Eamon Keane / Gavel Media Eamon Keane / Gavel Media

A Rookie's Guide to Activism at BC

Although I’ve blocked out most of the college application process for the sake of my own sanity (joking, but not really), I recall that when I chose BC, it was a bit of a blind leap. 

I didn’t know much about its political leanings, but I knew it was preppy and Jesuit––so I guessed I wouldn’t be arriving at a particularly progressive campus. (This assumption was quickly confirmed when I found myself chanting in protest “No justice! No peace! No racism at BC!” with a throng of thousands of students and faculty barely two months into freshman year–but more on that below.)

For a while, I couldn’t get a good read on where BC fell on the political spectrum, and I gradually came to realize that it would be inaccurate to tag the student body as either liberal or conservative. The reality, shameful as it may be, is that an overwhelming amount of students opt to simply “stay out of politics” and not take sides. 

But the ability to comfortably take a pass on important social issues just because they don’t personally affect you is, in itself, an indicator of the type of privilege most Boston College students undeniably enjoy. I’m looking at you, “socially liberal, fiscally conservative.”

The point is, navigating the political climate of BC can be tricky. So if you’re going to be new to the Heights this fall and you’re wondering how exactly student activism works here, I can confirm that it exists. But unlike schools like Oberlin or Claremont McKenna, political engagement isn’t BC’s bread and butter, so you’re going to have to seek it out. 

It’s helpful to remember that there’s no one right way to do activism–it comes in many forms and people have different preferences. Whether you’re marching, signing a petition, educating yourself, calling people out on behavior that is racist, sexist, anti-queer, etc., or all of the above, what’s important is that you remain engaged and informed and use any privilege you have to speak out for those who can’t. 

If you’re up for the challenge, we’re glad to have you! This list isn’t exhaustive, but here are some of the ways you can get involved with activism at BC. 

In this article:

FACES

GLBTQ+ Leadership Council

Climate Justice @ Boston College

Boston College Students for Justice in Palestine

Council for Students with Disabilities

Young Democratic Socialists of America of Boston College 

Students for Sexual Health 

AHANA+ Leadership Council

FACES

It’s no secret that Boston College lacks racial diversity–a quick glance around the quad or your classroom will tell you that much. Approximately 4% of undergraduate students are Black, and the majority of both students (67.4% as of 2018) and faculty (80.6% as of 2017) are white. 

This lack of diversity means there’s a critical need for education and dialogue about race, identity, and intersectionality, topics that are often tuned out in predominantly white spaces. Cue FACES. 

FACES is Boston College’s anti-racism organization, “committed to educating the BC community on the issues of race, identity and systems of power and privilege.” They host events with student panels, guest speakers, film screenings, and academic forums, and facilitate spaces for open discussion around these issues.

“While a lot of the work we do is proactive, in recent years FACES has moved towards direct activism as a response to racist hate crimes,” said Maddie Bockus, The Gavel’s Features Editor and council member of FACES. 

FACES, along with the Undergraduate Government of Boston College (UGBC), organized the Silence is Still Violent March in October of 2017. The protest came on the heels of multiple racist hate crimes perpetrated by BC students and the lack of appropriate response from the university. Just this past academic year, the sophomore dorm Welch Hall was vandalized with anti-Black, racist slurs; the incident was once again met with silence from BC’s president.

“I’m grateful to be a part of such an impactful organization,” said Bockus, MCAS ‘21. “The hard work of present and past council members has made it possible for the organization to grow its presence as well as build a strong and welcoming community in the name of conversation and anti-racist activism.”

Get involved: You can apply to FACES' first-year program (FYP), which involves weekly meetings and bonding events. Anyone can apply to FACES council in the spring (via application and interview).

GLBTQ+ Leadership Council

Unsurprisingly, the queer community at Boston College, as a Catholic university, isn’t prolific either, and they deal with their own set of obstacles on campus. 

The GLBTQ+ Leadership Council (GLC) is a representative board within the Division of Diversity and Inclusion in UGBC. The council advocates for the needs of students who identify as lesbian, bisexual, transgender, questioning, intersex, asexual, or any other identity across the queer spectrum “through community outreach, policy work and educational, social, and initiative programming.”

According to their website, “The GLC works to ensure that the voices, concerns, and interests of the GLBTQ+ community are heard throughout other organizations at Boston College, as well as through the community at large. Its purpose is to serve on behalf of students' interests and to help cultivate an engaged and caring student community.”

The “still” in the Silence is Still Violence March of 2017 was a nod to the previous year’s demonstrations in response to the university’s refusal to respond to the defacement of a Mod Lot parking sign with anti-queer slurs. BC refuses to provide queer students with an LGBTQ+ resource center that would give queer students a space to process and discuss their experiences on campus. Their tired reasoning is that it would contradict the school’s Jesuit values.

Georgetown, the nation’s oldest Jesuit university, established theirs in 2008. 

Get involved: GLC holds weekly meetings that are open to the public, and any student can get involved as a general coordinator.

Climate Justice @ Boston College

Over 83% of BC students who participated in UGBC’s referendum last year voted “yes” to the question, “Should Boston College withhold investments from the fossil fuel industry?”  Previously, UGBC had passed two resolutions calling for divestment. 

Spearheading the fight for environmental responsibility on campus is Climate Justice @ Boston College. CJBC is a group of undergrad and grad students, alumni, faculty, and staff committed to “advocating, raising awareness and engaging with all members of the Boston College community in order to respond to the greatest challenge facing the world.”

It’s clear where the study body stands, but according to Kayla Lawlor, MCAS '20 and a member of CJBC, the administration has skirted around the issue time and time again.

“At this point, the university has been very clear that it will not take the side of climate justice,” said Lawlor in a previous interview with the Gavel. “That does not mean we can stop demanding that justice, or that it’s futile to get involved. Just the opposite. It’s more important now than ever to make your voice heard.”

Get involved: According to their website, CJBC holds weekly meetings, Monday 7-8 PM in Higgins 225, and you can donate to the Divest Fund here or sign their petition here

Boston College Students for Justice in Palestine

Boston College Students for Justice in Palestine has been raising campus awareness about the Israeli-Palestine conflict since 2009. Whether they’re hosting esteemed guest speakers like Nathalie Handal and Diana Buttu, organizing retreats, or putting up an 8-foot wall on the quad, SJP knows how to spark a conversation.

According to their mission statement, “SJP believes fruitful future steps toward resolving the Palestinian-Israeli conflict must be grounded in the key principles of human rights, basic standards of justice, and international law. In all of its educational and political advocacy, SJP will emphasize human dignity and the Jesuit values of service and education of the whole person.”

Students for Justice in Palestine is focused on educating the BC community about the human rights atrocities that are happening in occupied Palestine, “especially the untold stories of the Palestineans.” They accomplish this by working with other groups on campus to create a space for open dialogue about peaceful resolutions.

“One of our main goals as a group is to connect the activist organizations on campus to emphasize the intersectionality of our issues, something that we began with our Divestment Town Hall last semester and hope to continue this year,” said Sarah Engelberg-Nolan, MCAS ‘20. 

“Overall, we aim to combat American complicity and complacency in the constant denial of Palestinians’ rights.”

Get involved: Check out BCSJP at the involvement fair and attend their general meetings and events.

Council for Students with Disabilities

If the lingo associated with Boston College (“The Heights”, “Upper and Lower”, even “Chestnut Hill”) is any hint, our campus is embarrassingly difficult for students with disabilities to navigate. 

And although its physical location cannot be changed, the university should be making a more purposeful effort to improve its accessibility in realistic ways. It can’t very well encourage students to be “men and women for others” without first heeding its own mantra.

The Council for Students with Disabilities (CSD) is another representative board within UGBC. They advocate for students with disabilities at BC and work to improve their quality of life by eliminating the social and physical obstacles they encounter on a daily basis. 

“The CSD aims to educate students, faculty, and staff on the lived experience of students with disabilities and change the perception of disability. Furthermore, the CSD works to ensure that the voices, concerns, interests and needs of students with disabilities are heard throughout the Boston College community through discussion, support and advocacy.”

Get involved: CSD holds weekly meetings open to anyone who’s interested. Be on the lookout for events!

Young Democratic Socialists of America of Boston College

Young Democratic Socialists of America of Boston College, or YDSA of BC, has only been around since 2017 and was officially recognized as a club in 2018, but they’ve made their presence known on campus despite being a relatively new club. 

The group is a local chapter of the national organization Democratic Socialists of America and seeks to connect the BC community with grassroots activism in the Boston area. YSDA of BC is always outspoken about injustice on campus, whether they’re calling for divestment or calling out racism, and has been a crucial catalyst in BC’s graduate employees’ efforts to unionize.

“We work to educate students and faculty about democratic socialism, facilitate productive dialogue on campus about pressing political issues, and connect BC students with the greater Boston activist community who are devoted to fighting for justice,” reads their Facebook page.

Get involved: You can find YDSA at the involvement fair and attend their biweekly meetings. 

Students for Sexual Health 

In 2009, Students for Sexual Health (SSH) was founded in response to a student referendum in which 89.47% of BC undergrads voted in favor of the school providing more comprehensive sexual health resources. This referendum was one of the highest voter turnouts in university history, with more than 3,6000 students participating.

SSH works to accomplish three main goals: 1) to make available information and materials that will allow students to make healthy sexual decisions 2) to promote open dialogue about sexuality and sexual health to all students and 3) to facilitate reform in BC’s sexual health policies, including the acknowledgement that sexual health is a necessary aspect of student health.

The organization provides a necessary service to the student body, but because of BC’s Jesuit Catholic heritage, they are not recognized as an official club and therefore receive zero funding from the university.

“We are not radical in our pursuit of greater sexual health resources on campus, but rather are committed to pragmatically working with the university administration and campus groups in order to achieve our goals regarding student health at Boston College.”

Get involved: Sign up here to join SSH’s mailing list, hear about events, and find out where to attend open weekly meetings.

AHANA+ Leadership Council

The AHANA+ Leadership Council, also part of UGBC, is devoted to making sure the needs of AHANA+ students at BC are recognized and met. (AHANA describes individuals of African, Hispanic, Asian and Native American descent.) Operating under their five core values of excellence, community, respect, justice, and service, ALC accomplishes that goal through policy planning, anti-racism programming, hosting events, and serving as a resource for other organizations.

“Some of our legacy events are the Dress to Respect Campaign around Halloween that notifies students on how to dress appropriately for Halloween without being culturally insensitive towards ingenious or ethnic/racial groups,” said Victoria Ang, Director of ALC and MCAS 2020.

“We also have several members of ALC in the DiversityEDU task force, our policy directors contribute to resolutions in the UGBC senate, and [we have] members on BC’s Office of Institutional Diversity’s Diversity Steering Committee, which guides policy and planning with administrators.

Get involved: You can apply to ALC through the general UGBC applications that open August 29th. Stop by the UGBC table at the involvement fair to find out more about getting involved!


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