On the evening of March 31st, news began to circulate that Dr. Shawna Cooper-Gibson had announced an administrative decision to remove the acronym AHANA from the name of the Thea Bowman AHANA and Intercultural Center (BAIC). The decision, first communicated to AHANA-related initiative groups, came as a surprise to the entirety of the student body, causing widespread displeasure and utter frustration. Students began to express their outrage on social media platforms and in student group chats, primarily focusing on the administration’s choice to neglect the input of students and the secrecy regarding the decision; the information only came to light once a screenshot taken from a group chat was disseminated throughout different organizations on campus. Many students still remain in the dark about the changes since a briefing was posted over a week later (April 7th) under University news, but it was not emailed to students, making the news unknown to most.
Boston College has a long history of denying its students the resources they need, often underfunding the few programs that cater to marginalized groups on campus. Dr. Cooper-Gibson’s decision to remove the acronym AHANA from the BAIC’s name to include other underrepresented student groups not only undermines the efforts made by the office to create a safe space for students of color but also delegitimizes the need of these spaces on a campus as intolerant as BC’s. The alleged reasoning behind removing AHANA from the BAIC is to foster inclusivity, including the addition of LGBTQ+ services to the existing center. It is imperative to note that GLBTQ+ Leadership Council (GLC) has been fighting for their own LGBTQ+ resource center for years, repeatedly being denied by the administration despite an abundance of donors, space, and plans. The BAIC is currently limited to one small office space and a mere four advisors that are dedicated to serving the approximately 3,300 AHANA students on campus. The decision to pursue these changes to the BAIC and essentially merge POC and LGBTQ+ services under one improperly funded and understaffed center is a move that neither representative student organization explicitly asked for.
For LGBTQ+ students, being denied a center that caters to their needs because it “does not align with Jesuit values'' is both mentally and physically harmful. LGBTQ+ students deserve to have accessible resources on campus that empower them and affirm their deserved place at Boston College. Despite this desperate need for institutional changes regarding diversity, equity, and inclusion, the answer does not lie in digging into resources and spaces that have already been established as AHANA-specific. The desire to combine all minority groups under one roof speaks to the apathy that characterizes the administration at this school, exposing the disregard BC has for the needs of its students.
The resources that LGBTQ+ students need are vastly different than what AHANA students need and vice versa. There is no logical way to create a resource center that caters to both groups at once when their only commonality is marginalization. Masked as a move towards creating intersectional student facilities, the combination of the two centers actually results in an imbalanced allocation of services, disproportionately benefitting white students. The inclusion of LGBTQ+ services in the BAIC will diminish the amount of energy and resources dedicated solely to AHANA students due to the inevitable increase of white students that will use the center. AHANA students are expected to bear the burden of the administration’s repeated decision to deny LGBTQ+ students their own resource center, instead forcing AHANA students to sacrifice their staff, funds, and space. This is not an issue of AHANA students versus LGBTQ+ students but rather suggests that BC is only providing support to one marginalized group while compromising the resources of another. Regardless of the intent, the move places the two marginalized groups on opposite sides of the battle, opening the door for misconstrued anger over a decision that was solely orchestrated by Student Affairs.
Students in both affected groups had a variety of thoughts, hitting all ends of the spectrum. On the morning of April 1st, we participated in a student meeting at the BAIC to discuss reactions and next steps in preparation for representatives to speak with her at her office hours. In dialogue between AHANA students, many expressed irritation regarding the way that the administration disregarded ‘AHANA’ as simply an acronym that represents the campus’s students of color. However, students who identify with the acronym see it as a community that has provided a sense of belonging that is hard to locate at BC, with this decision encroaching on that sense of community. Students felt that the minimization of one of the only POC safe spaces on campus to a simple disposable center was a slap in the face to the entire AHANA community. The student representatives emphasized the necessity for clarity, conversation, and transparency as minimum requirements from the administration. There was no shortage of shock and disappointment from the students who have come to love to role that the BAIC plays in their academic experience.
Grouping the two identity groups that BC neglects the most will not solve the discrimination they face. Instead, it only highlights the lack of care the university has for its marginalized students. The administration continuously refuses to consult with students who will be affected by their decisions. This is an abuse of power and shows they only care about pushing their own agenda. The same students who become collateral damage to the administration’s negligence are the ones expected to fight for the spaces, funds, and resources that are long overdue.
This situation proves that BC’s administration has lost touch with the consequences of its actions, attempting to make decisions in the name of equality that consequently stall equity. It is concerningly obvious that the initiative was not thought out with student interests in mind. Rather, it was simply the quickest solution to continued denial of student demands for reform. Inclusivity on our campus does not require the shortcutting of resources for marginalized students; it demands changes to the hierarchical nature of our funding and the skewed priorities of the university.
Our students deserve to have an open line of communication with the administration, especially when it comes to decisions that disproportionately impact the AHANA community. If BC cannot offer their marginalized groups individual resources, then the least they can do is offer clarity, conversation, and transparency.