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At 12:00 p.m. on Thursday, November 14, I was sitting in a class on Latin American essays. I pulled nervously at the sleeve of my black sweater, my mind constructing an elaborate “Pro-Cons” list of walking out of class in fifteen minutes.
At 12:10, I could no longer sit still. My mind was loud. In an attempt to silence it, I focused on the class discussion, which covered the historical oppression of Latin American cultures and societies.
At 12:14, we were in the middle of a discussion on the disproportionate representation of Latin American films in Western cinema compared to the predominance of Western films in Latin American cinema. The ironies became overwhelming.
At 12:15, I stood up, and walked to O’Neill Plaza.
As I stood with students and professors on the wet grass outside of the library, I listened as black students stood up and announced how underrepresented they feel on BC’s campus. I listened as they spoke of how they feel alienated, ostracized and completely out of place. I listened as they shared stories of BC professors telling them that they do not belong here.
I stood still as the students’ narratives stitched together a BC saturated in racism and dripping with intolerance–a BC that my white privilege had made invisible to me.
If I had not walked out of class, I would not know that this version of BC exists. White privilege is having the choice to opt in or out of conversations about race. White privilege is knowing that when I walked to and walked away from O’Neill Plaza, I had nothing to lose. My inclusion on this campus is not contingent on walkouts. My representation does not depend on change.
But, BC demands more than the “I” perspective.
At BC, we are supposed to be “men and women for others.” To achieve this, we give up sleep, free time and breaks with our families. We spend hours on essays for Arrupe applications. We spend hours in interviews for 4Boston and PULSE placements. We spend weeks in Appalachia in the spring and weeks in Jamaica in the summer. We take the T for two hours each way to our placements. We take plane rides over oceans and continents.
We cry when we get rejected from programs. We give up showers for a week because the places we stay and serve are removed from the luxury of running water. We share the worst and best parts of ourselves with strangers who turn into best friends.
We go so far--literally, emotionally, financially, and spiritually--to live as men and women for others.
Why, then, are we so resistant, so unwilling and so damn averse to live as men and women for each other?
We will travel to Mexico and listen to Mexicans share stories of systemic oppression, but we will not walk to O’Neill Plaza to hear black students do the same.
When we hear heartbreaking stories about mistreatments of the people who we serve at our service placements in Boston, we raise awareness about mass incarceration and veteran homelessness. When we encounter stories of heartbreak and mistreatment of black students on BC’s campus, we quickly look for ways to undermine the validity of our peers’ experiences, to mock them with racist Yik-Yak posts, to argue that racial sensitivity most negatively affects white students.
Perhaps we do not deny the stories of the historic and systematic marginalization of poor populations in Latin America because when we are there, we feel the effects of not having running water, of feeling unsafe in the streets and of not having adequate shelter.
But if we think critically of our experiences at BC, our peers’ stories, too, become undeniable. According to the Office of Institutional Diversity, in 2015 only 8 of MCAS’s 484 full-time professors were black. Between CSOM, LSOE and CSON, there are only five full-time black professors. According to Boston College Facts, only 4% of students identify as black.
To tell our black peers that their feelings of underrepresentation are unfounded and unreasonable is to ignore data. It is to further alienate them. It is to stifle their struggle with white privilege. To tell our black peers that their feelings of exclusion are unfounded and unreasonable is to not listen to our peers. It is to ignore them. It is to be unwilling to shed our obscuring lenses.
We are so quick to compartmentalize. We are quick to draw a line between academic discussions and civil action, between free speech and political correctness, between others and each other.We confine an intellectual discussion about underrepresentation of Latin American films in Western society to the classroom. We deny its connection to a wider narrative about racism today. We accept that the Political Science Department--until this year--had not had a position for a professor whose expertise is African Politics. We debate and discuss, but we never listen and learn.
Black students at BC deserve not just to be heard, but to be heard by classmates who give the effort and energy to take in what they say, wrestle with it, empathize and fight to make this a home for all students. We are all Eagles. We have to be in this together.
For here all are one.