Welcome to The Gavel's podcast series, Behind the Bench. Here you'll find commentary on hot-button issues, updates on campus happenings, and interviews with BC community members. This year's hosts include Gavel sophomores Gabby Levitt and Meghan Keefe. Follow us on Spotify for easy access to each episode!
Gabby: Hey guys, welcome back! This is Gabby.
Meghan: This is Meghan, and this is Episode 4 of Behind the Bench.
Gabby: The Gavel’s podcast. This week, we’re gonna be talking about BC ranking low on a free speech report, Corbin Bernal’s article on the CDC guidelines…
Meghan: And we have an inside look for you at Pine Manor. Stay tuned!
Meghan: Alright, so today we’re gonna be talking about BC ranking pretty low on a report about free speech in colleges.
Gabby: Yeah, this segment is going to be looking over the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, or the FIRE Organization, that did a comprehensive report ranking free speech in colleges, and out of 154 surveyed colleges, BC was ranked 151.
Meghan: It’s such a jarring number.
Gabby: That’s pretty embarrassing. [laughs]
Meghan: I was also a bit surprised by that. I didn’t think we would be ranked… genuinely that low.
Gabby: Yeah. Areas that we were ranked especially low in include comfort in expressing ideas, tolerance for speakers, admin support, and overall openness.
Meghan: Yeah, I mean… I didn’t expect us to be number one, and seeing those topics laid out, it does make sense that we might be a bit lower. My professors especially, I mean, I think they’re doing their best to get their ideas across, but they do—and this is good, but they do always preface saying, “I’m not trying to force a political belief on you, you can believe what you want…” Totally. But I feel like they shouldn’t have to say that.
Gabby: Yeah, and I think that a lot of these feelings are especially exacerbated by COVID, recent events on campus, you know. I feel like BC is pretty starkly divided regarding COVID policy. But also, there are some specific characteristics of campus life that people referenced in the survey that contribute to us having such a low ranking. Of these things include not having an LGBTQ center, you know?
Meghan: Yeah, I’ve heard some rumblings. I mean, I think Schiller is a really cool feat for the school, and I think if they want to delve into the STEM side of the school, that they haven’t yet, as they advertised it as a more liberal arts education, that could be interesting for the people in the STEM majors. But it was an incredible amount of money spent on that, and so not to have spaces for more marginalized groups on campus that other bigger schools have… why can’t there be both? Schiller can exist as well as those spaces!
Gabby: Yeah, and I think also, things like not having the Students for Sexual Health Club be a sanctioned club on campus, like, that says a lot about people’s comfort and openness, and not having an LGBTQ center, not having a physical space, contributes a lot, I think, to having such a low ranking in openness. Last year, there were an alarming number of hate crimes on campus that the school called “bias-motivated incidents.” They couldn’t even call it a hate crime. But I remember, we had several Zoom educational requirements in response, and people would spam the chat function, saying the names of the perpetrators of the hate crimes, and they disabled the chat functions, and people were asking questions, and calling out for these students to be held accountable, and they literally silenced our voices. And it’s unclear if those people were ever even held responsible, which sends a message to students about how much they value our voice, and how the school should be setting a better example.
Meghan: I mean, regardless of if those names ever came out or not, and I get for legal reasons why they may not come out, but there should have been an address from the school, detailing what happened, saying that they would take action, but I don’t really believe that there was any. And I believe that there should have been some action taken at all, whatsoever. And as students, I believe that we had the right—not their names, but to know that there was action being taken, because, you know, there are a lot of people who do not feel safe on a campus that won’t address that or rightfully punish that.
Gabby: And it’s also in regards to the free speech, it’s one thing being students being polarized on different issues, and not feeling like they can speak out and express their beliefs, but actions like this by the university is really detrimental to exacerbating these divides in the campus climate, because when you are refusing to facilitate a space where students can engage in this discussion, and respectfully disagree, it just kind of forces people to more extreme approaches when there’s not a place for us to speak freely, you know?
Gabby: And actually, Corbin Bernal, who…
Meghan: We’re gonna have him on!
Gabby: We’re gonna have him on today, but he said in an interview regarding the FIRE ranking, that if you’re going to have somebody on campus, if you’re gonna host an event, you have to acknowledge that there’s going to be people to disagree with you, and it’s not them trying to shut you down, but it’s them expressing their freedom of speech, just like you are, and I feel like I do understand this level of intolerance, and I feel like I’ve seen it on campus, and there’s not really a safe space for us to disagree with each other, and the administration isn’t facilitating a healthy space to engage with that on a college campus.
Meghan: Yeah, and I think that because there’s not that space, those disagreements and both sides exercising free speech, is immediately seen as a direct attack, no matter what side you’re on. And I think to have a space that facilitates growth and public debate could be pretty useful.
Gabby: Yeah, and for context, the report—or the survey—asked a really broad range of questions concerning both liberal and conservative beliefs, so it was a pretty diverse and comprehensive survey, from my understanding. And both sides, Republican and Democrat, are feeling the same way, which is interesting within itself.
Meghan: It’s interesting to see us united on something.
Gabby: And it asks questions like, should the school be responsible for creating these spaces for us to disagree? Because if we don’t have a school-sanctioned place for us to appropriately and respectfully express our opinions, then people will go elsewhere to more drastic measures. Which is why I think we’re seeing this really low tolerance and expressing ideas, and respect for speakers, and admin support, and openness, because the school isn’t setting a good example.
Gabby: Well, that wraps up our segment on free speech, and next, we’ve got our Hat Tip shoutout to Corbin Bernal!
Meghan: And today, something tying into our last segment, we have special guest Corbin Bernal. He was our first guest on the podcast, crazy enough, and he’s here to talk about his article on CDC guidelines. So Corbin, how are you?
Corbin: Doing well today, thank you guys for having me, and I’m excited to be back again.
Meghan: It’s great!
Corbin: Yeah, this is awesome.
Meghan: You’re really brave for coming in on a Saturday morning.
Gabby: And your article was titled, “The Confusing and Harmful New CDC COVID Guidelines.” So why don’t you tell us a little about your article?
Corbin: Yeah, so I think over break, the CDC updated their guidelines for kind of the first time since the pandemic started, and it was really at kind of at the rise and the increasing number of cases, specifically with the Omicron variant, and I think with just everything going on, with the number of cases we’re still seeing, the number of deaths that we’re still seeing per week, it was just a very interesting time to update the guidelines. And so I thought that I’d write a little Opinions piece on it.
Meghan: Awesome. So I know the Massachusetts school mandate just changed, and BC’s mandate is kind of changing at the moment, how do you think that this plays into the piece that you wrote?
Corbin: Yeah, I think especially for school, you know, get their directives from the CDC, and I think that there’s a delay in what the CDC announces and then those schools, because they can choose to keep it in place, but I think there’s a lot of pressure, and I think that people just want this to be over. And I think we all feel the same way, but at the same time we have to realize, we’re seeing deaths in weekly averages that we haven’t seen since the start of the pandemic. And cases that are dwarfing the numbers from last winter, that we thought then were really high, so it’s just interesting to see the move. I mean, I get that more people are getting vaccinated, but still, we can see with the Omicron variant that vaccination status doesn’t necessarily mean that you won’t get it.
Gabby: Yeah, so there’s a clear discrepancy between the science and the policies, which you talk a lot about in the article. And you said, you can’t “personal choice” your way out of a pandemic, which I thought was very interesting.
Meghan: We liked that line.
Gabby: Would you care to elaborate?
Corbin: Yeah, when I think of that sentence, I think of public health, and the first word of that is public. Especially in a pandemic and especially with a contagious, viral disease, it doesn’t matter if you’re gonna do your own thing, and not worry about what other people are doing, or the consequences of that, because that’s not how a pandemic works. When you think of public health, you think of the community, you think of the people you live with, the people you interact with. And just because you have a personal choice doesn’t mean that the consequences of you being unvaccinated, not wearing a mask when you should, are gonna directly affect other people. And I think when people are like, “oh, I don’t care if I get COVID”, or I don’t care if, whatever. It’s like, well, I think myself and a lot of other people are like, well, we don’t want to get it. So you know, it’s not that we don’t have to make sacrifices of not going out and not doing anything, we all have to make those little sacrifices for each other. And I think a lot of that comes down to American life, in general, I think it’s a very individualistic society that we live in, and I think a lot of that is, a lot of that personal choice sentiment stems from that. When I think that we just have to recognize that we live in a society, and there’s gonna be things that we have to sacrifice so that people don’t die.
Gabby: Exactly. A very individualistic society, at that. And you talk a lot about the hand of capitalism sort of influencing these guidelines, and recently—last month, actually, after the CDC guidelines were updated, an NPR investigation talked about how Delta wrote a letter to the CDC Director, Rochelle Walensky, and days later, the CDC guidelines were changed because the airline received thousands of cancellations over Christmas weekend due to Omicron surges, and this is a non-isolated incident. You know, there’s a ton of large corporations on the CDC, so to what extent do you think this is influencing the CDC’s decisions, and what are the implications of that, why is that problematic?
Corbin: Yeah, I think it started with that letter. You know, an open letter to the CDC. A few days after that, I remember Dr. Fauci going on, saying you know, we need to cut the isolation days in order to get people back to jobs, when COVID has been around for… we’re almost on year three now, and it still has the potential to cripple the economy. And I think in conjunction with the capitalistic society that we have in America, you recognize that these large corporations can’t function without their employees. And they don’t protect, and they don’t give benefits to their employees enough, and so when you force people to work when they’re not feeling well, or you allow your customers to not wear masks or to not be vaccinated, you know, you’re putting the risk and you’re putting the danger all on your employees. And if they can’t come in and work, then you can’t provide services, you lose money, there’s a whole slew of problems, but the first part in making sure it doesn’t reach that point is making sure that your employees are safe, and that your employees don’t get sick, and your employees don’t risk getting sick by coming in to work. And I think that when CEOs of large corporations have to email the CDC and say, hey, I’m losing half of my staff due to COVID, can you cut the isolation time? You know, and with the data that’s coming out about Omicron, you see that people are still contagious after the five days. So if you’re releasing them back into the workforce five days later, while they’re still contagious, it’s a never-ending cycle of they’re gonna give it to somebody once they’re released, and they’re gonna go into isolation, and when they’re out five days later, they’re gonna give it, and it’s just on and on and on. And there’s not enough people where that happens quickly enough and you can just get over it. It’s just, the way it spreads, and the way it is, it’s never gonna end.
Gabby: And it all started with the concern about essential workers to work, like nurses and doctors, and so that the infrastructure of our healthcare system wasn’t crippling, but it’s like, why do BC students need to be out five days instead of ten? It’s like, we’re in very different positions, we’re not essential workers, so the decision to move it from essential workers to all people in society is definitely contributing to the spread.
Meghan: Yeah, our numbers are spiking, and they’re not updating them as routinely as they were last year, and if they want things to, you know, “go back to normal” as everyone says, then I think that at least more college students need to be extended. College students are around each other, like it or not, like they’re not gonna stop doing things.
Meghan: I think we’re gonna have to start facing that fact and try to reconcile what we can.
Gabby: So, what do you want our listeners to take away from your article?
Corbin: I think most importantly is that, you know, we’re still in the thick of this pandemic, it hasn’t slowed down, it’s only gotten worse, maybe the end is in sight as Omicron cases start to go down, but still, I think that whether it’s with your friends or your family, be aware of the risk that you’re taking, and the risks that you shouldn’t be taking. And at the same time, I think it’s important to realize, just how much influence big corporations and big businesses have in society, when they’re willing to subject the lives of their employees just so that they can keep up their profits or keep up their operations, I think it’s important to sit back and really think about what that says about the society we live in. And kind of the values and the principles that we hold for whoever it may be. So when people read this article, I want them to sit with that. And just… stay safe, get vaccinated, and mask up when you can.
Meghan: So now, we have this new segment on the podcast where we ask all of our guests the same question: if you could teach a class at BC, what would you teach?
Corbin: Oh… this is really interesting.
Meghan: Thank you. [laughter]
Corbin: I think there’s just a ton that I’m really interested in. So I’m a CSOM major, I wouldn’t teach in CSOM, I just… I can’t do that. I think a really cool class would just be one about journalism, or the history of a specific type of journalism, whether it be—and you know, this would require more extensive research—but I think focusing in on a certain time period, like racial movements in the 80’s and 90’s, and how it was covered, and how it wasn’t covered, even up until today in modern society, and how stuff like that is covered. I think you could go back to the 60’s and 70’s, and talk about how the Vietnam War was covered, so I think it would be really cool to teach a class on how some major events in history were covered, and just focus on a certain time period.
Gabby: Damn, I would take that class! [laughter] That seems very thought-out.
Meghan: Well, Corbin, it is always great to have you on!
Gabby: Always a pleasure.
Corbin: Thank you guys so much, yeah, I love being here.
Meghan: Thank you!
Gabby: And that brings us to our final segment, a reflection on the COVID and Pine Manor experience.
Meghan: Oh yeah.
Gabby: So, for those of you who don’t know, I did get COVID and had a brief stay at Pine Manor, about five days. I was actually pretty sick, and I didn’t get any work done while I was sick, I didn’t really have Zoom options, I fell behind, I didn’t really feel up to working, and I was reflecting on my experience there and I was like, wow, it’s problematic that I felt guilty for resting when I was sick. And tying into Corbin’s article, I feel like so much of our value is tied into being productive, and society ties our self-worth to the labor that we produce. And we can’t even just like, exist. And I was just reflecting on that, and I feel like it tied into his article because it was rough. [laughter] But other than that, I actually had a pretty positive experience at Pine Manor, the facilities are great, the staff is great, they’re working so hard, so if you find yourself there, please, please be kind, and take care of yourself.
Meghan: I just wanted to point out—and that was all lovely—but I wanted to point out that Gabby said that they got outside time. That is a jail term!
Gabby: Yeah, you could schedule play dates during courtyard time, from ten to four. It was beautiful outside, there was a really lovely tree that you could take laps around. I was a resident of the east village—east village supremacy!
Meghan: There’s like, villages?
Gabby: There were villages. There’s a west village and an east village, and you can only hang out with people from your village.
Meghan: Oh, wow. I actually had no idea.
Gabby: The experience was definitely more positive for me than it sounds like other people had during their very restrictive ten day stay before the change in COVID guidelines.
Meghan: And I do think you bring up a good point about productivity. And especially at a school like BC, there is so much pressure to be insanely productive of every single facet of your life.
Gabby: Yeah, it’s like stressing when you don’t have something to stress about. That’s how I felt.
Meghan: I mean, there is a fine line, and I walk this line quite often, but there is a point where you really do have to be productive in the work that you do, like, we’re paying an insane amount of money for these classes, like, we need to work our hardest, but it is tough because there are simply times where you’re burnt out. And your brain kinda needs a break. So walking that line is such a hard thing to do but I think we would all be healthier if we weren’t.
Gabby: Yeah, and I think that the pandemic has really exacerbated the way that living in a capitalistic society forces you to work through your sickness and your illness, and it even ties into mental health issues and the way that we don’t get paid sick leave, and just kind of the overall issues with the way that society views us needing to take rest is very problematic.
Meghan: Yeah, I think that if I want to watch “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” for a hot minute today, I should be able to. But I’m also aware that I have a hot amount of homework that I have to do. So it’s tough, because I want to be that productive…
Gabby: That girl!
Meghan: Yes! Yes, exactly. That TikTok, that girl… [laughs] It’s hard! And they’re not even being that… social media has such altered images, like they’re putting out what they want you to see.
Gabby: I had some serious FOMO while I was in Pine Manor, but if anybody relates to that, they’re really, they’re fake, they’re not really having that much fun. Enjoy your time at Pine Manor, having alone time in college is so rare, so if you’re an introvert like me, maybe it was a blessing in disguise? But if you do find yourself there, give yourself grace, take some rest, I hope you don’t have symptoms, but if you do…
Meghan: Power through!
Gabby: Power through. Thank you guys so much for listening to our fourth episode of Behind the Bench. Again, this is Gabby.
Meghan: And this is Meghan:
Meghan & Gabby: And you’ve been… Behind the Bench!