Opinion: Free Speech First

Divestment is the most recent--and certainly one of the most enduring--hot-button topics on the Boston College campus.

Just over a week ago, on April 12, college students from around the New England area, as well as faculty and alumni of BC, rallied in solidarity with members of Climate Justice BC who were placed on academic probation by the administration in response to their cries for divestment from fossil fuels.

While many people, myself included, make the argument that for moral, and even religious reasons--as the Pope is about to release an encyclical that will urge us to take greater steps towards protecting the environment--the BC administration has an obligation to divest from fossil fuels, this is not the primary issue currently at hand.

Forget fossil fuels. Forget BC’s moral obligation to environmentalism and basic human decency.

The most immediate issue pressing our campus right now is the BC administration’s blatant suppression of students’ freedom of speech, an issue much more all-encompassing and fundamental than divestment and climate justice.

Here at BC, a school whose tour guides and brochures pour on endlessly about the multitude of student clubs and extracurricular opportunities, students were long denied the ability to form an organization to discuss divestment.

The BC website’s club directory flaunts more than 100 recognized clubs and organizations, yet until just a week ago, no room was made for environmental discussion in a club setting.

The Fulton Debating Society and the Global Justice Project are both approved organizations, yet Climate Justice BC, a group that aims to promote debate about the global issue of environmental degradation, was prevented from becoming a UGBC-approved organization up until CJBC allies in the greater community loudly protested this injustice.

Ella Jenak / Gavel Media

Ella Jenak / Gavel Media

CJBC members were unable to attend the April 12 rally “for fear of administrative backlash” after several groups members were placed on “disciplinary probation for helping organize a peaceful vigil on campus,” according to the group’s website. It seems the BC administration only fosters debate until that debate is questioningly turned on them.

BC students should not have to fear speaking up for their beliefs. They should not hesitate to participate in peaceful protests, anxious that engagement in anything contra-administration could jeopardize their futures at this school. Fear of countering the status quo is something that belongs under an authoritarian regime, not on a liberal arts college campus.

Sadly, the suppression of students’ right to express concerns with the way their schools are spending their exorbitant tuition is not exclusive to BC. On April 9, 19 students were arrested at Yale University for refusing to leave an administrative building 9 hours into a peaceful sit-in protest. The Yale administration, as Fossil Free Yale Project Manager Mitch Barrows puts it, “would rather arrest its students than re-engage in the conversation” about fossil fuel divestment.

But this refusal to engage in conversation with students on the issue of divestment should not and need not be the status quo. At Brandeis University students voted for total divestment from fossil fuels, and since then the administration has spent a year seriously researching the issue. They are currently formulating a plan to divest. Similarly, the president of MIT himself recently organized a formal debate between students and administration about divestment.

As more and more schools, most notably our fellow Boston-area institutions, incorporate student input into their policy and behavior, BC begins to look worse and worse. The idea that students should be heard by their administrators and have a say in the policies that they are investing hundreds of thousands of dollars in is not progressive; it’s common sense.

I’m not asking for immediate divestment. I’m not even asking for divestment. What I ask for and see as an absolute right of BC students is the freedom to engage in open debate with the administration about an issue that is inarguably pertinent to us. It has become apparent that BC students advocating for divestment will not and should not be quiet. They are making themselves heard in places much more important than this campus, so stop making yourself look bad, BC. Talk with us.

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