Every summer, thousands of incoming Boston College students hear from Fr. Michael Himes, who defines the university as "a sustained conversation on the great questions of life at the highest possible level with the best possible conversation partners." Call me romantic, but this definition has always resonated with me. The university, at its best, is a place for asking big questions about big things; a place to exchange ideas, to doubt and to grow. When I heard Fr. Himes’s speech as an incoming freshman, I was hopeful that I’d come to an open, welcoming place.
But over the past weeks, we’ve learned that BC’s administration prefers a view of the university based on monologue, not dialogue. On November 16th, UGBC Executive Vice President Chris Marchese resigned, citing personal reasons. We now know that the reasons initially given for Marchese’s resignation were false. We now know that Marchese’s resignation came under pressure from the Office of Student Involvement.
Staffers from this office told Marchese that “having a seat at the table isn’t a right, it’s a privilege. You don’t have to be here.” These revelations expose a disturbing culture of disdain for students at, of all places, the Office of Student Involvement. That the administration apparently has no qualms about forcing the resignation of an elected student leader speaks volumes about the sort of conversation BC is interested in having.
It has also been reported that Marchese’s resignation was related to a disciplinary case. Since I don’t know the particulars of the case, I can only speak from personal experience: Chris Marchese is a stand-up guy. There is no world in which he should not be in good standing with the university. Whatever he did, I am confident that it is no more severe than the mistakes we all make from time to time, and provided that no laws were broken or people harmed, he has earned the benefit of the doubt.
It is patently absurd for the administration to deploy an “unprecedented” interpretation of the Student Organizations Manual in the case of someone whose leadership in UGBC has been exemplary for his entire career at BC. Personally, I have a hard time believing such an unprecedented move would have been made unless there were some other reason why the administration wanted Marchese out.
In any case, the question is not whether Chris Marchese is an angel (none of us are). The real question is, who owns this school? Who matters here? As students, we are led to believe that we have a voice in administrative questions concerning campus life. We certainly have a vested interest in how such questions are resolved. But if a student leader can be forced to resign for having the audacity to forget that “you don’t need to be here,” it would be naïve of us to pretend we have any meaningful say in how this place is run. And it would be even more naïve of us to pretend that that isn’t exactly how BC wants it.
Let’s be honest: BC cares more about maintaining its image and pleasing its donors than it does about actual student life, and that attitude will never change until we force BC to change it. BC didn’t like Chris Marchese, because Marchese didn’t want to accept a toothless UGBC that’s woefully ineffective as a countervailing power to the administration. So now Marchese is gone, and BC’s message to students is clear: don’t mess with us.
Maybe this seems like an overreaction, but there are real issues at stake here with a real impact on students’ lives. The GLBTQ Leadership Council, a group that one can imagine might occasionally run afoul of the administration’s preferences, is overseen by OSI. OSI has scrapped the Queer Peers program designed to create safe spaces for LGBTQ students. The suppression of BC Climate Justice chills political speech on campus, silences criticism of the administration, and allows BC to avoid accountability for its complicity in “death-dealing” social sin. (Ironically, Marchese publicly expressed support for the meetings on censorship, according to The Heights, one day after his resignation was finalized.) The administration has created a culture of fear and silence, the breeding ground where isolated incidents become systemic failures.
It is commonplace for students (Marchese included) to lament the lack of an activist culture at BC. But what we need to recognize is that the administration prefers it that way. The administration doesn’t want us to point out that it plays the Catholic card on condoms but stays silent on climate change. The administration doesn’t want us to demand a seat at the table. To wish we had a more activist student body, then, is effectively to blame students for a culture that the administration enforces and benefits from.
But the culture will not change until we force it to change. The administration won’t budge until it is compelled to do so by public pressure, and the student body is the only group that can apply that pressure. We have to remind the administration that this university is our university, that we are more than consumers of a mass-produced commodity or possible public relations liabilities. We have to show the world beyond the campus bubble-press, alumni, prospective students-how terrified BC is of criticism, and how much criticism there is for them to be terrified of.
Chris Marchese’s forced resignation is a sign of this administration’s willingness to bully students into shutting up. The best way we can respond is by doing the exact opposite, by raising our voices and raising hell, as the Social Justice Coalition is already doing so admirably, to let BC know that it’s our seat, at our table, and we have a right to be here.