The Boston College Elections Committee hosted a debate on the topic of diversity and inclusion between this year’s candidates for president and executive vice president of the Undergraduate Government of Boston College (UGBC) in the Heights Room on Wednesday night. The candidate teams consisted of Taylor Jackson, MCAS ‘21, and Alejandro Perez, MCAS ‘21, as well as Michael Osaghae, MCAS ‘20, and Tiffany Brooks, MCAS ‘21.
Beginning broadly, the moderators set the tone for the debate with their first question, asking the candidates “what does diversity and inclusion mean to you?”
According to Brooks, diversity is, “acceptance and authenticity to the identities that make you unique,” as well as being, “aware and engaged with...everyone around you, but especially those who are different from you." She also highlighted, “uplifting those voices that are not always heard,” commenting that one of their primary objectives as candidates is to ensure that, “UGBC is a platform that everyone feels that they have a voice and has a say here on this campus.”
Osaghae likened diversity and inclusion to, “being at a table,” with diversity bringing in more people after recognizing what voices are and are not being represented at the table. On the other hand, inclusion refers to the response once these new perspectives are at the table, such as, “[listening] to their voice,” and, “[processing] their experience,” so that they, “feel welcome to share.” In distinguishing the two, Osaghae stated that diversity is an “outcome,” while inclusion is best described as a “process.”
After Brooks and Osaghae had given their responses, Jackson and Perez were given the opportunity for a rebuttal. For Jackson, the essence of inclusion is, “having a lot of diverse perspectives and diverse stories,” as well as creating an environment conducive to students feeling safe sharing these diverse backgrounds and, “taking that into consideration when making choices that affect your entire community.”
Complementing this, Perez, after referencing Boston College's mission statement and its section on diversity and inclusion, stated that while it is important to bring in a diverse student body, this must be followed up by a commitment to inclusion and encouraging, “these dialogues of diversity and inclusion…that we think aren’t happening enough on this campus.”
Moving into more specific topics, the moderators then asked the candidates what tangible steps they planned to take to support LGBTQ+ students here at BC. Given the first opportunity to respond, Jackson stated that one of the centerpieces of their agenda to help BC’s LGBTQ+ community is to, “start some type of Pride summit,” in the mold of the recent women’s summit in order to, “provide an opportunity for people who identify in that community to go and find other people who they can relate to and feel comfortable around," as well as give allies a chance to, “see what they can do to better support them in their daily life.”
Summarizing their approach to this topic, Osaghae said that they would first, “take a step back and listen to what are folks in the LGBTQ+ community saying...before we engage in advocacy,” and that the voices of those in the community should be at the center of any conversation. He then stated that any approach must emphasize, “tangible change, both in the short term and in the long term.” As an example of a short term change, Osaghae advocated for an update to the Agora Portal allowing students to change their gender pronouns and an “LGBTQ+ student space” proposed by the LGBTQ+ Leadership Council (GLC). Looking towards the future, he also advocated for full-time staff in the office of the Dean of Students and a resource center “equipped with the perspectives and voices of LGBTQ+ identifying adults who can support our students."
Over the course of the debate, the candidates grappled with questions dealing with complex issues, such as how to make BC’s campus a safe space for students of color, what steps can be taken to support BC’s international student community, how to make advocacy on campus more proactive rather than reactionary, and what steps can be taken to accommodate Boston College's Muslim students.
At the conclusion of this compelling debate, the moderators posed one final question that helped illustrate why this debate was necessary in the first place: why diversity and inclusion conversations are important.
Emphasizing the need for discussion, Jackson responded that, “conversation breeds change and dialogue breeds change,” and that without these catalysts of progress, no development will occur and the many problems facing marginalized students at BC would go unaddressed. Osaghae affirmed this notion, and recognizing the, “systemic issues on our campus that are keeping people from having good, intentional, intersectional conversations,” highlighted the, “need to continue to break away the structures in our institution,” that impede such dialogue.
For students wishing to learn more about the candidates and their thoughts on diversity and inclusion, footage of the entire debate can be found on the Boston College Elections Committee Facebook page. In addition to this debate, the Elections Committee is sponsoring a Final Debate in Robsham Theater this Sunday at 7 p.m. that will also be live-streamed on the committee’s Facebook page.
The UGBC elections will take place online on Thursday, Feb. 14. The ballot will also include the referendum question "Should Boston College divest from the fossil fuel industry?"