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Cara Lyons / Gavel Media

The Secret Life of Underground Clubs

This story first appeared in The Gavel's Spring 2019 print magazine.

It’s September of your freshman year at Boston College, and you’ve just left the Student Involvement Fair sweaty and overwhelmed. As you trudge towards Upper, hands full of a cappella flyers and Appa phone wallets, you notice a few misfit tables scattered on the sidewalk in front of Mac, far above the chaos on Stokes Lawn.

As you probably know by now, these are BC’s unregistered student organizations. According to the administration, they don’t even exist—at least, not officially. They stand for everything BC doesn’t: sexual health, open criticism, and good old fashioned Greek brotherhood.

And although they may be exiled to the only public sidewalk on campus during that fateful September Friday, they are sure to make themselves known.

Ellen Gerst | BANG. Anton Aguila / Gavel Media

The New England Classic, BC’s premiere satirical news organization, has been bringing sharp, offbeat comedic content to campus since 2007. Originally a print-only publication distributing every few months, the Classic has expanded to an all-online platform boasting once-a-semester print editions, high-quality video content, a collaboration with Harvard Computer Society to launch Datamatch at BC, and most recently, their first live comedy show, NECTalks.

Although the Classic has considered seeking university recognition a few times in the past, they find they’re better off underground. The better funding, ability to host outside speakers and conferences, and other benefits aren't quite worth it.

“Having a real budget would be amazing, and would definitely make everyone’s lives a little easier,” said Josh Artman, MCAS ‘19 and Editor-in-Chief of the Classic.

“But there’s just no way the Classic could take funding from the University and still maintain the same sort of outsider, underground, punch-up, down-with-the-man spirit that we have now.”

Without recognition from BC, the Classic finds their own ways to run as well as any other club. They rely mostly on member dues (light, according to Artman) and alumni donations, but sometimes extra expenses do fall on the pockets of the editors.

“We wouldn’t be doing this if we didn’t love it irrationally to begin with,” said Artman, who doesn’t sweat the extra cash too much.

Shea Rulon, the NEC’s marketing director, agrees that the pros of being unregistered outweigh the cons.

“We aren’t required to abide by BC’s regulations regarding our content,” said Rulon, CSOM ‘20. “The Classic would look a lot different—definitely a lot less funny—if we weren’t allowed to criticize the administration (and make funny photoshops of Father Leahy). Our articles can be a good catalyst for productive conversation about the places where BC falls short.”

Ellen Gerst | BANG. Photo courtesy of Sigma Phi Epsilon

Boston College’s underground fraternity, Sigma Phi Epsilon, Massachusetts Iota Chapter, was founded in 2009. Though nationally chartered by SigEp, they’ve never registered with the university.

They hold weekly meetings, host speakers and networking events, and throw mixers. Besides lacking a pledging process, the group essentially functions as any other fraternity would (not that BC students would know).

The fraternity’s president, Jake Morgan, CSOM ‘20, explained that as a Jesuit university, BC can’t recognize them. Even Jesuit schools with more robust Greek life, like Georgetown, force their frats underground too.

“To be honest, it’s actually a lot easier for us to operate without recognition. At schools with a lot of recognized Greek life, there tends to be a lot of red tape and people you have to constantly communicate with that slows things down and makes operations more difficult,” said Morgan.

But it’s not all easy.

“We don’t have a very large support system to deal with problems we run into, and so have to lean on nationals or alumni to help with things we can’t figure out on our own.”

The fraternity is funded by dues (“comparatively high to other club fees, but extremely low compared to most fraternities”). They also have to try harder than most clubs to recruit new members. Morgan said they recruit primarily through tabling, usually next to Students for Sexual Health on CoRo during the Involvement Fair.

Ellen Gerst | BANG. Dorothy Cucci / Gavel Media

Students for Sexual Health (SSH) does some of the most important work on Boston College’s campus. But they’re still unrecognized by the university, despite repeated requests from the club and the student body.

The group began in 2009 after a student referendum showed that 89.47% of 3,600 voters  wanted increased access to sexual health materials and information. They fight “for the health education and resources that students need and deserve” on a campus that offers absolutely none.

SSH faces roadblocks at every step, from recruitment to acquiring funding to even just meeting on campus.

The organization is currently sponsored by a Campus Campaigns grant from Planned Parenthood. The grant fuels initiatives like RubberHub, a biweekly delivery service for everything from condoms to lube and dental dams, available to anyone who fills out a short Google form.

However, with the impending election there’s a fair chance that Planned Parenthood will direct funding elsewhere, leaving SSH without the grant next year.

No university recognition means they can’t hold meetings in classrooms on campus without fear of discipline. Instead, they're forced to meet in random dorms—not exactly favorable to member acquisition or retention.

MaryElizabeth Mooney, the president of SSH, attributes BC’s lack of sexual health policies to its Catholic view on conversations about sexual health. Unfortunately, that view is to avoid conversations about it.

“While I respect them not wanting to fund us and not wanting to put a stamp of approval on it, it’s really frustrating on our end that they won’t even allow us to meet,” said Mooney, MCAS ‘20.

“There’s a wide variety of groups on campus, but if there’s a registered pro-life club, there should be a club that is allowed to pass out condoms.”

Over the years, SSH has tried to register or reserve spaces, most recently on the 2018 student election ballot. The referendum, which called for SSH’s right to hold meetings on campus without receiving funding from the University, passed with 94% favorable votes.

The response from the administration was a resounding “No.”

Students for Sexual Health remains committed to providing BC students with sexual health resources, and becoming recognized as a legitimate club would help immensely. But Mooney is skeptical this change will come anytime soon, if at all.

“We want to be recognized because it would make it a lot easier to do what we do,” she said. “But I don’t know if recognition, although I’d love it to be, is within my future with SSH, since I only have one more year left. Especially since nothing came out of the referendum.”

Make no mistake, the perks that come with university recognition could make operations much easier for the members of underground clubs.

But as Artman put it, “Boston College isn’t really a university that supports free speech among its student body.”

Clubs like the New England Classic and Students for Sexual Health aren’t willing to sacrifice their authenticity in the name of better funding. And as long as they are forced to choose between the two, it looks like they’ll be staying underground.

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