Have Boston College students truly been men and women for others? Despite the physical changes, the university’s purpose and message have largely remained constant. Beginning in the 1840s, those who envisioned Boston College wanted to improve the lives of Irish immigrants who, according to historian Thomas O’Connor, “suffered the effects of bias and discrimination on account of their Catholic faith as well as their Celtic origins.” The school’s earliest leaders sought to simultaneously further a student’s education and solidify his religious formation, when such an opportunity did not otherwise exist. In this sense, Boston College’s roots were tied to social justice, one reflected in its current, self-defined mission to create a “just society.” President William P. Leahy, S.J., writes that the university’s goal is to “educate…men and women who will be capable of shaping the future with vision, justice, and charity—with a sense of calling, with concern for all of the human family.” Or more simply put, men and women for others. Therefore since its inception, Boston College has sought to foster justice on campus and off.
Yet, Boston College students have often suffered from navel gazing, which has impacted their ability to affect change beyond Chestnut Hill. For much of the 1960s–a time of tremendous change–reports in The Heights reflect a student body with shared a campus-centric mentality. In 1966, one student wrote how while his classmates selected from several clubs “enamored of American government and society,” the campus did not have “radical” groups. “Until a diversity of opinion finds impression on the Heights, until argument even to the point of rancor,” he continued, “Boston College cannot be an intellectual landmark.” Another correspondent asked, “like, what’s the point of it all” if students just drank coffee all day? A 1967 protest to “show their brotherhood with the suffering Christ and the people of Vietnam” attracted just 40 students. Proximate concerns, however, sparked greater activism. In 1966, students staged a “foot riot” because a new payment plan for student meals. The administration soon changed the plan. In 1969, more than 2,500 students and faculty members signed a petition against the decision to not grant tenure to a theology professor, with 1,500 students arriving at the president’s office to ensure the petition was duly received. The tenure decision was ultimately reversed. Therefore, on the eve of what would be a campus-wide strike against tuition increases in the spring of 1970, Boston College students had developed the capability to recognize pressing on-campus issues and to enact change as a result of their involvement.
- J. Shane Troy BC 2015, History & Spring 2015 Making History Public Student
The images and content in this blog post are from the exhibit#WeWereBC, which is now on display in the History Department, Stokes 3rd Floor South. This exhibit was curated and organized byProfessor Seth Meehan’s Spring 2015 Making History Public class, in collaboration with the Boston College University Libraries.