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The trashing of a BC multicultural floor deepens long-standing concerns about racism on campus

Boston College students rallied in October 2017 after a Black Lives Matter sign was defaced on campus.Craig F. Walker/Globe Staff

A few days into this semester, first-year students who live on Boston College’s multicultural floor, all women and primarily Black students, with some Latinas, awoke in the early morning hours to loud banging on their doors, hallway trash cans overturned, and litter everywhere.

Three days later, in early February, the women said, two white male students strolled down their hallway singing about the “colored girls.”

The incidents point to an exhausting pattern, according to Black students, who say they feel targeted, harassed, and unprotected by school administrators at the Jesuit college. The defacing of a Black Lives Matter poster in 2017, the racist graffiti scrawled on furniture, walls, and a bathroom in 2018, and threatening comments made to Black students during the recent presidential election have piled up, students said.

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Black students account for just 4 percent of the undergraduate population at the private college, and these incidents, they said, have left them feeling even more isolated and unwelcomed.

“BC has to do better,” said Angie Rosa, 18, a first-year student on the multicultural floor that was vandalized.

Rosa, whose family is from the Dominican Republic, is the first in her family to go to college. She said she chose BC for its top business program, the Catholic education, and generous financial aid. But these days, when she speaks to her mother on the phone, the conversation often turns to whether she wants to leave campus and finish the semester at home.

“If you don’t feel safe in your room, how are you supposed to keep this up for four years?” Rosa said.

BC officials said last week that they are taking these cases seriously and are acting on the recent incidents on the multicultural floor.

This past weekend, in response to complaints from students and the recent events, the university announced it would review its equity and inclusion programs and work with outside experts to engage the campus community in more conversations about race and the impact of “bias-motivated” conduct.

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“I recognize that the University has more work to do so that all BC students feel welcomed and valued,” Michael Lochhead, the university’s executive vice president and acting vice president for student affairs, wrote Saturday in an e-mail to students.

“Our heritage and commitment as a Jesuit, Catholic university especially require us to treat every person on our campus with dignity and respect,” Lochhead wrote.

For students, though, it’s not about subtle forms of racism. This is about a failure of the college to be more aggressive in confronting hateful acts, which administrators too often dismiss, according to the students, as isolated incidents. The university must label these incidents as hate crimes and be more transparent about disciplinary actions to send a signal that racism isn’t tolerated on campus, several students said.

The two BC freshmen who were identified as having trashed the women’s multicultural hallway were found to have violated multiple university policies and have been sanctioned, said Jack Dunn, a BC spokesman, in a statement. But Dunn declined to describe the punishment, citing student-privacy laws.

The school’s student conduct office is also scheduled to review the singing incident this week, but there are conflicting reports about what happened, Dunn said.

According to first-year students on the multicultural floor, the two male students chanted racist language, then went into a woman’s dorm room in the adjacent hallway. The women from the multicultural floor followed to confront the male students, but the woman who lived in the room denied they were inside.

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BC’s residential staff was called in, found the two male students in the room, and briefly questioned them, the female students said.

The accused students insist they did not use the words “colored girls” when they were singing, Dunn said.

“One of the issues we grapple with is how to explain to students who feel victimized that their fellow students are entitled to due process,” Dunn said.

Dunn added that BC, as a Jesuit university, has zero tolerance for conduct that makes students feel unsafe or unwelcome and is “committed to ensuring a campus culture and environment that reflects our values as a university.”

But many students and faculty said BC hasn’t been doing enough.

“The racism at Boston College is acute,” said Régine Michelle Jean-Charles, a French, and African and African diaspora studies professor, who along with other faculty members has been advising outraged Black students in recent weeks.

The fears she hears from Black students have not eased in the 12 years she has been at the university, Jean-Charles said.

After the Nov. 3 presidential election, some female students complained that a group of white male students videotaped them while they were sitting outside, taunted them, and made threatening remarks. But the Black students couldn’t identify the group, and there was little that could be done, she said.

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“I don’t know what to tell my students,” she said. “It’s very discouraging.”

Students said they were inspired to push for change after seeing how the pandemic amplified racial inequities in the country and after watching and participating in last summer’s protests over police killings of Black people, including George Floyd and Breonna Taylor.

Many at BC point out that the university’s president, the Rev. William P. Leahy, last summer issued a public statement condemning racism and the killing of Floyd, which was unusual, since in general he has been publicly silent on the issue of police killings of Black people.

And BC launched a forum on racial justice last year.

Students want to hold the university accountable, said Ellana Lawrence, 20, a junior and a leader of the Black Student Forum.

Students have started an Instagram account, @blackatbostoncollege, to share and document their experiences at the school.

“We don’t want it to be swept under the rug,” Lawrence said.

For years, BC students who have spoken out about troubling racist incidents on campus have said they felt repeatedly ignored by the university.

Many student activists trace their frustrations with the administration to a 2014 protest against racism. The repercussions from the university’s reaction to the protest rippled for years.

That year, students organized a demonstration in St. Mary’s Hall, the Jesuit residence, to support the Black Lives Matter movement and protest the grand jury decisions not to indict policemen responsible for the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner. The so-called “die-in” was meant to pressure Boston College to condemn those decisions, students said at the time.

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The organizers were threatened with discipline. Although BC never publicly described the final punishment, it sent a chilling message to students.

“Particularly concerning for students at the time was the way that the administration was censoring students and also not providing much transparency,” said Jun Young Park, a 2018 graduate who participated in anti-discrimination activism on campus.

In October 2017, there were more racist events on campus. Two Black Lives Matter signs hanging on students’ dorm doors were defaced. Also around that time, students alleged that a racist Snapchat message had made its way around campus.

Then, in December 2018, a student wrote racist graffiti in permanent marker on furniture, walls, and blinds in a dorm lounge and on a bathroom mirror and hallway walls, the student newspaper, The Heights, reported.

BC student Michael Sorkin was charged with the crimes and later withdrew from the school, before accepting a plea deal in 2019.

Park said that a serious concern during their years at BC was that the university, when it did address problems, took punitive measures against a few students while failing to address the broader problematic culture on campus.

“The university will always distance itself, saying it’s the action of one student instead of claiming the culture that allows it to take place in the first place,” they said.

Even now, many white students think the destruction on the multicultural floor was simply the actions of two rowdy students and no one was racially targeted, said Destiny Gonzalez, 19, a resident of the hall.

“People think we’re just angry about the trash cans being thrown over,” Gonzalez said. “It’s so much more than that.”


Deirdre Fernandes can be reached at deirdre.fernandes@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @fernandesglobe.