Seventeen students and staff members at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida were shot and killed on February 14, 2018. The reaction was the same nearly everywhere: sadness, but not necessarily surprise. Such tragedies occur in the United States now too often to shock us. Yet, the alarming frequency of school shootings is sparking anger. While these emotions fuel heated discussions everywhere, from the newsroom to the dinner table, they are also igniting action amongst one demographic: America’s high school students.
It began with the students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Immediately after the shooting, they began speaking out in televised interviews, at rallies, and even at the White House. Their peers quickly followed suit, staging protests and walk-outs in schools across the country. In response to these student activists, many colleges and universities have issued statements ensuring that such activism will not jeopardize an admissions decision; Boston College is included amongst this list. This response raises the question: What is the university’s stance on student activism? While the official statement suggests administrative support, certain actions tell a different story. In fact, BC has a history of silencing student activists when their missions do not align with the university's.
Take, for instance, the recent UGBC referendum allowing Students for Sexual Health to hold meetings and distribute contraceptives on campus. The referendum passed with an overwhelming majority. The students spoke, yet the university failed to respond, and has held tightly to its original stance. The message to students is loud and clear: Activism will be encouraged up until the point it conflicts with the university's agenda.
In addition to Students for Sexual Health, the organization Eradicate BC Racism has clashed with administration several times. In 2014, the group organized a “die-in” in response to the deaths of Eric Garner and Michael Brown, and it sang about institutionalized racism to the tune of Christmas carols outside of the Board of Trustees meeting. The administration responded with threats of disciplinary actions and an outright denial of BC's upholding of institutionalized racism. In the wake of the 2016 presidential election, seven students involved with the Stand Against Hate Rally faced disciplinary action for failing to comply with the university’s policy on campus demonstrations. Each time students exhibit bravery and passion for justice through works of activism, they are challenged and reprimanded.
It's bad enough that BC stifles student activism, but it goes one step further by claiming to want just the opposite. The university’s recent statement supporting the activism of high school students implies its same support of BC students. But wait—remember that “die-in” organized by Eradicate BC Racism? A statement was issued just prior to the protest, in which the university “encouraged students to ‘continue the work of the marchers in Selma here at Boston College,’ and to ‘contribute to the eradication of injustice and racism.’” This is a clear declaration of support, yet we know that the administration did not react accordingly. While BC's recent statement is good news for applicants, it is clearly not representative of how student activism is approached on campus.
Despite the university's less than positive history with student activism, it is unfair to say that BC is outright against it. Reasons for backlash to student-led demonstrations aren't derived from the stances taken, but from the protests themselves. First, only official groups are allowed to hold protests, and official recognition comes with restrictions which many groups (including Students for Sexual Health and Eradicate BC Racism) resist. Even if a group is recognized by the university, it still must obtain a permit to protest. That being said, if BC really wanted to support student activism, it would make the rules less stringent. Strict protocols concerning student protests supply the university with the perfect excuse to condemn student acts and opinions.
College is supposed to inspire students to have an open mind, think critically, and speak out against the wrongs in the world. High school students who walk out of class to protest gun violence may have to accept a suspension or an unexcused absence, but their hope is that things will change as they progress through higher education. The admissions statement issued by BC gives these students false hope. While the statement itself is respectable, BC needs to live up to that respectability by changing its policies and allowing students to voice their opinions without fear of repercussion.