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BU student climate activists to protest ongoing inaction with campus “die-in”


Photo from BU Web Cam looking down upon Marsh Plaza

BU’s Marsh Plaza, seen on live Web Cam feed Saturday afternoon, will be the site of a student “die-in” to dramatize the urgent need for major climate action.


By Alfred Robert Hogan


Marsh Plaza at Boston University will be the scene of an awareness-raising, visually dramatic, first-ever BU “die-in” protest of climate inaction this week, as undergraduate students there strive to focus attention on the still mostly ignored No. 1 climate crisis and continuing inaction to deal with it. The protest, set for 1300-1500 EDT on Wednesday 11 October, will see students lie down on the plaza’s hard, smooth surface for some minutes, pretending to be dead from the impending effects of the growing climate crisis.

“Yes, we’re all busy, undergrads are busy in their own worlds. But young people, college students, we should be much more involved in activism, especially climate activism,” said the protest’s enthusiastic and energetic key organizer, anthropology junior Sophia Pinto Thomas. “In my opinion, activism can be fun, and this is one example of that.”

As Ms. Thomas posted online to fellow climate activists and the climate-activism curious, on the Extinction Rebellion Boston Web site, “This is the First Ever Boston University DIE-IN for Climate Action!! Undergraduates are spearheading this exciting event to call attention to the Climate Crisis and to try to activate fellow students to take action.” She could not predict roughly how many of BU's more than 36,700 students as of 2022 (about equally divided between undergraduates and graduate students) might participate, The two-hour “die-in” protest will take place at 735 Commonwealth Avenue, the first of its kind at BU, whose main compact main campus encompasses 7/10 of one square kilometer. (Extinction Rebellion Boston has announced on its events calendar online another “die-in” non-violent protest. set for Wednesday 18 October at 1730 EDT, at a city location to be announced.)

Ms. Thomas said she hopes the pro-environment, pro-urgent-action-now message from this week’s die-in resonates, and will at last reach both resistant commonwealth leaders, such as current Democrat Gov. Maura T. Healey, who took office in January 2023, and BU officials, such as its incoming new president, as of July 2024, Dr. Melissa Gilliam—and maybe even US national leaders, such as POTUS Joe Biden, who took office in January 2021.

















2023 photo courtesy of XR Boston Volunteers

Sophia Pinto Thomas, BU student and climate activist


The artistically talented Ms. Thomas also designed two “die-in” fliers, featuring colored birds, to spread the word about the on-campus climate protest:



Images created by and courtesy of Sophia Pinto Thomas

These are two of the advance fliers that key organizer Sophia Pinto Thomas crafted to promote the BU “die-in” protest.


Image courtesy XR Boston

XR Boston’s announcement of the BU “die-in,” akin to this previous one.


Speaking about eco activism, Ms. Thomas said in a telephone intervew, “It really should be more commonplace….People are afraid and anxious. We need to translate that anxiety and our knowledge into action.”

Ms. Thomas herself was born to socially conscious parents in the Jamaica Plain section of Boston, in February 2003, just the month after future climate champion and ethical vegan icon Greta Thunberg was born, slightly more than 6,000 kilometers away, in Stockholm, Sweden. “Greta Thunberg has so inspired me over the years. The fact is, we both grew up with this knowledge that the [climate crisis] science has been clear for many years,” Ms. Thomas reflected in the telephone interview on Friday 6 October.

Jamaica Plain’s local history, since the current 11-square-kilometer and 41,012-population enclave’s initial European settlement in the early 1630s (most unfortunately, displacing Indian tribes living there for centuries), does include some noteworthy environmental efforts and activism. Jamaica Plain was, even before becoming part of Boston by a males-only vote in 1873, one of the USA’s first “streetcar suburbs,” offering commuters and shoppers that more eco-friendly form of mass transit into Boston. In 1872, the Arnold Arboretum debuted there, part of the “Emerald Necklace” of public parks encircling Boston and designed by renowned 19th century landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, who also designed NYC’s Central Park. In 1948, plans for what became known as the Southwest Expressway highway project, which evolved into a 13-kilometer extension of Interstate 95 from Canton through Jamaica Plain, were initially broached. In 1969, grassroots opposition to that massive I-95 expansion project brought together a diverse collation of opponents to plans to ram the highway through the Jamaica Plain neighborhood. In the early 1970s, the eventually successful “Wake Up the Earth” series of protests in opposition, helped bring about a mid-construction halt in December 1972. That decision was made by then-MA Republican Gov. Francis W. Sargent (1915-1998), an MIT-trained architect and a conservationist who had delivered the keynote address at his Massachusetts Institute of Technology alma mater in Cambridge on the first Earth Day in 1970. Even so, he somewhat hesitated to openly oppose the powerful and monied gasoline and automobile lobbies, but eventually decided to take the correct action, ending the I-95 extension and most other highway projects within the Route 128 Boston Beltway. And those “Wake Up the Earth” protests later transformed into annual eco-oriented festivals. Gov. Sargent’s lasting legacy includes green parks that otherwise would be yet more asphalt-and-concrete highways.

Now, in the 21st century, since this summer, in addition to Ms. Thomas’s campus climate activism efforts, she has often volunteered for two-hour shifts at XR Boston’s ongoing weekday Statehouse Stand-Out, outside the 1798 New Massachusetts Statehouse. The goal there is to get Democrat Massachusetts Gov. Maura Healy—now already in power eight months— to emulate the precedent set by her late decades-ago predecessor Gov. Sargent, and ban all new fossil fuel projects in the Bay State, including new airports and airport expansions. So far, she has basically stonewalled, as did the immediately previous Republican governor, Charles D. “Charlie” Baker.

Incidentally, for those curious, Marsh Plaza was named not for the formerly marshy area locale (the nearby 1912 Fenway Park of Boston Red Sox fame was supposedly named after the marshy fens that had been there), but rather, after the United Methodist Church-affiliated but nondenominational Marsh Chapel, which opened in 1950 and sits on one side of the plaza. Both plaza and chapel memorialize BU’s fourth president, Daniel L. Marsh (1880-1968), who presided over BU from 1926 till 1951, and was long an ardent advocate of temperance and prohibition to combat the evils of alcohol. The plaza’s centerpiece metallic sculpture, “Free At Last,” created by Chilean artist Sergio Castillo and installed in 1975, features 50 iron doves. They honor the late US civil rights leaders and 1955 BU systemic theology PhD graduate Dr. Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. (1929-1968). Folklore tradition says that when world peace is someday eventually achieved, the doves will become real and will fly away. Another prominent landmark there is BU’s official coat of arms, embedded into the plaza, with some superstitious students believing that if they ever step on it, they will supposedly not graduate within four years.

On three other centrally crucial climate and environmental issues—encouraging the upgrade to veganism, divesting investments away from fossil fuel corporations, and officially declaring a climate emergency—BU has logged only some limited successes:


Photo courtesy Plant-Based Universities

Pro-vegan students displayed a Plant-Based Universities banner at King’s College London (KCL) recently.

  • · The BU campus is far from being all-vegan, even in food. There seem to be slim chances of BU soon following the examples set at several UK “unis” thanks to student votes encouraged by Animal Rebellion’s Plant-Based Universities campaign to attain 100-percent-vegan universities in the UK PDQ (so far, 29 chapters operate at “unis” in England outside London, 8 in London, 5 in Scotland, and one each in Wales, Germany, and Australia, plus one likely to start soon in Dublin. Ireland. But zero yet in the USA. However, BU was nonetheless awarded an A+ by the youth animal rights nonprofit PETA2 in 2019, for consistently accommodating vegan and vegan-curious students, despite having neither an all-vegan dining facility nor participating in “Meatless Mondays.” “A lot of my friends are vegetarians or vegans,” Ms. Thomas offered. (See the PETA2 BU “Vegan Report Card” in the additional resources below.) Sodexo’s Alex Moore, who manages the Fenway Dining Hall operation for some 300 or 400 of BU’s international (non-US) students, estimated in a telephone interview that on any given day, perhaps some 15 to 20 percent of student diners choose the vegan, or vegetarian, options. He said that in his 12 years in the food service profession, he has noticed an uptick trend in those numbers.

  • · In September 2021, BU did finally commit to divesting in fossil fuel corporations (echoing the long-sought success of the divestment movement from firms doing business in apartheid-era South African in the 1980s). BU’s endowment had zoomed 41 percent in one year, from US $2.39 billion in 2020 to $3.35 billion in 2021. Yet despite ongoing efforts since 2012 by the student group DivestBU, the Board of Trustees had not even discussed the issue since 2016, when it punted for five years. But even in 2021, no urgency was attached to that announcement, with one estimate being the process could take about one decade.

  • · As of October 2023, BU is NOT one of only three known US colleges or universities (Sterling College in Vermont. Southern Connecticut State University in Connecticut, and Auburn University in Alabama), and only 19 altogether worldwide, to have declared an official climate emergency, according to the Climate Emergency Declaration Web site in Australia (www.climateemergencydeclaration.org).). Nor has the USA on a nationwide basis, as both Republican former POTUS Donald J. Trump and current t Democrat POTUS Joe Biden have ignored repeated pleas to do so (though 203 US jurisdictions overall have), nor has Massachusetts as a state, though 23 cities and towns of the 351 in Massachusetts have done so (Boston among them, as of Wednesday 15 January 2020). As of Friday 8 September 2023, worldwide, 2346 jurisdictions, including 40 nations plus the European Union, have declared climate emergencies.

(Notes: Boston, formally founded on the Shawmut Peninsula in September 1630, reached a peak population of more than 801,000 in 1950, ranking then as the USA's 10th largest-population city. In 2022, Boston's population estimate of 654,776, inside its 232 square kilometers, placed it 24th, just behind Washington DC and just ahead of Las Vegas NV. What became BU started out as Newbury [VT] Biblical Institute in 1838, decamping for a 20-year stay and a new name in Concord NH, before relocating to Boston in 1867, and gaining its current name in 1869. Fun fact to know--in the 19th century, the Jamaica Pond Ice Company supplied wintertime-cut ice to Boston from Jamaica Pond until the 1890s, when the City of Boston took over the operation or a few decades.)


Additional Resources:


BU Marsh Plaza Protest Site

Gov. Maura T. Healey (D-MA) Dodging Climate Activists and Their Demands

BU Vegan Options


PETA2 VEGAN REPORT CARD ON BOSTON UNIVERSITY:


Image from Boston University Web site (www.bostonuniversity.edu)


“Are There Plant-Based Meals Available?”

“Yes! Every dining room has a dedicated vegan station at every meal. As part of the menu rotation you’ll find different options throughout the day so what you see for dinner will be different than what you had for lunch. The vegan stations include create-your-own vegan stir fry with a multitude of different combinations to choose from. Fresh Fuel @ Granby Commons, located at 213 Bay State Road, is welcoming to all and offers two kitchens, one that is kosher and one that is vegan. The majority of items on our residence dining room menus are vegetarian-friendly. We offer vegan entrees, snacks, and dessert options in all of our dining rooms. You’ll find vegan selections at a variety of on campus dining locations across campus. Look for the green vegan logo and the brown vegetarian logo on menus and grab and go offerings.”


· Christopher Elliott, “This Is the Real Reason Colleges are Going Vegan,”, Forbes Magazine online, Friday 10 January 2020, “This Is the Real Reason Colleges are Going Vegan,” www.forbes.com/sites/christopherelliott/2020/01/10/this-is-the-real-reason-colleges-are-going-vegan/?sh=13fd5a196124

· Damian Carrington, “Hundreds of academics call for 100% plant-based meals at UK universities/Open letter back student-led campaign for vegan catering to fight climate crisis,” UK The Guardian, Monday 4 September 2023 https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2023/sep/04/hundreds-academics-call-for-meat-free-meals-british-universities

  • · Animal Rebellion/Plant-Based Universities Press https://animalrebellion.org/press/


BU Fossil Fuels Divestment



Climate Emergency Declarations


Historical Background


  • · Anthony N. Penna and Conrad Edwick Wright, Remaking Boston: An Environmental History of the City and Its Surroundings (History of the Urban Environment book series), Pittsburgh PA: University of Pittsburgh, 2009. Book available (cover shown, above) via Inter Library Loan or via JSTOR access at some higher ed institutions and some public libraries)

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