The over 60 students who pleaded for Boston College to take an official stance on the recent Ferguson and Eric Garner decisions in a die-in protest at the newly reopened Saint Mary's Hall last Tuesday night will be subject to disciplinary action, according to several protesters who spoke to Boston College administration at a meeting after the event.
"This is a systematic issue that goes beyond police brutality," James Kale, co-director of The Black Student Forum at BC, and A&S '16, told The Gavel. "Issues like these go from top down to bottom, and we know that's how the school works...If the top won't say anything, the bottom won't care."
Scheduled to start at the same time as a University Chorale concert in the newly renovated Saint Mary's Hall, the students, not acting through any registered organization, drew the ire of university administration.
As Tuesday's protest was wrapping up, several students voiced their complaints regarding Boston College's silence regarding the police killing of Michael Brown and Eric Garner, two unarmed black men, to Barbara Jones, the administration's Vice President of Student Affairs. The students, including James Kale and Kate Brennan, both A&S ‘15, agreed to meet with Jones and discuss their complaints further.
Last Friday, December 12, this meeting took place.
In Jones’ office, students articulated “how upsetting it was that the university sent out a practically automated email with no real emotion for the events,” according to Brennan. Until Jack Dunn, Director of the Office of News and Public Affairs publicly expressed his and the administration's disappointment in the protesters’ choice of location, Boston College had not addressed the national fervor or larger issue.
“We want someone to acknowledge what is going on in the world,” said Kale.
In a statement, UGBC offered similar words on the University's idleness on the national issues of importance.
“Students have found little solace in the tepid responses from Boston College, and are understandably voicing their frustration," the statement says. "There is no excuse for the lacking response from the university regarding the issue of racial injustice.”
Jones “specifically said that the university has never taken a stance” on national political matters, according to Brennan, who pointed to statements by other Jesuit colleges such as Georgetown University as examples of universities taking supportive action. Jones’ statement would also appear to be at odds with several of University President Father William P. Leahy, S.J.’s past declarations.
In 1997, Leahy penned a letter to students, faculty and staff, “against the background of an America legally committed to the concept of equality but often confused and troubled about the issue of race.” In it, Leahy was unequivocal in his belief that "as a Catholic and Jesuit university, as a community believing in the power and possibility of knowledge and redemption, we at Boston College must stand against racism and racist behavior.”
This stance appears to be in line with the statement signed December 8 by over 380 American Catholic theologians, including 18 from Boston College, that read in part: “Our faith proclaims that all lives matter, and therefore, Black lives – and Brown lives, the lives of all, regardless of color – must matter, too."
Signatories, including Father Mark S. Massa, S.J., the Dean of BC’s School of Theology and Ministry, pledged “to continue listening to, praying for, and even joining in our streets with those struggling for justice through nonviolent protests and peaceful acts of civil disobedience."
UGBC expressed solidarity with the protesters, but noted BC's willingness to hold a public event in O'Neill Plaza prior to the die-in at St. Mary's Hall.
"We respectfully disagree with Boston College's decision to consider disciplinary action against students staged in the die-in," UGBC's statement said. "That being said, it is important to acknowledge the steps that certain administrators have taken to support students in wake of the indictment results."
The statement said that BC officials altered their proposed event in O'Neill Plaza when they realized that student organizers had already planned a forum that evening, and "hosted a simple yet powerful prayer service in O'Neill Plaza instead."
Kale and Danny De Leon, A&S ’15, confirmed that the university does indeed plan to punish those confirmed to be present at Tuesday’s protest. Boston College Police Detective Sergeant David Flaherty was seen taking individual photos of students prone on the floor, often with Eric Garner’s last words “I Can’t Breathe” written on tape covering their mouths.
De Leon told the Heights that after listening to the students speak for close to an hour, Jones said, “I just wanted you guys to know that anybody who participated in this demonstration that BCPD has pictures of everyone and everyone is subject to disciplinary action.”
The threat of punishment further dismays students of color who feel that they are “affected by this, emotionally and psychologically,” says Kale, who maintained that black representation on campus “is a widespread problem at BC.” Boston College is currently 8th worst in the entire country in terms of different race and class interaction, according to findings released by the Princeton Review.
In response to these recent events, UGBC “will continue to work on the initiatives that aim to address racial injustice on campus,” and promised to be a part of any larger dialogue of race and student rights.
Regardless of whether or not the university follows through on its promise to punish him, Kale remains positive.
“Alumni are getting involved, faculty are getting involved, the Sociology and English departments are getting involved, and more people on campus are speaking out," he said. "So I am hopeful, because I want to be hopeful in my institution.”
Grace Denny, Anthony Golden and Evan Goldstein contributed to this report.