Opinion: De-Marginalizing the Student Voice

“Boston College fulfills this mission with a deep concern for all members of its community, with a recognition of the important contribution a diverse student body, faculty and staff can offer…”

This excerpt of Boston College’s mission statement appears to place great value on the contribution of student voices to the University. Yet, the stories of students told at the December 5 #RightsOnTheHeights Rally paint a picture that stands in stark contrast to the one BC tries to perpetuate.

Over and over again stories of censorship, suppression, and administrative pressure echoed throughout O’Neill Plaza. Their stories served as testaments to bolster the need for greater free speech on campus. But what exactly is the importance of greater free speech for students? Why is this need so urgent? In order to answer these questions, we must first think about the purpose of a university, and the role students play within it.

Fr. Ignacio Ellacuria SJ, a martyr of the Salvadoran Civil War, posed that a university “must be concerned with the social reality--precisely because a university is inescapably a social force: it must transform and enlighten the society in which it lives.”

Here at Boston College, we are encouraged as students to internalize the social realities of the world around us. We go into low-income neighborhoods to mentor students, serve hot meals at the local homeless shelter, and even travel across the globe to experience the lives of those that are too burdensome to imagine. Sent out to gain this empirical experience, we return insatiable, ready to “Set the World Aflame” and go a step further than service via advocacy and solidarity.

What’s more logical than to start at the very place we call home, the place that educates us to measure our success in relation to how we advocate for the marginalized, the place that prides itself on producing “Men and Women for Others”? Right? Wrong.

Anthony Golden/Gavel Media

Anthony Golden/Gavel Media

Recent events on campus are indicative of just that hypocrisy. Students are rejected from forming registered student organizations with particular justice-oriented aims, administrators tell students they are not allowed to use speakers at a rally for free speech, police officers initially prevent students from participating in a die-in, and the Executive Vice-President of the Undergraduate Government of Boston College – the symbolic embodiment of the voice of BC students - is ostensibly pressured into leaving his role.

Amongst all of this, we are left to dissect where the voices of students lie, and how the administration views them. It has become quite clear through witnessing many of these events that the student voice generally lies on the side of justice – whether that be racial, climate, economic, or societal as a whole.   Administrative actions on the other hand, are suggestive of their over-valuation of order.

A prime example of this is Vice President for Student Affairs Barbara Jones'  statement on the die-in.

“The disruption last night was not a permitted event,” she said in an email to The Heights. “That it happened in St. Mary’s, the home of the Jesuits, is completely unacceptable.”

It is completely antithetical to our values as a Jesuit university, to call a peaceful protest of injustice, and a representation of student voice a “disruption.” Calling a protest of injustice a “disruption” presupposes that it is then normal to accept injustice – which may perhaps be all too true for BC as an institution.

Calling a physical manifestation of student voices a “disruption” is predicated on the fact that it is normal to not hear out student voices. Further, if one considers this a disruption because of the lack of a permit the question must be asked: What type of society do we live in where injustice is permitted, and advocating for justice is not? What type of school do we attend where students must be “permitted” to voice their frustrations?

Certainly not one aligned with Jesuit, Catholic values. Jesus did not get “permission” before he flipped over tables at temple, nor was he punished for not doing so. He did it to retain the sanctity of the temple, which is exactly what students did when they brought recognition of racial injustice to St. Mary’s Hall whilst the administration ignored it. Students want to see a manifestation of our Jesuit ideals in the way BC operates, not just the way it instructs.

If the administration does whole-heartedly see this or any other demonstration of student voice as a “disruption,” they should not be questioning how to bring order to campus. Rather, they should be asking themselves what conditions present at our university lead students to believe that the only way their voices can be heard are by lying down on the ground for two hours at the re-opening of a new building or holding a rally on O’Neill Plaza.

From the time of Darren Wilson’s non-indictment until the last day of classes, 107 tweets have been posted to BC’s twitter account. Out of those, only 6 are in relation to racial issues plaguing the U.S. – and all 6 are promotional, touting BC professors for appearing in the media. If BC is seeking more retweets, perhaps they should make a statement in solidarity with student voices that advocate for a just society as Georgetown University did, or like Fr. Leahy’s from 1997.Hoyas

Five days after students at Georgetown University held a die-in, President DeGioia released a statement addressing racial injustices. Today, five days after a die-in on our own campus the administration remains silent, with the exception of a statement rebuking students for demonstrating their voices, and a promise to discipline students involved. How can we as students “Be More” if the administration will not let us be?

We as students should also be asking ourselves about our own contributions to these conditions. The student voice cannot only be addressed by the administration when it brings disorder to BC. The concerns students raise about societal issues and those within our community must be addressed proactively, not only after the student voice and demonstrations bring attention to them.

Student voices must stop being viewed as a liability to the image of the University, only to turn into an asset with the maturation of our salaries and donation ability as alumni. Student voices are not marginal to the university. We are intrinsic.

To say that the student voice, “having a place at the table isn’t a right, it’s a privilege,” as was told to former UGBC vice president Chris Marchese by administrators in the Office of Student Involvement, is inherently wrong. The table is there because of us, to educate us, to support us, with the aim of transforming society into a more just one. The University is first and foremost just that—a university, not a business with a pristine image that needs to be marketed with one promotional video after another. BC should be an agent of change, not an agent of money-making and grandeur. It should seek the just society it promotes on campus and globally first off, and only then will order follow. The administration alone at the table is not BC. We are BC.

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