Brian Warm was holding a sign that read “I refuse to be silenced” as part of the Q Center’s Day of Silence protest on April 27 when he noticed something strange — there were no student tour groups passing through the Tillman Lobby.
According to Warm, an education and outreach intern at the Q Center and a junior majoring in business administration, he initially saw tour groups going through the Tillman Lobby at the beginning of the protest, but noticed tour guides avoiding the area and staying outside as the demonstration progressed.
“Certain tour guide groups started pushing themselves more toward the opposite corner of where Dunkin’ Donuts was and kind of stayed there, huddled a little, talked over there and tried to push their groups out as quickly as possible,” Warm said. “And the last hour and half or so, I noticed that none of the tour groups were coming in at all and I noticed them standing outside.”
According to a screenshot obtained by Pipe Dream, what Warm was noticing was the result of a message sent by a student guide in the tour guide GroupMe chat. The message suggested tour guides should avoid the area because of the protest, implying it was something guides didn’t want parents or prospective students to see.
“I’d avoid Tillman — it’s the Day of Silence in honor of LGBT issues and there’s kind of intense protest going on in there,” the message read. “Obviously super important but maybe something that we don’t want to show parents.”
Krista Medionte-Phillips, the director of undergraduate admissions, wrote in an email that many tour guides walked through the Tillman Lobby during the Day of Silence protest, but because of the congestion, they were later given the option to not stop there.
“Our typical tour includes a stop in the Tillman Lobby and our tours take a few minutes to talk here,” Medionte-Phillips wrote. “With all of the activity in the Tillman Lobby, it became quite congested. Our tour guide supervisors made a quick decision, and offered the tour guides the option of stopping elsewhere instead of the Tillman Lobby.”
Normally, according to two student tour guides, tour groups are supposed to enter the Tillman Lobby from the Engineering Building side entrance before going downstairs to stop in the University Union Undergrounds near the bowling alley. If there’s a lot of traffic, tours may stop upstairs and talk in the lobby before exiting through the main entrance out to the University Union bus stop.
However, the tour guides confirmed that despite the traffic, they would still usually stop by Tillman Lobby.
“They try to spread out the tours but they don’t avoid it typically if it’s busy,” a tour guide said.
Brandon Bocanumenth, the director of Rainbow Pride Union (RPU) and a senior majoring in psychology, said this wasn’t the first time tour guides avoided going through the Tillman Lobby. Last year, during the national LGBTQ conference run by RPU, he said he also noticed that no tours were passing through the lobby, despite being there the whole day.
“Specifically avoiding it because we are in there was really strange, especially [since] we’re talking visibility,” Bocanumenth said. “We had a national LGBTQ conference and [if] you’re going to completely ignore that we’re doing that, [it] is like a slap in the face for someone that worked as hard as me and my organization did to set it up.”
According to two tour guides, they are also instructed to avoid mentioning “Pandora’s box,” a term that refers specifically to potentially controversial topics that could upset more conservative parents and prospective students, including gender-inclusive housing and the Freshman Research Immersion Program. Although they are allowed to answer questions on these topics if they are specifically asked by a parent or prospective student, tour guides say they are usually instructed to avoid them to protect themselves from confrontation.
Nevertheless, Medionte-Phillips wrote that the Admissions Office supports diverse viewpoints and free speech on campus.
“Our community supports and encourages creative expressions, such as the silent protest and we do like to show this to our guests,” Medionte-Phillips wrote. “Other topics such as gender neutral bathrooms are an important part of our campus, and are also included in our training messaging. The Admissions Office values the diverse perspectives on campus, and we believe that prospective students should have an opportunity to experience our rich, vibrant community during their visit.”
Kelly Clark, director of the Q Center, said she is currently talking with the professional staff at the Admissions Center to get to the bottom of what happened on the Day of Silence and is currently working with them to fix the issue.
Warm said he hopes future tours will take initiative to discuss protests on campus and take pride in the diversity and resources at BU.
“[Tour guides] can discuss what kind of protest has been going on or what kind of activism has been going on recently on the campus to the group so they’re not necessarily meshed into it, but they can still get an understanding of what’s happening instead of just completely hiding it and disguising it,” Warm said. “I think that the administration and the Admissions Center in general should really pride themselves on the diversity that this campus has.”