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April 29, 2005

This Is What Equality Looks Like

Katherine Adam

      "If [Boston College students] understood the complexity of the issues, we're confident they would have voted differently"—University spokesperson Jack Dunn on the overwhelming student support for the inclusion of sexual orientation in the non-discrimination clause.

This Is What Equality Looks Like

      That statement seems a little hollow now, doesn't it? On Friday, April 15th, close to 1,500 Boston College students proved we knew exactly what we voted for during the online UGBC elections. Students took the unprecedented step of striking class to fight for the rights of the GLBT community, and participated in a rally and march unlike anything ever seen on this campus. The events followed a frustrating attempt to compromise with the administration, which refused to put sexual orientation on the same footing as other categories in the university's non-discrimination clause even though 84 percent of students who voted support its inclusion. Caroline Park, LSOE '08, spoke about the effectiveness of a strike by saying that "it sends a really clear message that we'll put this before our own education."

      At the rally, speakers included gay students and faculty members who shared stories about their experiences at Boston College. Professor Paul Lewis said that he was "disappointed but not surprised" at Father Leahy and the administration's lack of real response to the referendum. While I agree with Professor Lewis' sentiments, I would also add that I was extraordinarily angry with and offended by the administration's condescending statements that essentially questioned the competence and judgment of the student body.

      After the passage of the referendum, Jack done told the Brown Daily Herald, "I would hope that people realize that Boston College is a most open and tolerant place and that our actions speak louder than words in a policy." I only wish Mr. Dunn could have heard the speeches at the rally, like when Chair of the Accounting Department Theresa Hammond said that the administration's refusal to include sexual orientation in the non-discrimination clause was a perfect example of the "petty, gratuitous indignity that has always made me feel like a second class citizen at BC." Or the speech by Chris Young, A&S 07, who stated that intolerance almost made him choose a different university and that April 15th was "the most beautiful day I'll ever see at BC." Ignoring the obvious preposterousness that Mr. Dunn could possibly understand what it is like to be a GLBT student or faculty member on this campus; it is even more troubling that Mr.

      Dunn's statement attempted to deliberately minimize the issue from one of human rights to one of semantics. These aren't just words, they are policy—as Mr. Dunn said himself—and policy creates the actions of an establishment. One need only examine Boston College's discriminatory hiring practices to see the results of institutionalized intolerance.

      Students, however, recognize the importance of explicitly stating that Boston College welcomes GLBT students and faculty members. Gil Forbes, A&S '05, said, "Semantics creates the environment and sets rules. Semantically, if we say a person has fewer rights because of their sexual orientation, it makes a big difference." Meredith Hudson, A&S '06, agreed, saying, "Every word has meaning behind it. It makes being gay seem like a second-class qualification." Even after threats of counter-protests, as marchers we encountered no resistance. Not that this should be a surprise, since, once again, the fight to add sexual orientation to the non-discrimination clause has overwhelming student and faculty support. Liz Varco, A&S '07, said the rally shows that "the policies of the administration don't represent the beliefs of the students." In fact, one of my favorite parts about the march was sporadically passing small clusters of bewildered-looking conservatives, all wondering how they could have so underestimated the progressive force on this campus.

      But, how did Jack Dunn and the administration react to the historic rally? According to the Boston Globe, Mr. Dunn responded by saying that students have "rightfully pointed out that our policy is not welcoming enough, and we're meeting with them to try and change that without giving up our rights." While I am relieved to hear that the word "rights" is in Jack Dunn's vocabulary, I am disheartened that this administration is willing to sacrifice the fundamental human rights of Boston College students to preserve the rights to autonomy of an institution which seems to be involved in some ambiguous religious feud with the "historically anti-Catholic" state of Massachusetts. Maybe my feeble student mind can't comprehend the "complexity of the issues," but in all of my required courses in theology and philosophy, I never learned the lesson that the best way to fight discrimination is with more discrimination.

      Regardless of the stubbornness of the current administration, April 15th will be remembered in history as the catalyst that helped create a more perfect university, one which values the dignity of all its students and faculty, and welcomes our diversity as enriching and beautiful. I am certain this will be the result because, if I have learned anything from attending a Jesuit institution, it is that compassion defeats bigotry, hope defeats fear, and justice always prevails. In fact, a comment my good friend John Hellman made following the rally proved to me that we are already winning. "To call the rally a success," he said "would be an understatement. I feel really proud about being gay right now." Well, John, after spending most of my academic career feeling uncertain of my peers' commitment to true social equality, I have never been so proud to call myself a Boston College student.

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