Hail Alma Mater*

by Jack Sullivan

What building best reminds you of Boston College? Perhaps you would answer Bapst if your GPA is better than mine or Alumni if you really love football, but I like many others would answer Gasson Hall—our hallmark of The Heights. We’ve all gotten our Instagrams from it, those ones that pull two hundred likes when the sky is a sea of pink and blue cotton candy that gently caresses the sharp angles of the sturdy spires, begging us “rise to new heights,” and be “men and women for others.” Few other college buildings in America hold grit to the Chestnut Hill monolith.

Stepping inside, the floors are waxed and buffed, and tours shuffle around admiring the stained glass and portraits of angels and thinkers. The archangel is always frozen in milky marble, ready to destroy Satan at a moment’s notice. Podiums sit prepared for any worth while donor to discuss the pressing issues of which dorm to build next and how much more to increase the football team’s budget. The entire building says, “do not touch.” It’s a cold and impersonal still life where students feel as foreign as the tour groups that also patrol. Students cannot stray from their path of stairs as they trek to class, along with others who begrudgingly make their ascension, careful to follow a path of salt and dirt stomped loose off Bean Boots. They enter into the dim and drafty classrooms away from the manicured and perfect centerfold. And that’s precisely the problem with Gasson. I know that’s a difficult argument to make, that Gasson, the building you have Instagrammed for friends back home to make jealous, is not the perfection it desires so intensely to be. The very essence of Gasson—its structure, architecture, and layout—reveals the roots of a detached and uninterested administration, one that values its aesthetics over the tired, stressed, and mentally unstable students who trudge to the upper floors away from the fantasy of “Boston College” to the grim realities of an impersonal institution.

When comparing the structure and layout of Gasson Hall to the students and administration of Boston College, I hope you can see why my problems with this building run deeper than the safe and generic Gothic architectural choices it exhibits. When entering from the Fulton side quad, very rarely would a student take one of the two ramps that lead below Gasson. The blandness of the basement below is simply surreal. With polished marble and centuries old paintings of Jesuit missionaries hanging a floor above, the most fascinating thing about the crème and sand basement is the vending machine, whose candies offer the single highest concentration of vibrant color available. The basement is the bastard child of Gasson, clearly meant to be forgotten when comparing its design to the gaudy floors above. It houses the Health, Alcohol and Drug Help, and Counselling Services Offices, which the administrators would largely like to pretend don’t exist—the ideal would be students with perfectly balanced neurotransmitters and hormones who love to work and are always happy like God intended.

These three essential programs compete for the limited square feet that lie just below sprawling rooms for lectures and presentations, for fundraisers and benefit dinners. I should know—I’ve been to both the Alcohol Education and Counseling Services Offices. Students who do visit these offices feel lost, probably because the warmest extension of care from the “men and women for others” is the complimentary Keurig and Lifesavers mints that rest next to a too-tired-from-being-on-the-phone-all-day secretary and other students targetting the stitchings of the marled grey carpet in silent meditation, careful not to make eye contact with anyone else—they wouldn’t want to show that they are also desperate for help. Any discussion of one’s problems is held in an 8’ by 8’ closet with two chairs, a painting of Boston, and artificial succulent. Trapped in a dungeon of shame and despair, exhausted young adults confess that they aren’t the perfection Boston College presses them to be, exemplified by the floors just above them.

Unlike some other BC students, I don’t enjoy the fact that the only way most of us choose to relieve stress is to get blackout drunk three days a week and vomit in the bushes near Robsham after slobbering over Lower’s mozz sticks and chicken fingers. The other four days we proceed to bump a few Adderall to level out and maintain that perfect 4.0 to be recruited by Goldman Sachs, Beth Israel, or Harvard Law—a healthy balance of abuse to really show the capabilities of the well-rounded individuals BC cranks out. That’s part of the reason why I, and nearly forty percent of the student body, venture into Gasson’s basement seeking help at these offices: we crowd the sitting areas and force a three-week waiting period to talk to a psychologist. There are so many of us.

These are the realities that the administration is desperately trying to push further and further into the basement, away from the spotlight, into the dark recesses of what looks like a labyrinth of ramps and administrative offices. We would much rather be the “men and women for others” that we said we were when we lied on our college applications than anxious, substance-abusing young adults that crumple from stress and explode on the weekends. Instead of addressing issues of suicide, depression, anxiety, alcohol abuse, and escapism that pervade the student body of over 9,000 undergraduates in a different way, Boston College makes sure our grass is trimmed and manicured and our marble floors buffed to a mirror-like glow so when tours and donors stroll through their impression of BC is still what they’d imagine it to be: a beautiful campus led by a noble administration to produce healthy young adults instilled with Jesuit values.

Maybe you’ve had a discussion in a Gasson classroom, caught yourself groaning with a notebook lying closed on the desk while an under-qualified TA mumbled about the Fundamental Theorem of Calculus. Class in Gasson is truly dreadful because the rooms are so deplorably bland, unfinished, and cramped. Again, while the center foyer and speaking rooms are all meticulously swept and polished every night, the classrooms of the second and third floor sit dusty, as thirty desks too many cram into the limited space. The off white paint cracks and the radiators bang and ting desperately trying to heat the poorly insulated room. A Boston College education is horribly safe and limited—students are more desperate for a strong GPA than to grow as a person through a course. Instead of attempting to develop our own answers to formative and essential questions that define our existence we regurgitate five-word Jesuit catchphrases and botch texts from Kant and Aristotle as we cram Sparknotes analysis and “going off that…”s for our class participation grades. Learning at Boston College isn’t about pushing boundaries, but receiving an intentionally safe agenda that makes people complacent and capable only of seeing the good in the world.

“Finding God in all things” creates a nuanced and palatable view of only looking for the best and silverlinings—God isn’t being sought after in the poverty, starvation, slavery, genocide, genital mutilation, terrorism, oppression, systematic economic castration, and violence that exists in our world. Choosing to remain complacent to these injustices under the guise that “it’s all part of God’s plan,” is a poorly crafted excuse to show you are thankful for your own luck and privilege, but will do nothing to help others. Whenever you head into Boston (let’s face it, we aren’t really “in” Boston) and check YikYak around the various schools, you’ll find a plethora of “[did some menial task], got a [department] degree from BC,” because we aren’t doing extraordinary things as a university, we’re making people who take sides on issues before exploring them through multiple lenses and are more concerned about starting salaries than making meaningful contributions to our surroundings. The pinnacle of discussion of ethics in CSOM is freshman fall Portico, and the occasional upperclassmen elective. While I’ve only been here one full term, I’ve yet to see or hear about a course that I really think would challenge someone and help them get the most out of what a college education should be. I’ve heard plenty about the difficulties of the Orgo final, taking “rocks for jocks” for an easy A, and the benefits of buying preferred stock options so your dividends get paid first from basic finance.

To you, reader, this may feel like a nuanced complaint in which I only desire to invalidate Gasson because I have some sort of inferiority complex, but please trust me on this one: the outside lights. Oh, how I hate the lights. To me, the lights that shine 24/7 against the building’s façade represent the worst aspects about Gasson. The sun should solely light Gasson, not artificial bulbs that strategically blast the corners and angles for the most contrast. If this is God’s world, I’d like to think we can be humble enough to put up with however much sunlight He grants a day, regardless of whether or not it makes Gasson look its best. It’s truly a sad thing that the lights always have to be on—honestly, which Junior buried in pre-law work trudging back from O’Neill really cares whether or not they can see Gasson at 3:30 A.M.? Sometimes I think Gasson should be allowed to sit in the darkness, even when nobody is out there to see it. What’s so bad about a building not always having the spotlight? Can’t something just exist without all this pressure for it to look beautiful all the time? What’s so bad about being dark and lonely, and not being seen or admired?

The lights on Gasson are no different than the lights on BC students that highlight our insecurities and narcissism. These cultural and institutional floodlights drown us 24/7, exposing our flaws and insecurities, making us feel pressured to perform and conform. That’s why you buy that Vineyard Vines vest, even though it’s no different than the Columbia one, except for the label. That’s why you contour whatever and do your eyebrows perfectly in the hopes that your crush in your 9 A.M. will notice you, even though he’s half asleep because he went too hard on Thirsty Thursday and is still strung out on Xanax and would rather be in bed. The lights bring out the worst in us. When we always have this pressure to be and perception of being perfect in all ways, like Gasson, our foundation cracks. We manicure ourselves to be aesthetically perfect, and the lights highlight the superficial aspects of our being instead of what makes a human worthwhile.

To the senior reading this: you’ve obviously been around for four years, and since you’ve invested that time and money, I’m going to assume you “love” and have grown nostalgic of Boston College. (Funny how everyone says it’s just freshman year that sucks, because sophomore year you get into crowded Walsh parties and share a communal Rubinoff handle, can’t move an elbow, and it’s all suddenly worth it). I dare you, I beg you to try, to just be critical of this institution. I want you to try to criticize Gasson, just for a moment, even when the lighting on the capstones is perfect and the sky is a hue that could easily pull 200 likes on Instagram. I dare you to try to see how this building is a poor façade to keep this student body complacent. Do you wonder, after four years, how complacent you’ve been? After all, most of us will just grind day-to-day, excited about how our “Jesuit education” will somehow be original and invaluable and prepare us to be leaders of the world—or to work 90 hours a week at an investment bank for 30 years, marry, divorce, remarry, divorce again, contemplate suicide, drown sorrow in golf and alcohol, get a lifetime achievement in the form of a gold Rolex, and die without ever really living.