This article is a part of a larger feature series titled Taking the Temperature of Diversity and Inclusivity at BC in 2018.
he Organization of Latin American Affairs (OLAA) has worked to voice the issues faced by Latinx students at Boston College since 1977.
Today, the organization works toward the advancement of Latinx students both at BC and in the greater community, striving to support the various aspects of Latinx culture and identity.
Jorge Mejia, the organization’s co-director of social and political action and MCAS ’19, recalls his arrival at BC four years ago as being a shock. He grew up in the Bronx, where he said the population is majority Latino, followed by a somewhat large black population and an extremely small white population—a big change from the makeup of the BC community, which he describes as an inversion of this.
Such a massive shift in his surroundings has been a “mixed bag” experience, according to Mejia. Though being a person of color at BC has been challenging, he credits coming to BC as a blessing—being taken out of a demographic in which everyone shared his background allowed him to truly internalize his identity.
Lucia del Rincon-Martinez, co-president of OLAA and MCAS ’19, described her position in the organization as a true honor. Although she identifies as a part of the AHANA+ community, others do not always identify her with the group because her skin color is light enough that she passes as white, affording her aspects of white privilege some of her peers are not, as well as exposing her to microaggressions toward her identity. While she could have blended in with the vast white community on campus, she chose otherwise because of her strong identification culturally and ethnically with the AHANA+ community.
Mejia said he believes BC successfully supports AHANA+ students by providing institutional outlets for the formation of communities such as Montserrat and the Learning to Learn Office (LTL), which foster emotional support for various communities calling BC home. Both Mejia and del Rincon-Martinez, however, criticized BC’s lack of representation of AHANA+ faculty members, as well as some faculty members’ cultural incompetency.
The events of the last school year involving the racist Snapchats and the defacing of Black Lives Matter signs struck a personal chord with both students. Mejia was “morally astonished” but not “ethically surprised,” since he saw the incident as a microcosm of what happens when marginalized students are removed from the greater cultural conversations occurring on campus.
Mejia described the Silence is Still Violence march as “the most empowering moment” of his BC career. Seeing the community come together to denounce racism and support black lives “was something that most students longed for.”
Del Rincon-Martinez provided a different take on the events, as she experienced them remotely. Expressing her regret for not having been able to attend the protest because she was studying abroad at the time, del-Rincon Martinez was informed about what was happening by both her AHANA+ identifying and non-AHANA+ identifying friends. She said that the event began to pave the path for more conversations surrounding BC’s culture to occur on campus.
Yet the University still isn’t a place for difficult, race-related and inclusivity-related conversations, according to both del-Rincon Martinez and Mejia. Mejia said that when these discussions are brought up in classes or among groups, people are quick to express their agreement, but there are no measurable contributions.
“There is a lot of incentive to be intellectually aware but not practically involved,” he said. “This is a common motif of activist discussions on campus in that there is no transformation of opinions into tangible advocacy.”
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el Rincon-Martinez highlighted that these discussions are mostly addressed within communities that are already concerned about them. She stated that the environments these issues are discussed in are select and are mostly AHANA+ dominated, while the conversations need to be held in much broader communities. When mentioning that BC is not a safe place for these discussions, she cites the die-in that took place a few weeks ago as an example.
She participated in the protest and found it moving, but she observed the inherent unfair nature of the fact that black students on campus still felt the need hold the event anonymously.
“BC should be encouraging these types of peaceful protests,” she said.
The University’s decision to create the DiversityEdu module was an encouraging development in itself to both Mejia and del Rincon-Martinez.
“DiversityEdu formalizes diversity education at BC,” Mejia said. “There is no excuse or justification for ignorance, prejudice, bias, or racism.”
He specifically cited the module’s emphasis on the issues inherent to microaggressions as a legitimate asset—he’s experienced situations involving microaggressions during his time at BC and was glad to see the module concentrate on such an important subject.
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ut both del Rincon-Martinez and Mejia said that DiversityEdu falls short. Mejia thinks that it concentrated too closely on the paradigm of race and class and was merely an introduction to social theory. He criticized the failure to mention colorism, as well as its lack of a call for tangible action.
Del Rincon-Martinez added that she thinks the module could have benefitted from integrating more dialogue from students on campus, including input from culture clubs, since they are the ones who are directly affected by these issues.
On a related note, BC is currently encouraging students to take the Student Experience Survey, in order to gain a better understanding of the improvements the University needs to focus on making going forward. Like DiversityEdu, del Rincon-Martinez believes the Student Experience Survey is a step in the right direction. Since the survey is optional, however, she is concerned the results won’t be representative of the community as a whole.
Featured Images Courtesy of Jorge Mejia