Dear Fr. Leahy,
I am a freshman here at Boston College who graduated from Creighton Prep, a Jesuit school in Omaha, Nebraska. I recently received an invitation to a lunch, hosted by you, exclusively for students from Iowa and Nebraska which continues Fr. William B. Neenan’s tradition of hosting lunches for students from certain states. I made a conscious decision to not attend as a mode of political dissent. This letter explains my reasoning.
Fr. Neenan, from what I gather from online and personal sources, was a man of great character. While serving as professor, Academic Dean, Vice President, and Special Assistant to the President over his illustrious career at BC, he set an example for the type of leader that Boston College needs, one who is in the midst of and is an active ally to students struggling with various issues on campus. Fr. Neenan founded the regional lunches as an opportunity for students to come together in friendship. His presence at these lunches demonstrated concern for students and made these lunches very special for attendants. Fr. Neenan’s genuine desire to get to know students and his physical and emotional presence stand in stark contrast to today’s leadership. This leads me to doubt whether this lunch would have provided me with a genuine platform to voice my concerns about lack of leadership on pressing issues, or if it would have merely been a place requiring a facade of politeness that would distract from meaningful, desperately-needed conversation.
I am a member of Climate Justice at Boston College. This means that I, along with others who share concerns regarding social justice on campus, am well aware of your past silence to the missions and actions of many social justice groups on campus. Silence is antithetical to the success of the divestment movement, yet it composes a majority of the responses to divestment campaigns nationwide. However, there have also been victories, and these came only through public action and mobilization. My absence from this event is intended as a public action that will mobilize students to recognize the pervasive silence regarding this urgent concern.
The fact that you are more willing to engage with students from your home state than with students practicing activism that reflects your Jesuit ideals perplexes me. Your silence and preemptive refusal to ever consider divesting has been clear ever since your one and only meeting with CJBC. The significance of your inaction is further heightened by, as Pope Francis described, the disproportionate effects of climate change on poorer nations composed primarily of people of color. Because of the social nature of this crisis, CJBC represents far more than the interests of a few select students. It represents the desires of many people worldwide who suffer because of the support of the fossil fuel industry shown by institutions like Boston College. Attending this luncheon and tolerating apathy out of politeness would have been ineffective and potentially harmful to the progress of this universally-impactful mission. My belief in the moral urgency of divestment drives me to action, and when a setting for intelligent conversation is lacking, I am driven to take a political stance against that unhealthy environment. If I were to have attended and not been given the opportunity to speak on those issues most central to my identity, I would have been dishonest to myself and inauthentic to my vocation as an environmentally-conscious student-activist.
This open letter is, therefore, the most effective way I can find of representing the needs of so many of our brothers and sisters in Christ. This open letter is a tribute to Fr. Neenan’s legacy, who placed love of people above all monetary pursuits. This open letter is a reminder of your duty first as servant to the Jesuit ideal of “men and women for others” and only second as protector of the endowment. And this open letter is an explanation for why I was absent from your Iowa/Nebraska Lunch: because your silence, Fr. Leahy, compelled me to vocalize my concerns through mediums that would actually legitimize and value, not condemn and criticize, my deep-seated beliefs.
Aaron Salzman, Class of 2020