About 350 students marched silently through the Boston College campus Thursday morning to protest what they called an "insidious" lack of response from college administrators following an anti-gay slur this month.
Many of the protesters wore rainbow-colored duct tape across their mouths to show solidarity with lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender students, and they held signs — including one that read "Silence = Violence.''
The rally was sparked by the discovery on Sept. 17 that letters on a sign in a campus parking lot had been rearranged to spell out a derogatory term for gays. But Thursday's protest also provided an outlet for students to share stories about the ways they say they feel marginalized at BC by feeling like they couldn't talk about their disability, acknowledge their sexuality, or feel safe as a person of color.
Onlookers greeted the protest with a range of responses, from surprise to confusion, sadness, and agreement.
"It's not about the sign; it's about the culture that allowed it to happen," said senior Anne Williams, who marched.
The protest started by the McElroy Commons dining hall and wound through campus, along Commonwealth Avenue then in front of St. Ignatius Church to end on the plaza outside Corcoran Commons.
After chanting "break the silence," students ended the walk outside a campus center, where they took turns at a megaphone telling their stories. They called on administrators to respond not only to the slur but to other requests from the LGBT community, students with disabilities, and students of color who all say they want to feel more accepted on campus.
At the rally, student Christina King thanked the unknown person who wrote the slur, saying with a touch of irony that "because of you the last straw broke my back and I am here."
King said "students are hurting," and called on those at the rally to reach out especially to freshmen as they begin to find their way on campus this fall.
Several professors and administrators were among the marchers, including Barbara Jones, BC's vice president for student affairs.
Asked after the rally about the administration's response to the slur, Jones said there is "a lot more to discuss."
"We do a lot of things to help students feel as welcome as we can," she said, mentioning an event she is holding Friday for freshmen to help them adjust after the first six weeks of school.
Four days after the slur was discovered, Dean of Students Thomas Mogan wrote an open letter to BC students decrying the incident.
"Boston College takes this very seriously and . . . I would like to make it clear that Boston College does not tolerate acts of intolerance and hate toward any individuals or groups of individuals in our campus community,'' Mogan wrote in the letter, published in the student newspaper The Heights. Campus police are investigating the matter, he said.
In response to the demonstration, college spokesman Jack Dunn said in an e-mail Thursday that the college is a "welcoming community that embraces all of its students." He said the school will work with students to address their concerns.
In the past, students have clashed with administrators over other race-related protests. In December 2014, some students faced disciplinary warnings for participating in a Black Lives Matter "die-in'' inside the campus residence of the Jesuit community.
At Thursday's rally, Akosua Opokua-Achampong, who is black, called for better school policies to protect students from racism, but said students must lead the way by treating each other better. She recalled being subjected to a racial slur while walking near a dorm, and the taunter's friends defended him, saying he was drunk.
"It starts with the interpersonal," she said, to cheers and applause.
Students with disabilities also spoke at the rally.
"I felt like I had to hide part of myself to truly fit in," said Tara Cotumaccio, who said she is blind in one eye.