NEWTON — Hundreds of Boston College students walked out of classes Wednesday to show their opposition to racism and to demand more attention from school officials to the Catholic school’s racial climate.
The students gathered in front of Lyons Hall shortly before noon and listened to several speakers who led the crowd in chanting “Black Lives Matter.”
The midday event was organized by students after two Black Lives Matter signs were defaced at Roncalli Hall on Oct. 13. (The word “don’t” was scrawled on the posters to change the message to “Black Lives Don’t Matter”).
That same weekend, an image of a blackened Philly cheese steak with the phrase “I like my steak and cheese like I like my slaves” began circulating on social media.
The college administration has denounced the defacing of the posters and the racist social media post, which was allegedly made by a BC student, according to college spokesman Jack Dunn.
Dunn said students held the rally Wednesday “to voice their anger over these issues.”
“The event was peaceful and without incident,” Dunn said in an e-mail. “It began around 11:40 and ended before noon.”
The university also denounced racism in a statement sent to students.
“Boston College condemns all acts of hate and is committed to holding any student who violates our standards accountable,” said the statement, which Dunn provided to the Globe. “We call upon all members of the BC community to treat each other with respect and to stand united against intolerance in any form.”
Boston College students walk out in protest pic.twitter.com/C5A1xOX50x— Emily Sweeney (@emilysweeney) October 18, 2017
Howard Huang, a graduate student pursuing a master’s degree, was one of the speakers at the rally. “Racism is alive and well on this campus,” he said as he addressed the large crowd, who listened with rapt attention.
Afterward, Huang said he was glad to see so many students show up and take an interest in what is happening on campus.
“Ever since Monday, when we started talking about a potential action against the vandalism that has occurred, the energy has been very high, and this is a really good turnout,” he said in an interview. “I’ve been involved in a lot of campus and off-campus activist events, and this is one of the better ones that I’ve been to.”
Aicha Haidara, a senior, also attended the rally.
“Being a person of color at this school is extremely hard, and after incidents like this weekend, this needs to happen,’’ she said after the protest ended. “We feel like our lives don’t matter. We don’t feel safe on campus, so this is incredible.”
Haidara said she was buoyed by the large turnout at the protest.
“I’m in awe right now,’’ she said. “I’ve never seen our school come together like this before, and I don’t think it’s going to stop. We’re not done.”
Penny Hawthorne was another speaker who addressed the crowd, which she said was larger than expected, given that the event was organized at the “last minute.” She was critical of the administration, which she said has disapproved of demonstrations.
“This is a peaceful demonstration. I think it went really well, and people were able to grieve publicly, and it was super-important,” she said, adding that she and other students are concerned about being sanctioned by the school for attending.
“You never know how they will threaten us, if they will sanction us for speaking our minds or not,” she said. “It’s really disheartening the way BC tries to stifle our free speech and our right to demonstrate.”
Hawthorne said her speech was essentially a call to action, especially to students who tend to hang out in social circles that are “so segregated.”
“This is a call to them to reach out to their black peers, their black friends, their black peers in class, and ask them how they’re doing, because this is on us as an entire community to address this issue,” she said. “When they don’t stand with us, they’re standing against us, and this needs to change right now, because when we don’t, we only perpetuate a culture that emboldens people like the Snapchatter to put out horrifically racist comments like that.”
Jessica Bridges, a sophomore, attended the rally to show her support for the cause. She also plans to attend a protest march that’s scheduled for Friday.
“We came out today because it’s important to show solidarity, and hold BC responsible for not standing up for its black students, because we matter on this campus and we pay just as much as . . . any other person on this campus, and it’s important that they make it seem like our lives matter and that they draw attention to our issues,” she said. “And it’s important to just come out and be a part of a community and show that BC will stand together in times of hardship.”
Another sophomore, Daniella Smith, was impressed by what she saw and heard at the event.
“It was amazing,” she said. “Honestly, I didn’t expect this many people to come and show their support. And like it’s a good feeling knowing that we do have people out here on this campus who are willing to support us, and I hope to see even more on Friday.”John Ellement, Alyssa Meyers, and Ben Thompson contributed to this report. Emily Sweeney can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @emilysweeney.