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Madison Polkowitz / Gavel Media

Chalk Messages Around Campus Criticize University Policies

Two students were detained early Friday morning by the Boston College Police Department for writing chalk messages criticizing the university in front of Stokes Hall. This incident comes after similar chalk messages have been found on multiple campus walkways throughout the week, starting on Monday morning.

Matthew Barad, MCAS ‘19, confirmed to The Gavel that he was one of the students detained. He stated that he was “shocked and disappointed to discover that chalking is against the rules.”

The Gavel reached out to the director of BCPD for comment, but had not yet received a response at the time of publishing.

A few students, who spoke to The Gavel anonymously due to concerns about receiving disciplinary actions for exercising their right to free speech, said that they were responsible for some of the other chalk messages that have appeared throughout the week. Each student also emphasized that they acted independently of any student organization and said that they did not know who else has participated. After the first messages appeared on Monday morning, other individuals were inspired to join in.

Once the snow from Tuesday’s storm was cleared, students continued to add chalk messages on Wednesday and Thursday nights. Although university workers covered up some of the messages within hours, other messages had been left untouched as of Friday afternoon.

The students who participated in the chalking left messages criticizing the university on a range of issues, reflecting the various concerns and priorities of the individuals who wrote them. Several examples of messages left in locations across middle campus include “Black lives matter”, “What would Jesus do?”, and “Be better BC”. A few messages directly called out University President Fr. William Leahy, such as “@Leahy Silence = Violence.”

This is not the first time that students have expressed such frustrations toward Fr. Leahy. He was criticized by students for not releasing a personal statement following the racially motivated incidents last fall and for his absence at the Silence is STILL Violence march.

Numerous messages, including “divest from fossil fuels”, attempted to draw attention to the issue of divesting from the fossil fuel industry due to environmental and social concerns. Students have been calling for BC divest from the fossil fuel industry for several years without making any progress with administrators. In September, several students had a silent demonstration outside the Pops on the Heights scholarship gala that criticized the university endowment investment in fossil fuel companies. Within 10 minutes, the demonstration was shut down by BCPD.

One student who spoke on the condition of anonymity argued that divestment from fossil fuels should be considered an issue of morality.

“A school that so often cites Jesuit, Catholic values whenever it serves its own interest cannot continue to ignore the Pope's encyclical on climate change and the US Conference of Bishops guidelines for socially responsible investing, which calls on Catholic portfolios to protect the environment and pursue economic justice,” said the student. “BC cannot turn a blind eye to the harm fossil fuel companies are doing, specifically as the Pope highlights, to the poor and vulnerable around the world.”

This student also pointed out that BC has fallen behind other schools, who have become leaders in the fossil fuel divestment movement. Georgetown University, another highly-regarded Jesuit institution, divested its direct investments in the coal industry in response to student activism in 2015.  

In regards to ethical investment, students have also expressed concerns about endowment investment in companies connected to the gun manufacturing industry. Earlier this week, papers critical of the university’s investment in Wells Fargo were left around O’Neill Library by an anonymous student. The papers noted that Wells Fargo, the primary bank of the NRA and its Freedom Action Foundation, has been a major financier of the gun industry following the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT, which killed 20 children and six teachers in 2012.

A portion of BC's endowment is invested in Wells Fargo, according the list of current investments by the Boston College Investment Club. The Investment Club is a student organization that manages investments of approximately $485,000 of the total University endowment, which reached $2.4 billion in 2017.

Ultimately, students said that the chalk demonstrations have been motivated by their frustration with the administration’s lack of a response in the past to students who have expressed concerns about institutional policies that impact student experiences at BC and in the future.  

“Individual students, whom I have talked to, have delivered letters [and] emailed Father Leahy, and have received absolutely no response for years,” said another anonymous student. “It’s ridiculous. It’s silly that students are being detained for supposed vandalism when they are writing messages directly to the university, who won’t actually listen to them.”

The first anonymous student also pointed out that legitimate means of protest and expression of free speech are blocked, noting that students are not allowed to put up signs in dorm windows, hand out flyers without permission, or organize protests without a permit from the university.

“The fact that two students were detained by BCPD for writing on the ground with sidewalk chalk, something little children do for fun, in and of itself illustrates how absurd and restrictive the policies around free speech on campus are,” the student said.

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I’m a future elementary teacher who enjoys dabbling in news coverage of politics and social issues on the side.