Boston College student government looks to make free speech easier

Undeterred by the rejection of its recommended free expression policies, the Undergraduate Government of Boston College (UGBC) is promising to help students circumvent the restrictions.

In an open letter published in The Heights, BC’s student newspaper, the UGBC Executive Council announced three concrete steps that it will take to “help students navigate existing policies” while the council continues to advocate for “substantive, long-term policy changes.”

Two of the new services are designed to help students bypass rules preventing individual students and unrecognized student organization from even applying to hold demonstrations on campus, while the third creates a “free expression reporting form” through which students can inform the UGBC when they feel their speech rights have been violated.

The “ten-student service” will allow any group of 10 or more students to seek assistance from the UGBC, which will meet with them to discuss applying for a demonstration permit on their behalf. Simultaneously, the Executive Council is also creating a new “incubator phase” for student organizations that will give them sufficient standing to exercise expression rights even if the university denies their funding request.

“We … understand that these short-gap services do not rise to the level of a sensible, comprehensive free expression policy,” the Executive Council writes. “Nevertheless, as we continue to meet with administrators weekly to find common ground, we want to do all that we can to help students navigate existing policies.”

Last spring, according to The Heights,the UGBC Student Assembly passed a proposal calling on BC to loosen its restrictions on scheduling demonstrations and distributing flyers on campus, as well as suggesting the creation of a Committee for Free Expression, following two semesters of meeting between school officials and student leaders.

When the school released an updated version of its Student Guide over the summer, however, only the most minor of the changes suggested by the student government—that the guide’s format be made more intelligible and that it include a more-complete list of student resources—had been implemented.

“The impetus for this proposal came directly from students; many of BC’s very own social justice groups, from those rallying against climate injustice, to those looking to support our LGBTQ students, to even our most vocal antiracists, expressed concern that their voices were, in one way or another, being restricted,” UGBC president Thomas Napoli told the paper.

Yet Napoli also said that, as he understands the issue, BC was reluctant to implement policies such as the Committee for Free Expression that might allow types of expression that are contrary to the school’s values.

“I don’t know if we’ll ever get to a full free speech and free expression policy as UGBC envisions it,” Dean of Students Thomas Mogan told The Heights. “I think there are aspects of the policy that we can work with and we can try to make some progress on, but I think there are some things that are complex, and we’re always going to have differing opinions.”

One anonymous group of students doesn’t consider the issue terribly complex, though, and recently sought to raise awareness by distributing posters throughout campus in violation of the university’s rules.

“This poster is still illegal,” the flyers state simply. “Support free speech at BC.”

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