Gavel Media

Timeline: Demonstration and Free Speech at Boston College

This story first appeared in The Gavel's Spring 2019 print magazine. The online version has been updated to include additional details.

A recent history of free speech violations on campus and disciplinary action received by students for noncompliance with the demonstration policies of the Code of Student Conduct at Boston College.

DECEMBER 2016

Seven members of Eradicate Boston College Racism received disciplinary action for their involvement in two unregistered demonstrations. Both the Stand Against Hate Rally and the Sanctuary Campus Walkout took place in November, as BC students joined peers nationwide in responding to the 2016 election results.

Section 4.6.9 of the Code of Student Conduct states that “all activities in the nature of a public speech, rally, demonstration, march, protest or other coordinated event (“demonstrations”) must be registered and approved in advance by the Dean of Students.” Organizers must also meet with the Dean at least two business days prior to the event.

Eradicate published their email response to the Dean on Facebook. It argued that their demonstrations did not infringe upon the rights of other students established by section 4.1 of the Code of Conduct. Eradicate maintained they should not be required to register because they are not a recognized student organization.

“There is no evidence that the students whom you have arbitrarily identified as leaders in these solidarity demonstrations had any greater role in organizing these events than other speakers or participants,” the email said. They asserted that the sanctions restrict students’ legally protected freedom of speech and assembly.

SEPTEMBER 2017

Members of Climate Justice at Boston College (CJBC) organized an unregistered “Breaking Climate Silence” demonstration outside Conte Forum on the night of the Pops on the Heights scholarship gala. CJBC called for the university endowment to divest from fossil fuels. The demonstration lasted approximately ten minutes before being shut down by the Boston College Police Department.

DECEMBER 2017

Graduate and undergraduate students held up signs in a silent demonstration against various university policies as University President Fr. William Leahy spoke at the Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony. Many demonstrators were members of the Boston College Graduate Employees Union (BCGEU-UAW).

They called attention to the university’s decision to appeal a National Labor Relations Board-approved election in which the majority of graduate workers voted for union representation.

FEBRUARY 2018

A BCPD officer shut down a Students for Sexual Health (SSH) sidewalk condom distribution table on College Road. The officer informed students that they needed permission from BC to set up a table there.

Connor Kratz, MCAS ‘18 and former co-chair of SSH, told The Gavel that SSH contacted the City of Newton and Newton Police prior to tabling. The unregistered club confirmed the space was public property and does not require any permit to set up a table. According to SSH, BCPD acknowledged the incident should not have happened, but did not apologize or assure the group that it would not happen again.

“The shutdown of our table prevented us from engaging underclassmen regarding voting in the referendum and providing them with free, accessible contraceptives,” said Kratz.

MARCH 2018

Two students were detained by BCPD for writing messages in chalk on university sidewalks. The messages, which appeared on campus over the course of a week, included “Black lives matter," “What would Jesus do?”, “What is BC doing to fight climate change?”, “Stand up BC,” and “@Leahy Silence = Violence”.

Several messages were washed away or covered by salt within hours. The detained students were charged for destruction of property, fined $50, and formally sanctioned by the university.

“The fact that two students were detained by BCPD for writing on the ground with sidewalk chalk, something little children do for fun, in and of itself illustrates how absurd and restrictive the policies around free speech on campus are,” said an anonymous student, who informed The Gavel that they were one of an unknown number of students who participated in writing chalk messages.

SEPTEMBER 2018

Members of BCGEU-UAW, which remains unrecognized by the university, interrupted a Parents’ Weekend presentation by Fr. Leahy to stand up and say, “Jesuit values are workers’ values.”

The union also picketed for 90 minutes near the entrance to Pops on the Heights. They handed out flyers with commentary on how unions align with Catholic social teaching and a quote from St. Pope John Paul II that approved of workers’ unions.

Following these demonstrations, 13 graduate students were called in to group hearings with Dean Mogan for flyering. Three more students received individual hearings and received a higher level probation for interrupting Fr. Leahy’s presentation.

The union maintains that one of these three students was falsely identified by administrators and he did not participate in the actions he was charged with.

“There are two [issues] here, one being the disciplinary process at BC [is] unfair and arbitrary,” said a graduate student employee on behalf of the union. “The second [is] that as graduate workers coming together and doing collective action at the university, we should not be held to standards of the Code of Student Conduct. If we are acting as workers in our collective interests, we shouldn’t be punished as students.”

JANUARY 2019

Members of CJBC were informed by an administrator that they would receive disciplinary action if they continued to hand out flyers on Admitted Eagle Day. The students provided a confirmation email they received from the Office of Student Involvement (OSI) for registering the event. However, the students were still forced to leave the area, despite the email.

Both CJBC and The Gavel contacted Dean Mogan following this incident to clarify how students had violated the Code of Conduct, but never received a response.

“The policies surrounding demonstrations, and especially flyering, are too restrictive for people simply trying to distribute their message for people,” said CJBC member Zachary Contini, MCAS ‘21, who participated in the flyering.

Shortly after this event, CJBC was denied permission to hand out informational flyers regarding fossil fuel divestment in Conte Forum during hockey games. OSI informed CJBC that a flyering event would be considered a demonstration by administrators, Conte Forum is not one of the approved locations for student demonstrations.

"The policy is used to curb the effectiveness and reach of protests... [because] it is impossible to hold events that will reach a wider audience who may come to campus for special events—trustees, parents, alumni, donors—the people you would need to reach if you were trying to exert influence on the school to pressure it into changing a policy," said CJBC member and graduate student Jamie Mazareas.

According to Mazareas, allowing demonstrations to take place at any time and location on campus would be the most important change to make to the policy.

"If students want to hold a protest on the day of an athletic event, a trustee’s meeting, Admitted Eagles Day, or anything else, they should have the right to," said Mazareas.

MARCH 2019

Students organized themselves in objection to the Pro-Life Club’s event “Lies Feminists Tell,” which featured anti-abortion advocate Kristan Hawkins, president of Students for Life of America. Administrators then limited attendance for the event to the first 150 students who picked up the free tickets. Students were also forbidden from bringing signs.

Hollie Watts, MCAS ‘21, helped coordinate the pro-abortion student response. Watts told The Gavel that administrators required her to attend a pre-demonstration meeting with the Dean of Students which “strongly emphasized to us that disruption of the flow of the event could result in disciplinary or BCPD-related action.”

Watts noted that the demonstration policy “heavily leans on safety concerns and reputation." According to Watts, some students who helped organized the event felt their right to express themselves was restricted by the administration’s response to the event.

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