As Boston College President William Leahy, S.J. , delivered remarks at the annual Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony at O’Neill Plaza on Tuesday night, he was met with a silent demonstration of graduate and undergraduate students critical of what they consider to be the administration’s silence on multiple issues impacting the university community.
The Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony, organized by the Campus Activities Board (CAB), is an annual celebration of the holiday season that includes music, games, trivia, free hot cocoa, winter giveaways, and performances from various student groups.
After two hours of student performances, Fr. Leahy took the stage at 6 p.m. for a brief statement before lighting the tree.
“As we gather here tonight in this plaza in front of O’Neill, one of the things that I hope we do is think about how we have been blessed, and also that we are called to be people who bring light to the world — that we bring our gifts, our hopes, and our dreams, and that we share those,” said Fr. Leahy. “I invite you to take a look to our left and consider how we can be, in the next month as we move toward Christmas, a light to the world.”
As Fr. Leahy spoke, approximately twenty graduate and undergraduate students silently protested by holding up signs and wearing tape over their mouths. Messages on their signs included, “Would Jesus have stayed silent?” and “No such thing as neutrality— #BCTakeAStand.”
Among the demonstrators were members of the Boston College Graduate Employee Union - UAW (BCGEU-UAW), which became the official representative of graduate student workers at BC following an election in September.
Although the majority of graduate students voted in favor of unionization, the BC administration has appealed the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) decision that guarantees the right of graduate student workers to unionize.
“We successfully had an election this year, so the university is supposed to recognize us and come to the bargaining table, but thus far they have refused to do so,” said graduate student worker Bryn Spielvogel.
“For that reason, it seemed important to get the attention of the university in some way, to tell them that we are not going away,” continued Spielvogel. “There are a lot of other issues that the administration has stayed silent on that are very important to address. When we have the opportunity to see the president, who oftentimes is not visible on campus, it means that we need to try to get his attention.”
According to Spielvogel, the demonstrators were calling for action on a number of issues, including fossil fuel divestment, protections against sexual harassment and assault, racism, and other forms of discrimination, resources for LGBTQ students, the rights of graduate student workers, and revisions to the free speech policy.
“It’s been difficult to have the constructive, meaningful dialogue that then leads to concrete actions by the administration to address these issues and come to solutions that incorporate the voices of the entire BC community, including graduate students, undergraduate students, faculty, and various staff that work on this campus,” said Spielvogel.
Prior to Fr. Leahy’s remarks, BCGEU-UAW passed out flyers to students and faculty that explained why they were there and participating in the silent demonstration.
According to these flyers, the graduate student teachers and researchers are trying to improve their working conditions by establishing contracts with the university which address “livable wages, better health insurance, a parental leave policy, and protections against discrimination and sexual harassment/assault.”