Student religious and cultural organizations want institutional support

By Jazmine Ramos

Boston University News Service

At Boston University, students have the opportunity to join more than eighty religious and cultural organizations. Organizations like these can help students maintain connections from their pre-college days, or provide a new sense of community. But many groups’ leaders feel that BU could do a better job of supporting these organizations.

Peyton Berning, a campus minister and alumni of BU, expressed that the mission of the Catholic Center is to foster a community for students to express their faith, free from judgment. 

Berning first became involved with the Catholic Center when she was a freshman in 2018. She was involved in activities such as music ministry, bible studies, and eventually became a board leader.

Now, like many of the other alumni of the Catholic Center, Berning remains dedicated and involved with the organization. 

A majority of the activities are possible because of students and through fundraising, Berning explained. The center receives funding as a student group from BU, but Berning feels that the Archdiocese of Boston and the university could provide more for the organization.

The Archdiocese owns the Catholic Center building on campus, but the group is responsible for the maintenance of their building, which can become costly.

While the Catholic Center provides a safe place for students of the same faith, Berning believes that the university could do more to encourage more outlets similar to this. 

“Sometimes it can feel like it’s you against the entire world at times, and it’s hard to kind of stick up for yourself and your beliefs,” Berning said.

She believes that spaces for dialogue should be promoted at BU instead of allowing religious and cultural conversations to be approached as debates. 

“I feel like there’s sometimes a tendency towards that kind of cultural view where people just start arguing and not really listening to each other,” Berning said. 

Janiyah Flagg, a sophomore representative for Sisters United says there is more that BU could do to support student organizations. 

Sisters United is an organization that works towards empowering and creating a community for young women of color on campus. 

Most of the outreach conducted by Sisters United is through social media and all the activities are organized by students. 

Students pay out of pocket for event and organization supplies and the university reimburses them afterward, which Flagg says puts some students who can’t afford to pay upfront at a disadvantage. 

“If we’re being realistic here, we’re all college students. College is not cheap. So even though you can get refund [reimbursement] checks, I feel like they are still able to actually give us more funding. It would be more beneficial to us and the organization in general,” Flagg said. 

With the resources that they do have, Sisters United hosts a variety of different events such as discussions, movie viewings, and most recently ornament decorating. Approximately 15 to 20 students attend these events, Flagg said. 

“I wish that there was more of a push for BU specifically for students of color on campus,” Flagg said. “I wish they were more involved with really getting to know what’s going on, rather than everything being directed by the students.”

One idea that Flagg hopes to see for the university is an organized dialogue between leaders from student-run organizations and the administration. 

“We can post stuff and we can spread the word on our own but I feel like what matters wouldn’t really change unless it was a one-on-one conversation with higher-ups and the administration so they can get a feeling of how we want to be represented on campus,” Flagg said. 

Unlike some other organizations on campus, the Asian Student Union, also known as the ASU,  is on the larger side with over 500 active members in the community. 

Aimee Chau, a junior at BU and ASU’s vice president of external affairs, is responsible for managing all external communications with other organizations on campus and in the surrounding area as well. 

Celene Machen, a senior at BU and ASU’s vice president of internal affairs, manages the different leadership positions within the organization and ensures that it fosters a welcoming environment for all of its members. 

Both Chau and Machen said, like many other student organizations, all of their events and activities on campus are completely student-run. However, they do receive a large amount of funding from BU due to their size and support from faculty on campus. 

Machen explains that her greater concerns are with the approach that BU’s higher-level administration takes to cultural issues. 

“I’ve been very disappointed at BU’s lack of solidarity or even just sending out the right message with regards to protecting and maintaining the safety of their students of color,” Machen said. “They definitely champion and pride themselves as a university that’s so progressive, but at the same time especially when stuff like South Asian hate was going on, there was a lack of presence.”

According to the University’s diversity statement, cultural respect is a core value for BU.

 “We seek to cultivate an atmosphere of respect for individual differences in life experience, sexual orientation, and religious belief, and we aspire to be free of intellectual parochialism, barriers to access, and ethnocentrism,” says the university’s diversity statement.

Chau describes the administration’s attempts to get to know student leaders as “futile” and wishes that they could be more authentic. 

Machen reflects on the one time she encountered someone from the administration at one of the ASU’s events.“The only time I saw one of these higher-up administration people was at one of our huge events because they were berating us on how many people we had and kind of micromanaging the event even though we had never seen them before. So it’s like, okay, the only time you show up is to control us.”

Machen and Chau agreed that it is difficult to outline actionable steps that the administration could take to solve these problems. More simply, they hope that the administration would make a greater effort to show that they care about BU’s student organizations. 

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