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Pei-Ling Lee / Gavel Media

Are We BC? A Brief History of Student Protest at Boston College

Student protest is an integral part of campus culture all across the country. Protests range across a wide spectrum of issues, and they transcend all religions, races, and socioeconomic backgrounds. Whether students are fighting for social reform, partaking in political activism, protesting the  administration, or just want to know what the hell is going on inside the Meatball Obsession stand, student protest is intrinsically linked to the college experience and has enduring, far-reaching effects.

This insatiable need for college students to protest injustices is not lost on the students of Boston College. There have been numerous demonstrations this past school year alone in protest of a variety of issues. Students have convened in response to the presidential election this past November, stood in solidarity with members of marginalized communities, and, most significantly, spoke out against the responsiveness (or lack thereof) of the Boston College administration to controversial events.

The students of Boston College certainly embody a “men and women for others” mentality—even when that translates to pushing back against the gender exclusivity of this very notion—but regardless, these Jesuit values of love and service emanate from the heart and core of the student body. BC’s, “A Pocket Guide to Jesuit Education,” asks two main questions: “How are we going to act in this world?” and “What does the world need us to do?”

BC’s Jesuit education fosters a spirit among the student body that inspires individuals to go out into the world and bring about change. Conversely, this same background forces the administration to uphold the beliefs and doctrine of the Christian religion. The dichotomy between the student population and the Jesuit administration can often come to a head, especially when student-led demonstrations for political and social progress conflict with the ideologies of the 2,000 year old Christian tradition.

Activism has taken on many forms over the years. Although the causes that BC students are fighting for have changed, this deep-seated need to fight for change has certainly endured among BC students over the test of time.

October 1967

A student demonstration is formed on the Boston College campus as recruiters from the Dow Chemical Company arrive. The company is responsible for making napalm, a substance used by the U.S. Military during the Vietnam War, that could stick to human skin and burn for up to ten minutes, causing unbearable pain and suffering. Hundreds of students gathered in protest of the recruiters, eventually forcing the representatives to leave campus.

April 1972

The Undergraduate Government of Boston College coordinated a campus-wide strike in response to the Vietnam War. According to The Heights, A&S classes were anywhere from 60%-90% below total enrollment. Professors joined in solidarity with students, instituting temporary cancellations on classes and exams until U.S. bombing of North Vietnamese ceased. Hundreds of student protesters took to the streets—and even to climbing on the towers of Gasson—chanting: “Right on, take Saigon, Victory to the Vietcong.” They marched all throughout Boston, handing out leaflets to motorists about developments in the war and creating significant traffic delays. The A&S Dean at the time, Richard Hughes, coordinated a hunger strike, garnering support from multiple faculty members and students to fast until the “U.S. bombing of Indochina ends.”

April 2005

Over a thousand students and faculty members gathered to protest discrimination against members of the Gay, Lesbian, Bi-sexual, and Transgender (GLBT) community at Boston College. Organizers called for a campus-wide strike, with hundreds of students boycotting classes and professors cancelling classes in solidarity with the students. The protest was organized in response to the official notice of non-discrimination at Boston College (at the time, it did not offer any legal protection from discrimination for members of the GLBT community). In fact, according to an article in Boston Indymedia, “the clause is written in a manner to deliberately invoke an exemption from Massachusetts anti-discrimination laws. For over a decade students and faculty have worked to get ‘sexual orientation’ included in the statement, but their requests have repeatedly been rejected by the University.” The notice of non-discrimination has since been changed to include sexual orientation under its non-discrimination policy.

May 2006

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was invited to give the commencement speech at graduation in 2006. Multiple students and faculty members turned their backs on her and held up signs in protest of the Iraq war as she gave her commencement speech. Students and faculty were upset with her invitation to speak, citing her endorsement of the war as contrary to the Jesuit principles of human rights and nonviolence.

March 2013

A group of Boston College students faced disciplinary action after breaking the University’s policy on contraceptives by running a condom distribution network out of their dorm. Because of BC’s Jesuit affiliation, it abides by Church doctrine that forbids the use of contraceptives. Members of the student body and faculty pushed back hard against the University, with many releasing statements and showing their support for the students in a variety of ways.

December 2014

Students and faculty stage a ‘die in’ protest in St. Mary’s. This particular protest was organized in response to the deaths of Eric Garner and Michael Brown. Students and faculty linked arms and laid down on the floor of St. Mary’s, pretending to die in an effort to protest police brutality. Students and faculty also cited reasons for the protest that were specific to the University, more specifically, protesting what many felt was an inadequate response from the University as well as a challenge on current policies regarding free speech on campus.

September 2016

Hundreds of students marched silently in protest of the University’s lack of response to an anti-gay slur that was arranged on a sign in the Mod Lot. Not only were students protesting the event, they were marching to protest the University’s silence on the issue, as no administrator had spoken out and condemned the act of hate. Students marched with rainbow colored tape over their mouths to show solidarity with members of the LGBTQ+ community. Student activists shared their stories and called upon the administration for changes to be made within the University to promote a more inclusive environment, and to put an end to the campus culture that allowed it to happen.

December 2016

Members of the unofficial student group, Eradicate Boston College Racism, held rallies against hate in response to Donald Trump’s presidential election victory. Students organized the rallies to meditate on the hate and prejudice that they endure in their everyday lives at BC and injustices stemming from hate all around the world. Students faced disciplinary action after failing to register the rallies with the University.

The Jesuit value system of the Boston College administration seems to foster a campus culture that breeds activists and fighters for change. These activists rally causes ranging from politics and social reform to BC itself, and they only fight harder in the face of administrative push-back. Over the years, the causes that student activists have fought for have changed, but the fact that they are fighting and will continue to fight has remained the same. The question, then, is how we go about accommodating BC’s Jesuit values in reference to these same progressive issues that the student body has been fighting for over the years. Finding this answer is not easy, but it is certain that it lies in the future of our students, our willingness to persist, and our University leadership.

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