For Nanci Fiore-Chettiar, A&S '15 and currently serving her last day as president of the Undergraduate Government of Boston College (UGBC), it was a day in tenth grade when an adult close to her disclosed his/her hidden sexuality for the first time, and came out. It was that day that she began to stand in solidarity with the LGBTQ community--and it is this day, April 28, that her advocacy culminates.
Fiore-Chettiar and a group of outgoing seniors and alumni announced Tuesday through a letter and video posted online that because of the mistreatment and lack of support of the LGBTQ community at Boston College, they will not be donating to the university until this unsupportive climate changes, in the form of an LGBTQ resource center.
The letter, though not an initiative launched under UGBC, in an effort to protect the organization and forego any consequences that would come about from not going through the Student Assembly, is not a singular effort or attitude. Rather, it is the collaborative effort of student leaders on campus, including Fiore-Chettiar, Connor Bourff, Executive Vice President of UGBC, Martin Casiano, Vice President of Diversity and Inclusion, Andrew Engber, Chair of the LGBTQ Leadership Council (GLC), and Billy Shyne, Vice Chair of GLC, as well as a number of non-UGBC related students and connected alumni.
As the Executive Council reflected back on the legacy they were leaving behind at Boston College, says Fiore-Chettiar, the desire to advocate for the LGBTQ community came up time and time again. "There have been several points throughout the semester when we wanted to do something large-scale in terms of supporting the LGBTQ community," she said. "That stems from a number of different examples of times when we felt like either we were coming up against obstacles in work that we were advocating for within the community."
The letter is built upon values which the university already claims to uphold, such as the Jesuit values of being "men and women for others" and standing with underrepresented and marginalized populations. It also acknowledges that the initiative is a "challenge" to the university to uphold its Jesuit identity, rather than a rejection of everything it stands for. "Please do not mistake our commitment to our convictions as a rejection of Boston College," the letter says. "On the contrary, it is because we believe so greatly in its mission, in its community, and in its future that we are issuing this challenge. As alumni, we will remain connected, we will remain supportive, and we will remain hopeful."
Boston College would not the be the first Jesuit Catholic university to have an LGBTQ resource center, following in the footsteps of Georgetown and Santa Clara.
UGBC advisors were intentionally kept out of the process of writing the letter, according to Fiore-Chettiar, so as to not put them in a position where they would have to disclose the initiative to higher up administrators. Fiore-Chettiar emailed the organization's advisors, as well as other administrators with whom it interacts, on Monday before the letter was released to inform them about the effort, as well as to apologize for any resulting consequences they might have to deal with.
However, this was done out of respect for the administrators whom UGBC knows are allies of the LGBTQ community. “I was thinking of them when I wrote some of those lines," says Fiore-Chettiar. "It's about recognizing that it’s not individual administrators who are making these decisions but rather the values and mission of the university, the way it’s currently being represented, that is the problem.”
The idea of LGBTQ students not donating to the university after graduation because of their experience, however, was not an idea that occurred to Fiore-Chettiar until this year. This past November, GLC hosted a panel event called "GLBTQ at BC: Alumni Stories Through the Decade," at which a BC alumnus in the LGBTQ community from every decade, from the 1960s through the 2000s, was represented. Of these individuals, says Fiore-Chettiar, none have donated to the university.
"Hearing that [they haven't donated] in the context of the pain and suffering that so many of them dealt with as closeted individuals at BC. . . I think for me that was kind of a wakeup call," she says. "To announce this publicly is really important, to kind of attach a movement and a cause to the fact that people aren’t donating."
GLC has an extensive alumni network of individuals within the LGBTQ community that they communicate with via an email listserv--it was this community that the cohort first shared the letter with in the early morning hours of April 28. Within two hours, the petition had over 30 signatures, in addition to several emails and posts in the alumni Facebook group voicing support for the campaign.
While Fiore-Chettiar admits that it is certainly easier as an LGBTQ student now than it was 30 years ago, UGBC has still run into several obstacles in trying to collaborate with the university and form support groups on campus. In planning its "GLBTQ in the Workplace" event earlier this month, GLC wanted to partner with the Career Center, but was "unable to" for reasons Fiore-Chettiar would not disclose. Fiore-Chettiar also spoke to the difficulties the organization faced in trying to facilitate its Queer Peers program, a program that was stalled in getting off the ground at the beginning of the academic year.
"It was frustrating throughout the year having to deal with all the nuances and making sure that this could be something that was protected in the long term," she said. "But at the end of the day you have to make decisions about what’s going to make change and progress and what’s just going to hold us back even more."
After its initial issues, however, the program has since been one that Fiore-Chettiar calls "a great example of how we can make small change."
Despite Queer Peers, however, the only other resources available on campus are through the Dean of Students office, which hosts the "Spectrum" retreat for LGBTQ students, as well as one full-time staff member and a graduate assistant who are available to, but don't work exclusively with LGBTQ students.
When envisioning the future, Fiore-Chettiar pictures an LGBTQ resource center much like the Women's Center: an open space where students can come to find answers, or at least someone to listen. She would also like to see support groups offered, like those in the WC. "I don’t think that [this environment] currently exists, even though there are ways the university is trying, but it’s just not enough," she says.
Although from a financial standpoint the letter will not have an immediate impact, admits Fiore-Chettiar, the goals of the effort are ultimately to initiate conversation about LGBTQ issues and demonstrate support for students currently feeling unsupported by the Boston College community.
"The idea of a student who is currently struggling and who isn’t sure if their fellow students would support them, for them to go online and see this letter--it could remind them that there are students here who care and are thinking about them and are continuously advocating for them," she says.
"I think that if there’s only one student who gets that out of this, and that’s all that comes out of this, then I’ll feel like I’ll have accomplished something."
As of now, the petition has over 100 signatures, not including those from students in graduating classes younger than 2015. Each spring, the petition will be updated with signatures from students in that year's graduating class in the interest of preserving the campaign's longevity.
To sign the petition, click here.