This story first appeared in The Gavel's Spring 2019 print magazine.
As Boston College students, it can be tempting to hide our true selves. Embracing our individuality can help us to understand ourselves and experience the world around us as genuinely as possible. Authentic Eagles is a series that gives a voice to the people who have experienced firsthand the trials, tribulations, and triumphs of being one’s authentic self at BC. We hope that readers are inspired to have conversations and reflections of their own, working toward being more authentic individuals.
Matthew Barad, MCAS '19
In April 2017, I learned that a group of students had been sanctioned by the administration for holding a rally against racism on campus. Outraged, I wrote an LTE to the Heights. To quote my final paragraph:
"It is essential that all those who believe in liberty and justice for all demand liberty and justice for Eradicate. We have no choice but to demand that our administration revoke these sanctions and reform its grossly antiquated free speech policies. And if the current administration lacks the moral rectitude to undertake such reforms, then we must demand their replacement. If we fail to do so, and we allow injustice to fester, there’s no way of knowing who might be next."
This was my first experience with free speech on campus, and it would not be my last. The following week, Dean of Students Thomas Mogan emailed me and asked to meet.
I spoke with members of Eradicate Racism beforehand, who informed me of his manipulative tactics. But I admit I was naive enough to believe our conversation could be meaningful. I was wrong.
As I have come to expect from this administration, my meeting with Dean Mogan was yet another tool for discouraging activism and preventing dissent. At best, Mogan was trying to convince me that Boston College’s draconian free speech policies were necessary. At worst, he was trying to waste my time.
Either way, it was clear from the start that Dean Mogan was as unwilling to change policy as he was powerless to do so. It became clear to me that day that Boston College will do anything to defend a racist, homophobic, and authoritarian status quo.
In my three years here, Boston College has sanctioned dozens of unionizing grad workers and a handful of Climate Justice students. They've tacitly endorsed hate crimes, ignored two referendums, and bullied its student body into silent compliance. And that's just what I remember.
These are not the actions of a morally founded Jesuit university. These are the actions of a deeply insecure and laughably outdated billionaires club which happens to run a school.
And that is why, in March of last year, I was arrested by BCPD for writing “Black Lives Matter” in washable sidewalk chalk. That is why the officer who arrested me took a picture of my chalking and said “pssh, ALL lives matter.” That is why I was pushed through a kangaroo court by a dean who claimed chalking was illegal in Boston (it’s not). That is why he told me to give up trying to change BC.
That is why, even though chalking is mentioned nowhere in the student handbook, even though the McMullen Museum had a publicly advertised chalking event on campus one week later, even though a race on campus used chalk to mark its route one month later, and even though chalk washes off in the rain, I was charged with destruction of property, fined 50 dollars, and formally sanctioned.
Only on a campus which is terrified of change would sidewalk chalk be grounds for an arrest.
The administration knows that free speech on campus would mean black, queer, AHANA+, disabled, and otherwise marginalized students having a voice. In the '90s, Fr. Leahy was comfortable publicly saying that LGBT students would never be recognized on campus. Today, he won’t even condemn racism after a hate crime.
Once oppressed students are given a voice, they will use it to demand power. And once they have power, they will use it to create justice.
It bears remembering that there was a time on this campus when students raided the ROTC office over the Vietnam War, and when students took over the school until the administration agreed to lower tuition.
Recent referendums on divestment and sexual health, not to mention the union election, show that student aggravation is growing. Just this year, the school hired a man who wouldn’t let Snoop Dogg perform at Harvard for being too black, someone who deported a 17-year-old kid, as campus police chief. In the face of a majority of students demanding change, this regime has become more overbearing, less accessible, and more conservative.
Even in the face of all that, however, activism is easy for people who look and act like me. I've watched hate crimes committed against my peers. I've seen the administration block progress dozens of times. I've even been arrested and harassed by BCPD. That is why it's so important that I refuse to behave.
Being a cis white male means that, if I ever feel too threatened, too uncomfortable, too repressed, I can give up my activism. I could go back to studying and never face administrative repression again. This is true for the majority of BC students. We can escape injustice because of our privilege. But many of our peers cannot.
Black students can never hide from racism on campus. Gay students cannot escape administrative bigotry. Disabled students must live here as they are, no matter the obstacles they face. In spite of my arrest, in spite of the harassment, the stress, and the constant anger, I have remained an activist because quitting means abandoning all those who can’t.
Misbehavior on this campus matters because it challenges and erodes the powers of an administration founded in repression. Dean Mogan will tell you that change must come respectfully from within. Dean DeCapua (before he left) told me that it couldn’t come at all.
Even if these efforts are doomed to fail, we must continue regardless. After all, we do not fight for justice because we can win. We fight for justice because it is justice.
I leave you with one bit of information. This school rarely, if ever, punishes students beyond a low level sanction for activism on campus. Even on accusations of destroying property, I was given little more than a stern talking-to.
The one thing this school hates more than democracy is bad press. They don’t risk seriously punishing students unless absolutely necessary. This means, for all practical purposes, you have one “get out of jail free” card before you graduate.
If you study at Boston College, you live under a racist, homophobic, regressive, authoritarian regime. You have one chance to disrupt that regime–to misbehave–with few consequences. How will you use yours?