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Emma Cunningham / Gavel Media

Censorship of the Israel-Palestine War at BC

Six years ago, BC students Matthew Barad and James Mazareas organized a sidewalk chalk protest, passing chalk around to anyone with a message for the BC administration, from criticizing restrictive free speech policies to LGBTQ+ issues to the divestment of fossil fuels. I had the opportunity to talk with Mazareas about this protest and how he and Barad were detained by BCPD and charged with property damage, even though, as the Dean of Students acknowledged in their hearing, they were only charged with property damage because “writing in chalk wasn’t actually against the rules, but they had to charge us with something.” 

“There’s this tremendously long history at BC of being very authoritarian, very restrictive on free speech,” going back decades, particularly “targeted against Black students and students of color who are protesting institutional racism and hate crimes on their own campus.” 

As a part of the LGBTQ+ alumni council, Mazareas continues to face censorship. In October, Mazareas reached out to the group, criticizing them for their pro-Israel posts and not acknowledging “the loss of all innocent lives.” When the group responded with indifference, he posted about the conflict on the Facebook page. However, recently, two council co-chairs informed him that due to his posts, they were instituting a new policy where all posts on the Facebook page would now have to be approved by administrators.

Stories like Mazareas’ aren’t isolated incidents. As alleged in a petition by BC Buddies for Palestine, on February 15th, a group of students “gathered to grieve the calculated and catastrophic destruction of life in Palestine” by walking silently and peacefully from Carney Hall to the public Boyden Park. Two graduate students were subsequently placed on disciplinary probation, one of which was a Palestinian student.

This climate of fear and censorship led to The Fire ranking Boston College 229th out of 254 colleges on free speech. While many universities have been in the news for their widespread demonstrations and subsequent police and administrative backlash, it’s a common understanding at BC that setting up encampments in the first place would be close to impossible.

Nevertheless, in some of the first shows of Palestinian support that BC has allowed, on April 23rd, BC faculty hosted a vigil for the victims in Gaza, and the following day, BC Buddies for Palestine hosted a pro-Palestine protest on the O’Neill quad. While these events were great steps in the right direction, having the opportunity to attend the protest and talk with some of the organizers showed BC’s culture of repression isn’t going anywhere. For one, police officers were staged throughout the protest “for safety reasons,” disappointing the group of peaceful protestors. Additionally, the organizers emphasized how it was an “in the lines” protest, and protesters must comply with anything the administration asked, proving once again that BC students, even those emphatic on protesting for Palestinians, are accountable to BC’s repressive censorship rules.

Diana Wicks (MCAS ‘25), a speaker at the event, was very concerned with the humanitarian crisis in Gaza as well as the state of free speech at BC. “I know a lot of people who are very scared to exercise their right to free speech… there’s always been issues of free speech under the surface, but [Gaza] has definitely made it a point of conversation among smaller groups, but people are afraid to do so in large scale groups.”

Another speaker at the protest who chose to remain anonymous said that they were there to fight for “the removal of disciplinary action against Palestinian students and students of color who have been affected by this. It doesn’t make any sense for students who are worried about their loved ones to also on top of that worry about their place at a university that they have to attend in order to help these family members.”

This censorship and culture of fear when speaking out about Palestine stands in stark contrast to the lack of censorship of pro-Israel BC faculty, mainly Ira Kirschner. The newly appointed director of LGBTQ+ issues at the BAIC is a former Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) officer who has been a very public supporter of Israel since the October 7th attacks. In particular, his many LinkedIn posts evoking sympathy for Israel have brought discomfort and confusion to pro-Palestinian students who can’t speak out on the humanitarian crisis in Gaza out of fear of repercussions. The hypocrisy of BC permitting their employees to post their pro-Israel stance that could, and have, offended many students while simultaneously creating a culture of fear that stops students from speaking out about Palestine continues to shock me and other BC students.

This issue is tied to BC’s lack of LGBTQ+ resources and the repression of speech on campus, particularly of non-white and marginalized groups. As Mazareas, who also runs the @bcequality Instagram account, explained, “Over the last six months I’ve received a number of messages of students expressing concerns about [Kirschner] saying that his presence at the [BAIC center] is the reason they won’t go there to seek help and take advantage of the resources because they’re uncomfortable with him serving that role.” With already limited resources for LGBTQ+ students, Kirschner’s position harms the well-being of multiple segments of the BC student population. 

This situation poses many questions. For one, what is the responsibility of groups like the LGBTQ+ alumni council and the BAIC to speak out against the genocide against Palestinians? At the very least, in my opinion, they should allow a multitude of opinions to be expressed under their platform to make all students feel welcome.

More importantly, how do BC students overcome this crushing censorship and join fellow college students in protesting for peace in Palestine? The tragedy in Gaza is crucial to discuss, but at BC, the lack of ability to speak on it has evidently brought up the issue of censorship. Change will not come about overnight, and certainly not at an institution like BC; nevertheless, I encourage everyone to promote free speech on campus, support and engage in peaceful protests, and stay educated on the layers of this critical issue. 

In the words of the anonymous protest speaker, “there’s no point in being a BC student and believing in justice and being a person for others if you can’t make those sacrifices as students.” It’s times like these when dedicated students like ourselves must take action for the better, and joining students across the country to make change at our own institutions can have a monumental impact.

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