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Maddy Mitchell / Gavel Media

“Mid-Semester Update” Email Buries Racist Act, and the Lack of Action is Unsurprising

“While we are making progress, it is clear that work remains to be done. This past week, based on reports received, a student was identified by BC Police for writing racially offensive language on classroom chalkboards. The student was issued a summary suspension from Boston College, pending resolution of the case through the Office of Student Conduct. Any student found responsible for engaging in conduct that violates our community standards will be held accountable.  I ask for your renewed commitment to helping advance BC’s culture of care and welcome for all.” -Michael Lochhead in an email to students on March 12, 2021

On March 12, the Boston College student body received an email from the acting VP for Student Affairs, Michael Lochhead, titled “Mid-Semester Update.” In it, Lochhead buried one paragraph (see above) about the hate speech on campus under a section vaguely titled: ‘Campus Life.’ As Lochhead indicated in his email to students, the student has been issued a summary suspension — an interim action taken when the administration deems a student a threat to the health, safety, or wellbeing of the community. Essentially, the student has been suspended and can’t be on campus or attend school functions until a final decision is made about their actions. 

The hate speech coming from this student is a serious offense against the university and the community. Such hate speech stands as yet another barrier between students of color and the feeling of being fully accepted at a place they are supposed to feel at home.

This generic email for issues, events, and activities in the new semester gave little spotlight to this serious violation of the student code of conduct. It is shocking that the university continues to refuse to address racist acts on par with their severity, and the lumping together of this event in an email with CAB events and senior week notices is offensive and draws the legitimacy of the administration’s intentions into question.

The announcement of a racist act was an afterthought, with a weak and vague warning for future racist behavior. Despite claims to dedicating resources and training to diversity education, it seems that none of the actions taken by BC thus far have had a significant effect on diverting continuing racist behavior. 

This event follows the racially motivated harassment and destruction of the women’s Multicultural Learning Experience floor from early February of this year. The lack of transparency in the university's response to and ultimate ruling on the racially motivated actions exhibited has been a source of conflict between the students and administration ever since. This conflict between the demands of the students and the administrative roadblock is unfortunately not new to the Boston College Campus

This pattern begs the question of why the administration has been so stagnant in making real, palpable, institutional change, and how the changes they have made have been making little to no difference. While the administration continues to tout its dedication to increasing diversity education and levying dissuasive punishments, some students continue to violate the code of conduct and commit racially motivated acts undeterred. There is undeniably room for improvement in the university’s adjudication process, and the lack of results is visible not only in the acts of the student responsible for the racially offensive language, but also in this email’s public response. 

The apparent lenience exhibited by the university for these continued racist actions seen in the lack of consequences, casual ‘update’ responses to the student body, and lack of support for students of color continue to perpetuate the unwelcoming environment for students of color. How can these students feel supported or as a part of the larger Boston College community when racially motivated actions aren’t taken seriously and the university offers insincere condolences and transparent solutions? 

In terms of the repercussions given for the unnamed student responsible, the “summary suspension” pending further review leaves much to be desired. Certainly the school is responsible for withholding the details of the student’s identification and disciplinary procedures, but the school’s casual tone makes a mockery of the serious implications of the student’s actions. Rather, even if the information provided is all the school could provide, the delivery should have included further scolding of the entire community and a more pressing threat to any students who might feel like they could get away with acting similarly.

Additionally, the school has provided no resources for students of color who have been affected by the continuing racist acts on campus. The implications of these actions can cause serious harm to the mental health of these students and threaten their feeling of security on and off campus. The university should be providing extra mental health assurances and take actionable steps to make students feel safer.  

It is crucial that these issues are given the attention they deserve by the administration and faculty. Otherwise, students will continue to believe they can get away with taking part in, or withholding knowledge about, racist acts that continue to actively harm students of color and deteriorate the Boston College community. The administration must stop treating every response like a public relations issue. They must start treating them like opportunities to reshape the community’s expectations and the university’s stance.

By hiding these racist acts into one paragraph side-notes, the administration fails to acknowledge the hurtful impact these incidents have on students, faculty, and staff throughout the BC community. And although these criticisms are coming from a white author at a predominantly white institution, the rallying cry coming from the student body for the administration to listen to students of color and respond in support of them is strong and relentless in the face of the university’s lack of action. 

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