A small but committed group of students and faculty took to Stokes Lawn to stand in protest against the inadequacy of the Boston College administration’s response to racism on campus and stand in solidarity with the school’s BIPOC community on the evening of Monday, April 19.
The protest started out with the group marching along the perimeter of the lawn, waving signs and calling out “silence is violence” and “we want change.” The group then spread out across the lawn and opened the floor for anyone who wished to speak.
The first to speak up—and one of the most prominent speakers during the event—was Dr. Laura Hake, a professor in the biology department at BC.
While holding a sign dawning the words “Actions speak louder than webinars” and reflecting on having been witness to hate and complicity on BC’s campus since 1997, she said to the crowd, “It is amazing how as a white woman how easy it has been for me to not look… It is heartbreaking… The amount of trauma a student of color has to live with on this campus is unimaginable.”
This sentiment seemed to be reflected by the rest of the predominantly white crowd. Following Hake’s lead, students also began to speak up, with the discussion shifting to the ways that white students can better ally themselves with and support students of color.
Many students spoke about the need to be uncomfortable and to have difficult conversations.
One student challenged the crowd to keep themselves and those around them accountable. They expressed their frustration at how many people they had invited to the event who made no effort to show and implored everyone in attendance to ask their friends why they hadn’t shown up, where they had been.
Another student reflected on their experience with residence hall staff, receiving countless ingenuous emails, and sitting in on meetings where administrators work out a policy that works not in the best interest of the students, but of their own.
“It’s difficult to feel like you’re doing something when it feels like the only person that hears you is yourself,” the student remarked.
This shifted the topic to how students and faculty can better invoke the administration to implement actual policy change. The faculty in attendance discussed their efforts to make BC a more inclusive campus through membership in the faculty group Faculty Advancing Racial Equity (FARE) but admitted that even they struggled to feel heard by the administration.
PULSE instructor Eileen Sweeney recalled how her students found racist epithets written on a chalkboard, tried to erase it, but realized that was not enough when one of their classmates, a student of color, saw it after their attempts to remove it and was still upset.
“Erasing it wasn’t enough,” Sweeney said, alluding to how BC’s administration often tries to erase racist events on its campus.
One of the event’s organizers, Josh Fording, MCAS ‘22, asserted to the crowd how it is easy for the higher-ups of Boston College, such as the board of trustees, to ignore the rest of the community when they aren’t called out by name. So, he asked those in attendance to do just that—to look up the names of the members of the Boston College Board of Trustees and demand them by name to make a change.
As the event winded down, a few students of color found the courage to speak and enraptured the audience with their words.
One described being a woman of color on campus as “a fucking death sentence.” They expressed their appreciation for those who had shown up but cried out in frustration at how it was only a fraction of Boston College’s near 10,000 undergraduate students who were willing to dedicate an hour of their day to attend the protest. They explained that, as a freshman, it was just their first year at BC and they were already tired of having these conversations.
Such sorrowful words were topped off by a student of color who, reflecting on a conversation with their father who told them they could transfer if they wanted, said, “You can always transfer… but where else can you go? This is the standard everywhere.”
These final words signified how BC is truly a microcosm of America, the reality that while many people say they believe in equality for the BIPOC community, the LGBTQ+ community, or any other marginalized group, they still have the privilege to push it to the back of their minds as an afterthought.
For example, simply because Derek Chauvin was convicted for three accounts of murder and manslaughter does not mean people of color—Black people in particular—will feel any safer as they go about their day-to-day lives.
Individuals and organizations across the country and throughout the world are fighting for justice and equality, fighting for their lives. But that battle will stagnate unless those who have reaped privilege and power throughout history commit to fighting alongside them, and actually do so.