Students gathered for the Organizing Event Against Racism in response to racially motivated actions in the Boston College community at O’Neill Plaza on Monday at 6 p.m.
The event was organized following two separate incidents of racism on campus this weekend, including vandalism of a “Black Lives Matter” door decoration and a Snapchat of a steak and cheese sandwich that was captioned, “I like my steak and cheese like I like my slaves.”
In addition to providing a space for black students to say what is on their mind following these racially motivated actions, students are planning the Silence is STILL Violence march across campus that will begin in front of McElroy at 12:00 p.m. on Friday.
After an hour and a half of student speakers, attendants prepared posters for Friday’s demonstration and a list of demands for the administration and the rest of the Boston College community.
“It is on us to change the racist culture that exists at BC and the only way to do that is to speak out against these injustices publicly and until they are no longer tolerated on campus,” stated the Facebook event page.
The event was centered around the voices and experiences of AHANA+ students, as was reiterated both in the event page and by the student organizers welcoming students to the rally.
Approximately 20 students spoke out about their experiences with racism at BC. Their personal stories were met with cheers and calls of encouragement from the crowd.
Each of the speakers were in agreement that, while these recent racist events are upsetting, they were not shocking. All of the AHANA students who spoke, including several freshmen, have personally experienced racism in the BC community.
The majority of the stories recounted incidents of microaggressions, including being asked questions such as, “Where do you really come from?” or “How did you get your hair like that?” Other students described being questioned by a security guard at Pops on the Heights, or being asked if they liked working in BC Dining by another student when they were studying in the dining hall.
Co-director of the AHANA+ Caucus Nicole Diaz, MCAS ‘19, emceed the event and described the pressure that comes with being the “token student of color” in a classroom when discussing race and issues such as affirmative action.
Since black students represent 4% of the total undergraduate population at Boston College, they often feel isolated by what one student described as the “burden” of being asked to speak up on racial issues on behalf of all people of their race, something that is never asked of white students.
Others shared moments when they faced even more extreme racist behavior, including one student who described an incident during her first semester of college in which students threw fried chicken at her and her friends, saying “Oh, it’s the black kids, they deserve it. They want the f—ing chicken.”
Upperclassmen expressed their frustration with a cycle they have become accustomed to in regards to demonstrations at BC in recent years. Student demonstrations, including last year’s "Stand Against Hate Rally", always fail to change the reality of daily life on campus for the AHANA community.
“I stood up here freshman year and saw the same thing happen,” one of the students described. “All these people came out, but by the weekend they were quiet and the rest of the year they said nothing. Nobody came out. I love to see the new faces, but I don’t want to see this continue.”
UGBC President Akosua Achampong, MCAS ‘18, urged attendants to keep finding the strength to talk about how they feel at BC with their families, to seek out administrator office hours, and to speak directly to their professors when something racist occurs in class or when AHANA voices are left out of the curriculum.
“[Ask yourself], who do you want to be? Why are you here? How are you affecting these spaces?” said Achampong. “These things I’ve gotten out of my Jesuit classes. How do you put those into practice and hold people accountable for the things that they are teaching you? Use the expectations that you are collecting from here to change this place for the better, for yourself and then to affect the outside.”
Multiple students called on their white classmates to play their part in making the BC community safer by using their power to support AHANA+ students. They expressed disappointment that while white students are the majority on campus, they were clearly outnumbered by the AHANA students at the organizing event.
Several speakers asked the white students who did show up to be allies in checking peers who make racist jokes and participating in AHANA+ events on campus.
“All these groups, Appa, 4Boston, you go out into the community,” said Brian Paula, LSOE ‘19. “How many of you come back to BC and show us that it changed your life? Show us that you care. Be allies here.”
The students expressed anger about the university’s response to events involving racism in both the present and the past, which they consider to be inadequate. After this weekend’s incidents, the university sent out a brief statement to students that “Boston College condemns all acts of hate.”
However, in the eyes of Paula and other demonstrators, the BC administration ultimately does nothing meaningful for the AHANA community. They have continually called upon the administration to take more responsibility and greater steps to truly change life for black students on campus, and many speakers said they are “tired” after fighting for their voices to be heard so many times.
“I am 21 and I feel responsible for these students to make sure that they don’t feel the way I did at this institution, to make sure that they know that they f-ing belong here,” said one female senior student. “It shouldn’t be on our shoulders. This fight needs to go to the faculty and the people in this administration who care.”
Although Paula acknowledged the efforts of Dean of Students Tom Mogan, who was in attendance, he called out administrators who do not attend student demonstrations or make themselves available to listen to the voices of AHANA+ students on campus.
Paula specifically criticized a statement University Spokesman Jack Dunn made in an interview to The Heights in 2015, in which Dunn said, “The supposition that Boston College is an institutionally racist place is a difficult argument to make” when discussing why the administration took disciplinary action against students participating in Eradicate BC Racism demonstrations.
Such denials of the institutional racism that impact AHANA students on a daily basis on campus enforces the idea that Boston College “wasn’t built for us,” as multiple speakers mentioned at the organizing event.
Sara Elzeini, MCAS ‘18, pronounced a list of her demands for the university, which the crowd responded to with snaps and shouts of agreement.
“There needs to be punishment for racist acts, not slaps on the wrist,” Elzeini said. “There needs to be a code of conduct, just like there needs to be a code of conduct when you are drunk.”
Elzeini also called for more support for victims of racism in order to decrease the number of students who need to take mental health leaves of absence through making more funds available to University Counseling Services.
She also echoed previous speakers’ demands for a program similar to Bystander Intervention that would discuss racism in depth with all students on campus, and was critical of the social diversity core, noting that her cultural diversity requirement was fulfilled by a class that focused more on the French Revolution than contemporary issues of race and exclusion.
“Why am I not learning about what happened in this country? Educate me about what’s going on in America right now,” said Elzeini. “When you make these classes, when you make these syllabi, you make sure that a person of color is teaching about what people of color are going through.”
Beyond Friday’s march, the following offices and student organizations are offering opportunities and support for AHANA+ students and allies to continue their discussion of how to promote change on campus.
The FACES Council is distributing Black Lives Matter signs that students can use to voice their support for the community on campus. Before the march on Friday, the Council is holding an event called Academia, Love Me Back, a discussion with student activist Tiffany Martinez about equity in education.
The Thea Bowman AHANA and Intercultural Center (BAIC), will be open until 8 pm on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday. The Women’s Center is also holding Privilege (and Pancakes), “a discussion on the privileges we all hold and how to best address them,” on Monday, October 23 at 7 pm in Maloney 441.
Events this week include an tabling event for students to talk about what it means to be an effective AHANA+ ally from 12 to 3 p.m. on the O’Neill Quad on Tuesday, an “OWN IT! Our Issues, Our Spaces, Our Places” event discussing current events in the Thea Bowman AHANA Office in Maloney from 6 to 8 p.m. on Wednesday, a Night Market organized by culture clubs in the O’Neill Plaza from 6 to 9 p.m. on Thursday, and a closing ceremony in the Heights Room at 5:30 p.m. on Friday.
Eradicate Boston College Racism is planning on holding a walkout from classes at 11:40 p.m. on Wednesday in front of the Lyons Quad to continue the response and further attract administrative attention.