Students Assemble in O'Neill Plaza for #RightsOnTheHeights

Over 200 students gathered in front of O'Neill Library on December 5 demanding that Boston College administration recognize students' free speech rights and the ability to organize around issues such as fossil fuel divestment, clothing from sweatshops, student body diversity and sexual health on campus.

Representatives from  Climate Justice at Boston College, the Social Justice Coalition, the Haitian Association of Boston CollegeBC United Students Against Sweatshops and the College Democrats of Boston College addressed the crowd of undergraduates, grad students, faculty and alumni as a Boston College police officer observed the demonstration.

"Are we ready for change?" shouted Lakeisha St. Joy, A&S '15, a member of the Haitian Association of Boston College.

"Yeah!" shouted the crowd as it returned her enthusiasm, before St. Joy criticized Boston College for the visible lack of racial and ethnic diversity, on a campus in which there is a single office named after a person of color and few faculty of color.

"It is a shame that upon completion my fours years I will have only had three black professors. It is a shame those three rank a high amount because many have had not one black professor," continued St. Joy, addressing the fact that of BC's faculty, roughly 80% are white.

Gavel Media

Emily Akin / Gavel Media

Speakers frequently criticized the role of college administration through the rally, including members of the Social Justice Coalition, a newly formed unregistered student group that unites several of the aforementioned organizations. Nate Osborne, A&S '16 and President of SJC, told The Gavel, "The issue of free speech and expression on college campuses is so fundamental to student empowerment and participation that we expect the administration to hear our voices and understand that the values we represent must become priorities of the school."

This comes as the university continues to face criticism for its treatment of student groups, both recognized and unrecognized, and for the forced resignation of former UGBC Vice President Chris Marchese.

Marchese, A&s ’15, received pushback from the Office of Student Involvement, who disapproved of his and UGBC's support for more student representation in administrative decision-making processes. An unnamed OSI staff member told Marchese “having a seat at the table isn’t a right, it’s a privilege. You don’t have to be here.”

Despite his resignation, the former UGBC VP expressed his solidarity with #RightsOnTheHeights, telling The Gavel, "It was great to see and hear students share their passions with a larger audience. It has been said that BC students are apathetic, but events like this one prove otherwise."

Alyssa Florack, A&S '17, speaking on behalf of Climate Justice at Boston College, addressed the crowd and spoke of Climate Justice's difficulties in having its message of fossil fuel divestment heard on campus, even though Pope Francis has spoken several times on the importance of addressing global warming.

"Climate justice is no longer about being able to swim in your local river or buying a Prius," Pope said. "It’s about combating global social injustice. To us, it feels like common sense to see these Catholic ideals in the climate justice movement."

Father Raymond Helmick, S.J., declared his solidarity with Florack and Climate Justice at Boston College's mission, calling on the university to put its considerable resources to use and lead on this issue.

"I've worked with many conflicts over many years," said Helmick, "but this is truly more important than any of them."

Emily Akin/Gavel Media

Emily Akin / Gavel Media

Members of BC United Students Against Sweatshops criticized the university for selling branded apparel that is made in exploitative conditions, and asking how the university can repeat the mission of "Men and Women for Others" when it does not put this edict into practice.

"BC chooses to measure its success by the increase of its endowment, and the sustainability of its manicured image, in an antithetical way of what it instructs us," said Anthony Golden, CSOM '17 and a member of The Gavel, to the crowd.

Photo courtesy of Facebook/Heeyoung Leem

Photo courtesy of Facebook / Heeyoung Leem

Evan Goldstein, A&S '15 and also a member of The Gavel, speaking on behalf of the College Democrats of Boston College, continued the rally.

"BC isn't a Jesuit school all the time," Goldstein argued. On issues such as LGBT rights or sexual health, the institution points to Catholic doctrine, but when it comes to the issue of climate change, Goldstein pointed out that the university is "noticeably silent," despite the Pope's moral and theological case for fighting global warming.

"Being for the marginalized means taking sides, and too often recently, BC has found itself on the wrong side of important issues," Goldstein said, to cheers from the crowd. He went on to emphasize that students have a duty as "men and women for others" to take "the side of the oppressed, whether they're on our campus, or in Ferguson or in Palestine."

Friday's demonstration also coincided with the submission of UGBC's proposal to revise the student guide and bolster the rights of unrecognized student groups, including Climate Justice at Boston College. Florack, Golden and Goldstein expressed their group's support for UGBC's proposal.

"If it’s approved, Climate Justice's work on campus will finally be about talking to people about the facts and the social injustice of climate change instead of running around campus trying to find an available classroom to have a meeting in," Florack said.

Gavel Media  Former UGBC President Chris Marchese

Emily Akin / Gavel Media
Former UGBC Vice President Chris Marchese

One of the rally's organizers, Sissi Lui, A&S '17,  emphasized "this is only the start. The very start to actual change," promising more action to come.

After Tuesday's rally, Marchese was hopeful for the future and looked forward to this change to come.

"I'm sure I sound corny, but I walked away inspired," he said.

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