Gavel Media

University Communications Pays Lip Service in Response to Racist Incidents

Drilled into the minds of Boston College’s students, faculty, and throngs of tour groups alike is the idea that Eagles are “men and women for others.” Last week’s racial incidents on campus, namely the defacing of “Black Lives Matter” posters and social media posts citing slavery in a failed play at humor, and the subsequent response from the university’s Office of Communications led many to believe that what BC really means when they say “men and women for others” is “some men and women for select others.”

The university responded with an email, sent to every student and faculty member, with the heading, “Statement Regarding Racist Incidents” that condemned “all acts of hate.” The same statement, trite and unsubstantial, was posted to the student affairs section of the BC website.

However, on the BC NEWS website, which is run by the Office of University Communications, unlike the student affairs page operated by the Office of the Vice President and the Division of Student Affairs, the release’s title reads, “Statement Regarding Weekend Incidents,” with the subheading “A statement from senior administrators condemning the incidents was emailed to all BC students.” Here is a strict departure from the statements coming out of Student Affairs. With no mention of racism in the title or subheading, University Communications did not wholly disclose the nature of the wrongdoings. It is only by clicking on the link to the statement that members of the general public could read the full statement and realize that these “weekend incidents” were, in fact, “racist incidents.”

Changing the titles hints at a larger problem: much of the BC community does not recognize that the “weekend incidents” speak to a larger, racial issue on campus. The BC NEWS publication downplays the significance of the racial incidents to the general public, suggesting that BC students of color are not the “others” that BC is interested in advocating for.

This omission demonstrates a lack of integrity of BC as an institution. Not only could the lack of specificity in the title and subheading cause members of the general public to have a false sense of last weekend’s events, it also perpetuates the idealization of BC as a place where inequality does not exist.

Another example of this purposeful downplaying can be found in BC NEWS’s response regarding the Silence is Still Violence march, titled “Solidarity Against Racism.” In the body of the article, there is no mention of the racist occurrences that took place on campus last weekend. The University Communications office chose to represent the march as students and faculty standing “in solidarity against racism”—as if students were suddenly inclined to stand up against an issue ravaging communities with less manicured lawns and greater diversity.

The march, according to UGBC President and Vice President, Akosua Achampong MCAS ’18 and TT King MCAS ’18 as well as FACES Co-Presidents Maria Guerra MCAS ’18 and Rafael Torres MCAS ‘18, was a “call for our students and administration to stand with the marginalized members of our community and to engage in the eradication of all hatred, bigotry, and violence.” It is easy to ignore such calls to action when you are under the impression that persecution does not pervade BC’s gothic structures.

What is most ironic is that BC students are incredibly eager to fight injustice. Well, at least some of them. BC boasts nearly 30 service-oriented organizations, ranging from elementary tutoring programs to international immersive programs. BC students flood food banks and shelters from Dorchester to Ecuador, but this desire to rid communities of inequality and enable them through opportunity reaches over the injustices happening in our own BC community. When it comes to on-campus activism, BC students shy away despite having no application or interview process to participate.

A sign at Friday’s march read, “Privilege is when you think something is a not problem if it’s not a problem to you personally.” Even if students recognize their privilege in the “real world” through their volunteer work, many students fail to recognize their privilege in regard to the disadvantages of fellow peers’.

It is no excuse for students to remain ignorant of problems on their campus, particularly when BC claims a pervasive culture of service. Though we can be heartened by the estimated 2,000 members of the BC community who participated in the Silence is Still Violence march last Friday, there is still more that can be done, particularly for white allies. With BC’s majority white population, there is no shortage of potential white allies.

The AHANA+ Leadership Council offers a guide for improved allyship in “How to Be a Better Ally.” ALC defines an “ally” as “a person who is a member of an advantaged social group who takes a stand against oppression” and outlines 3 crucial ways—listening, staying informed, and committing to action—to encounter privilege whilst advocating for social injustices.

ALC Chief of Staff, Julia Barrett MCAS ’19, elaborates on the Council’s “How To” saying, “When it comes to recognizing your privilege when advocating for social justice, it is helpful to think about a microphone. Privilege means that certain people in society get to hold a proverbial microphone for a vastly disproportionate amount of time.” She continues, “If you are advocating for social change, but you hold privilege in that space, be very careful that you do not “hold the microphone” unless absolutely necessary.”

As for the University Communications office, downplaying the obstacles of marginalized students suggests that Boston College does not value each student equally. Solidarity in the face of injustice should be the defining characteristic of a BC student, whether that injustice is one of race, gender, ability, sexuality, or socioeconomic status. BC owes it to its students to work less selectively and with greater conviction to truly be a place of “men and women for others.”