This article is a part of a larger feature series titled Taking the Temperature of Diversity and Inclusivity at BC in 2018.
he “die-in” that took place earlier this month commemorated the one-year anniversary of the “Silence is Still Violence” protest—one of the biggest demonstrations in University history. The recent protest and the year since “Silence is Still Violence” have given students time to think and reflect how BC has grown, and where it still has room to improve. One of the attendees, sociology and African and African diaspora studies professor C. Shawn McGuffey, was handing out fliers on behalf of the Black Eagles, an anonymous advocacy group on campus for students of color.
“I was just there to pass out materials because they were afraid of sanctions, which I think is terrible,” McGuffey said. “[Students] always feel like they can be sanctioned. They’re really fearful of the sanction process—I really think BC could work on its sanctioning process.”
Student activists took to the Quad to draw attention to injustice and issues they saw with inequality in the BC community on Oct. 18. This was different from the demonstration in 2017, which was in response to a string of racist incidents on campus.
“What really inspired me about [the die-in] is that it was proactive,” McGuffey said. “These protests happen in a response to something like a racist incident that occurs, but here, these students were being proactive, they weren’t waiting for something to occur.”
Following the “die-in,” the Black Eagles issued a series of demands. These demands included improvements to the DiversityEdu module and an increase in diversity on campus, among other things.
“Some of the students that have taken [DiversityEdu] don’t think it’s very good, but the fact that we have one I think is progress” McGuffey said. “I do think a lot of the core courses are diving into the issues of inequality, so hopefully what is lacking in [Diversity]Edu you can pick up in your core courses.”
What really inspired me about [the die-in] is that it was proactive. These protests happen in a response to something like a racist incident that occurs, but here, these students were being proactive, they weren’t waiting for something to occur. Professor C. Shawn McGuffey
tudents want to know what’s next, according to the professor. They don’t want administrators to check the boxes on last year’s demands and move on, thinking everything is fixed. So, an issue such as DiversityEdu needs to be followed-up on by students, in order to be proactive and hold the University accountable.
McGuffey said he believes that a once-per-month update of some sort from the University would put students at ease—understanding exactly how administrators are taking on progress on the many fronts where students are asking for progress would do a lot to bridge the gap in mistrust between students and University administrators.
“That way they know the University is making a good faith effort to address these issues,” McGuffey said.
Administrators indicated confusion in the wake of the “die-in,” since they felt they had made it clear they were open to having more conversations. McGuffey, though, noted that the fear among students doesn’t have as much to do with individual administrators, but with the culture surrounding discussion on campus as a whole.
“BC has a really good rhetoric around social justice,” he said. “Part of the Jesuit tradition that they really talk about is being men and women for others, so I think BC has a really good groundwork for doing really progressive work, and also for inclusion, because when you think of being men and women for others, others is all women and men.”
But the University’s shortcomings include a lack of transparency and the fear students have of sanctions being handed down over vocalizing their opinions, according to McGuffey. He said he believes BC can work on its sanctioning process for protests—he pointed to Georgetown’s process for handling protests. McGuffey noted that although BC does a good job of talking about social justice in other places, the institution’s fear of internal criticism has created a difficult environment for students to feel free to speak.
The Undergraduate Government of BC is currently working on trying to implement a “Red Square” concept that Georgetown has adopted in relation to protests. In the square, students don’t have to fear University sanctions. At BC presently, students must go through the Dean of Students office in order to get a permit for a demonstration.
BC has a really good rhetoric around social justice. ... I think BC has a really good groundwork for doing really progressive work, and also for inclusion, because when you think of being men and women for others, others is all women and men. Professor C. Shawn McGuffey
cGuffey noted that in order to make the campus more inclusive, the University needed to take a closer look at “who we’re leaving out of the conversation” on the needs of students. He specifically cited the wealth of the student body as being an issue that needs to be faced head on. Students can be fearful of embracing their financial identity, no matter what class level they are a part of, according to McGuffey. In a New York Times report from this past January, BC was noted as one of the 38 schools that has more students from the top 1 percent of earners in the United States than it has from the bottom 60 percent.
To McGuffey, the lack of openness surrounding the financial struggles of some students versus the financial security of others has fostered a tense environment surrounding students’ economic status. He sees that tension as a good example of an area where BC can work to improve the nature of conversations on campus—no matter how difficult.
“I feel that students are almost so afraid of offending people that they don’t have any conversations at all,” McGuffey said. “I’ve had some students come to me and say, ‘I want to talk about this but I’m afraid of saying the wrong thing.’
“That’s what college is for, we’re here to say the wrong thing so we can have these conversations.”
Featured Image by Kaitlin Meeks / Heights Editor