Columns, Opinion

A Message to BU: Do Better

The Boston University administration kept silent for a week before releasing a statement concerning the recent death of George Floyd, yet another Black man to fall victim to police brutality. Meanwhile, BU students across the nation rallied together to donate, protest and advocate.

An idyllic photo was posted to BU’s official Instagram account that celebrated the graduating class with the hashtag “ProudtoBU,” to which students, in a wave of backlash, countered that they were, in fact, not proud to attend BU.

It was a loud choice for the University to stay silent for so long.

Right now, BU’s students are doing more than its administration. Beyond individual students speaking up, on-campus student organizations have banded together and surpassed their goal of $100,000 on GoFundMe late Thursday night.

There is also a petition calling the University to match the total amount raised. As an influential and wealthy institution, BU could use its network and financial power to support organizations doing anti-racism and anti-police brutality work.

Police brutality is a deeply personal, urgent and immediate threat to so many BU students. The University’s silence begs the question: does BU care about its Black students?

It’s unacceptable for BU to capitalize off of the success and prominence of its students and alumni of color without using its wealth of resources to advocate for or contribute to the Black Lives Matter movement. BU is happy to market its POC students on its brochures and attribute Martin Luther King Jr.’s success to the education they provide, but POC students are more than an instrument for publicity.

As a private university, BU contributes to the institutionalized racism in our country. Higher education was built on segregation and white supremacy; if there is any time to atone for that, it is now. We cannot achieve true systemic change without academic institutions recognizing the role they, too, play in systemic racial inequity.

BU President Robert Brown released a statement Monday, but it came much too late, with no promises of concrete action from the University. His letter diminished the importance of the Black Lives Matter movement by centering on the COVID-19 crisis and efforts to restore campus operations for Fall.

Brown went as far to compare casualties of police brutality to the casualties of COVID-19. To equate state-sanctioned murder to deaths from the coronavirus is both ignorant and disrespectful.

The initial paragraph addressing the deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor and the injustice against Black communities is also overshadowed by the in-depth descriptions of reopening campus and expanding the Howard Thurman Center. To use the name of Howard Thurman, an African American civil rights leader, without committing to anti-racist measures is nothing short of exploitation.

Brown’s statement was twisted to be a publicity stunt — a way to advertise the school’s new building and shift attention to his goal of returning students to campus.

Furthermore, the University only released the statement after coming under high scrutiny and receiving massive amounts of backlash from its community. It was nothing more than an act of performative allyship, and it left a bad taste in all of our mouths.

Brown’s second attempt at making a statement was released around 1 a.m. Wednesday. It was a heartfelt improvement from Monday’s letter, with promises to assume more responsibility in the future — but failed, yet again, to take any immediate actions.

The University announced Thursday the July 1 launch of its Center for Antiracist Research with Ibram Kendi, author and historian of racism, to join the faculty.

Still, empty promises are not enough, and the administration needs to continue with its efforts; it cannot stop here.

What other actionable steps will they take? To start, they could donate, hire a more diverse staff, examine their own practices and defund the Boston University campus police.

While Brown, Provost Jean Morrison and School of Public Health Dean Sandro Galea donated $2,000, $1,000 and $500 respectively to the student organization fundraiser, the University itself has yet to agree to match the amount.

To Boston University: this is a matter of life and death; it is a matter of public health and safety. Police brutality is a sickening abuse of power that has cost us too many lives to only be acting now. It is your duty to use your privilege, power and wealth to make a difference.

Just last year, you allowed Ben Shapiro to speak on campus while he spread anti-Black sentiments and scoffed in the face of Black struggles, the effects of slavery and systemic racism. You refused to take a side then, masking the higher security provided in platitudes of neutrality. Behavior like this should not be condoned moving forward.

I am writing this in hopes that you will respond and do more. It took the collective outrage of your community to push you to do the bare minimum and publicly denounce these unjust killings.

Act on your own morality and sense of duty — not because you received backlash. Respond concretely to this very real, very pressing human rights and health issue and set an example for your fellow institutions in this fight for justice. You owe it to your Black students.

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