wasn’t the only one to attempt this. When Heller arrived in 2011, Alexander Hoffarth, BC ’13, had been working on the same project for two years.

BC already invites speakers to campus, so what is the value of a student-run organization? According to Hoffarth, most speakers are brought by departments or specific groups, geared toward one line of study. None of these groups is “for students by students.”

“Boston College should be bringing lecturers to campus to talk about how they connected their passions to their life path and career—answering those questions that Fr. Himes talks about all the time,” he said.

BC argues in its strategic plan that its goal is to “produce graduates of Boston College who have a clear sense of how their talents match the world’s needs.” Speakers geared for the general undergraduate student body, talking about how they found their vocation, connecting their abilities to a meaningful career, could do just that—help match students’ talents and passions to the world’s needs.

Heller agreed, adding, “There isn’t enough open debate [on campus].” Speakers can challenge our assumptions or present controversial ideas that might not be touched upon in class, generating a campus-wide discussion instead of a classroom discussion.

“We all know what it means to be a Jesuit school, but we just don’t see it here,” Heller said. A student speaker series would encourage growth and possibly challenge ideologies.

Last year, the Thomas More Society invited Ryan T. Anderson to speak on “A Case Against Gay Marriage.” The room was crowded, with some audience members in agreement, most booing. That started a discussion. What Heller, Hoffarth, and their supporters want is more of this type of conversation.
Unfortunately, both Heller and Hoffarth received the administrative “dance,” and relayed the same story to me. “A lot of people gave me a yes, it was a good idea, but this or that administrative barrier prevented it,” Hoffarth explained.

The feeling is “Oh, great idea, we definitely need this, and then they smiled and pushed me away,” Heller said.

What is this administrative barrier? Is it money? Over $1 million is distrubted among many organizations on campus. Other Jesuit colleges have speaker series. Why don’t we?

So, go to campus speakers and participate in discussion. Let’s follow our fellow Jesuit institutions, which have implemented programs such as the Georgetown Lecture Fund. Let’s “keep them coming, all of them—the radicals, the politicians, the leaders and whoever else can be roped into speaking here. To continue the Jesuit ideal of lifelong, comprehensive learning, our minds need to be challenged, inspired, and opened,” as The Hoya, Georgetown’s student newspaper, described it.

Featured Image by Emily Fahey / Heights Editor

About Delphina Gerber-Williams 6 Articles
Delphina Gerber-Williams has been a staff Opinions columnist for The Heights since September 2014. She is a member of the Class of 2015 in the College of Arts and Science studying political science.