Updated: Nov 9, 2022
The Boston University engineering department tries to be clear in verbalizing their goals and what they strive to achieve with their program. The BU Engineering Department likes to pride itself on promoting the Societal Engineer,” the statement reads. “to: ‘create a safer, greener, more sustainable, healthier, better-connected, more energy-efficient and productive planet. One with enough food, drinkable water, and economic opportunity for all.’” However, students and members of the BU Marxist Student Group called out the inconsistencies in this mission statement alongside actual practices observed at BU.
On Thursday, the 6th of October, the Commonwealth Avenue face of the George Sherman Union was occupied by a student-led rally protesting the presence of specific companies that were recruiting at the Fall 2022 Engineering and Biotech Career Fair. The protest could be seen from the windows of the second floor of the GSU, where the fair was taking place.
Although many interest groups were present and participating in the rally, the main organizers were the Revolutionary Marxist Students group and United Against War and Militarism.
The rally consisted of about two dozen participants across age groups and was mostly observed through sign holding, unified chants, and speakers who were primarily calling into question the presence of military contractors and weapons developers at the career fair.
In conversation with a student organizer, they called into question the integrity of Boston University as it creates relationships with companies that are “war profiteers”. The student claimed that the presence of these companies imply that students aren’t encouraged to think about what jobs “are right,” and that
their first priority is more about just finding a job regardless of the consequences of what that company’s actions and priorities are. The student claimed that this mindset toward the job market does not promote societal change.
The anonymous source I spoke with pointed to the fact that General Electric’s funding of the Engineering and Product Innovation Center (EPIC) could have a hand in influencing students to work for defense companies. It should be noted that GE itself does not manufacture explosives. However, a pamphlet made for the event by BU Marxist Students recognizes rather that the GE Aviation branch manufactures “propulsion systems for aircraft of all sorts, engines, propellors [sic], and ‘non-explosive components and parts for weapons systems.’” The five companies that give funding to EPIC at BU are PTC, GE, Rolls Royce, Schlumberger, and Procter & Gamble.
In a final word from the anonymous source, I asked them for an opinion on the connection to Marxism and the rally against who is represented and recruiting at the job fair. They cited Marxism's purpose of societal change, and how students should not be forced to think about it only in terms of jobs. Societal change is not about jobs, it should be able to manifest in different places and shouldn’t be career focused.
I was also able to pose questions to Harishan Ganesan, one of the organizers of the rally. When asked about the goals of the rally, Ganesan says that the goal is to “Expose the group dynamics of Boston University and weapons manufacturers,” and further, the implications of these collaborations.
Ganesan went on to say that Boston University pushes an idea “that all I’m good for is getting a job, not much else [I] can do, we’re saying that you don’t have to just do that.” Ganesan then said the rally is a good, peaceful, and effective way of “fight[ing] against a system only for the wealthy.”
A pamphlet released by Ganesan’s organization for the rally verbalizes frustrations with the companies that BU allows to participate in the club fair.
The rally started and ended peacefully with conversations ensuing afterward between the participants, and those passing by who were interested in learning more.
The @marxist_students page on Instagram features a video of the students outside the George Sherman Union, with the caption saying “the mere threat of a protest was enough to make General Dynamics drop out of the career fair!” The reports that General Dynamics pulled out of the career fair was first suggested in an anonymous tip, and then was later confirmed verbally in an engineering meeting on Friday, October 13th.
General Dynamics’ absence at the career fair could bear many implications. This event is an example of student organization and activism having tangible effects and enacting change. Through organizing and protesting, the power of collective action shows that it is a force to be reckoned with and can repel and accept parties depending on if students generally feel they align with BU’s values. Although there should ideally be a unified agreement between the university administrators and the students, this is a prime example of the action that can be taken when those values have discrepancies.
This is not the first time an unpopular party has been represented and criticized for their presence at BU. In 2019, a group of protestors attended a speech by right wing political commentator, Ben Shapiro. Just last semester saw a group of forty students walk out of conservative speaker Michael Knowles’ speech, titled Teach the ABCs, not the LGB(T)s. These two particularly recent examples of protest, as well as the rally that took place on the sixth from BU’s student body imply a few things.
These instances of protests and walkouts imply that BU students are not afraid to speak up when they feel something is present that compromises what they believe should be the values of the school. There is a sense of independence amongst the student body and when enough of them feel frustrated by the actions of the administration, they exercise their abilities to organize and voice these frustrations.
However, another thing that is implied is that perhaps BU is slightly out of touch with exactly what the student body wants to see represented at their career fairs and in their lecture halls. Having fair and equal representation and participation is important at any productive institution. However, student demonstration will always be one of the most important checks present in academic institutions, and it is important to be exercised when the student body feels wide discontentment
And even yet, with defense contractors absent from the BU career fair, it should be noted that these companies can recruit through other avenues. It is perhaps futile and naïve to aim for a world devoid of war and the for-profit sale of weapons through one rally, but the activist surely takes much peace of mind knowing that perhaps they stopped one person from their community taking part in an industry that they fundamentally disagree with.