Boston College has a place for everyone. With more than 300 clubs and student organizations to choose from, students have plenty of opportunities to connect to a wide network of people, develop leadership skills, and make a difference on campus and beyond. If there is not an organization that meets the needs of students, they are often encouraged to create their own by presenting a case to the Board of Student Organizations (BSO) within the Office of Student Involvement (OSI). In addition to presenting on the proposed organization, a new organization must meet eleven registration criteria to establish its credibility, including requirements such as enhancing the Boston College experience by creating an inclusive and formational environment to appeal to the larger community, furthering the mission and values of Boston College as a Jesuit Catholic university, having plans in place for long-term success, and minimal overlap with other student organizations already present on-campus. After reviewing a presentation by the proposed organization, the BSO decides whether or not they will refer the organization’s application to OSI for final approval.
Considering how many different clubs there are on-campus already, in addition to the ever-growing intelligence and creativity of the student body, it seems that applying to become an organization, especially one that meets all requirements of the BSO, should be a rewarding and straightforward process—albeit one that demands much dedication and hard work on the part of an organization’s executive board. Unfortunately, this is not the case for everyone.
The Society for Advancement of Chicanos/Hispanics and Native Americans in Science (SACNAS) is a nationally recognized organization directed towards underserved minorities that presents opportunities for leadership and mentorship in STEM careers. The SACNAS Chapter at Boston College, which launched in Fall 2020, is an “inclusive organization dedicated to fostering the success of all underrepresented scientists, including but not limited to Chicanos/Hispanics, Native Americans, women, people of color, LGBTQ, those financially underserved in STEM, and allies, from college students to professionals, in attaining advanced degrees, careers, and positions of leadership in STEM.”
Racial minorities comprise 33% of the current STEM workforce, but other minorities continue to face similar disparities. These problems are even worse at Boston College. SACNAS gives underrepresented BC students in STEM opportunities to advance their studies and post-graduate experiences with the support of other students, faculty, and national recognition. Since its launch, the university’s SACNAS chapter has built multiple digital platforms, attended regional conferences, coordinated with well-established collegiate chapters such as those at Brandeis, Brown, Harvard, and Tufts, led professional development workshops, and executed an “Accessing Research” series that featured BC faculty in labs across campus.
The SACNAS Executive Board, comprised of two seniors, two juniors, and two freshmen during the 2020-2021 school year, started coordinating its April presentation for official organization status to the BSO in February 2021. After working tirelessly through the application process, in addition to putting on events for SACNAS on campus, the e-board presented its case to the BSO, only to be denied status as a recognized club on campus. Despite working to meet every criterion listed in the BSO requirements, the rejection letter stated that SACNAS bore too much similarity to a previously existing organization on campus, SHOfA, saying that “the STEM and Health Organization for AHANA (SHOfA) [which] is an emerging organization dedicated to serving students on their journey towards their accomplished careers in STEM and healthcare fields despite the social pressures they may face on campus. The goal of SHOfA is to increase recruitment and academic success of underrepresented students, as well as educationally and economically disadvantaged students, who are interested in pursuing careers in the STEM professions.” SHOfA specifically falls under the pre-health department, and although it seeks to serve underrepresented students on campus, its goals are not the same as SACNAS. Nevertheless, even if there was some minor overlap, members of the e-board, such as former SACNAS President Alexandra (Ally) Ivanov (MCAS ’21) began to wonder, why should the university place a limit on the number of organizations available to help minority students achieve their goals? It felt as though the university was quieting the voices of its underrepresented students, as it has done many times in the past.
“We weren’t really sure what the appeals’ process was and when we asked they said they didn’t have any time the rest of the semester, and this was mid-April which we thought was a little odd…they said they could no longer do a whole appeal process” Ally said. “This was an application…we started planning for this in February…they said they could do the appeal in the fall but we wanted to already be a club in the fall so that we could be in the student involvement fair.”
SACNAS was given provisional status under OSI but not the BSO, and the details as to what this status meant remained ambiguous. When the members of the Executive Board later attended a meeting to discuss this in more detail, Ally described the BSO to be “dismissive.”
“We were a little confused as to why there should be a limit as to how many clubs there are to support minority STEM students on campus. Even if there is slight overlap in that we both…address STEM students, why should there be a limit to the opportunities and support that BC can offer to them?”
Ally wrote to all the chairs of the STEM departments asking for letters of support to show the board how necessary it was to have SACNAS on campus. After receiving an outpouring of support, Cristina Cusmai, MCAS '24 and Vice President of SACNAS, compiled these letters and presented them during the second meeting as well. However, while this meeting proved that SACNAS was distinct and different from SHOfA, the BSO decided that SACNAS now had too many faculty advisors.
“I cannot tell you why that is a justified argument, I don’t know if they thought that all the faculty are now our advisors because that’s simply not the case and we never said that. But they said that we had too many faculty advisors. We have two administrative staff within the biology department who help us coordinate events, then we have one actual faculty advisor, Dr. David Burgess in the Biology Department, but that’s it…there’s been so many barriers and it’s just…been a lot to handle, how can you not take it personally? You’re showing people that your experience matters, that there is a lack of opportunities on campus for underrepresented students and you’re saying this will help decrease that…and because the board has never had that experience, they don’t see the importance.”
Ally, although she has since graduated, considers herself incredibly lucky to have such a committed, determined, and poised Executive Board for this current school year.
“I am very optimistic and hopeful, not because of the systems in place or because of BC’s environment, but because of the spirit of the students and faculty that I have interacted with.”
Abbey Avila (MCAS ’22), the current President of SACNAS, hoped going into this school year that, going forward, the university would cease turning its back to students who continue begging for representation,
“Essentially, the most frustrating part of the process was speaking to the undergraduates and their direct boss. They really didn’t seem to be trying to help us until we put all the pressure from STEM faculty and staff, and even when we had our final meeting, they never apologized or acknowledged the significance and need for more representation in STEM, especially here at BC...I am hoping our events will promote awareness and support for diversity in the sciences, as the two undergraduates I spoke with from BSO both happened to be STEM majors (I recognized them from classes), and yet they couldn’t seem to fully understand the importance of our mission. So, I am hoping moving forward that the students attending our event will find either support or become allies for our cause, and I especially hope that the BSO will take organizations supporting minorities more seriously in the future.”
Since this all occurred, the SACNAS Chapter at Boston College has received official club status. Nevertheless, despite achieving this ultimate goal, it is still embarrassing for a university that prides itself on diversity and inclusion to consistently deny the same to its students—and to only grant such a request after months of hardship. As I move on from BC, while excited for SACNAS and its newly recognized organization status on campus, I am disappointed to see atrocities like this still occurring on campus. I implore BC to do better for its students both now and in years to come.