At first glance, the first floor of Boston College’s McElroy Commons looks incredibly standard: there’s the campus bookstore, a study area, and a long hallway dotted with the offices of various service groups and student publications. These are the types of student organizations that one would expect to find at an elite Jesuit, Catholic institution, but a much more subversive group is housed at the far end of the hall. Barricaded away from the rest of the world by an ominous black door lies WZBC, the student-run radio station.
I still vividly remember my first time crossing over to the other side of “the black gate” (as one station member describes it). Immediately, my senses were overpowered by the sheer authenticity of the radio station, a welcome breath of fresh air at a university where the lawns and floral displays are meticulously landscaped to a cartoonish degree of perfection. Inside the station’s wood paneled walls (themselves plastered with old band stickers and concert posters), there is a coffee table cluttered with magazines and pocket editions of the U.S. Constitution, as well as what must be the only couches on campus that weren’t mass-ordered from a furniture catalogue. If it wasn’t for the modern computer setup in the corner, this station lounge appears as if it has been forgotten by the past thirty years of technological progress and bland sterilization.
I had little time to marvel at the station’s wonders however, as the spring 2017 WZBC General Interest Meeting was beginning. On the couches sat a number of students who, like me, were interested in becoming station members and radio DJs. We started the meeting off with a quick icebreaker, a painfully familiar exercise for any BC student—but this one was slightly different: “Name, year, major, hometown, and astrological signs.” Initially I thought this was a fun and quirky little variation, but I was soon shocked by how seriously the veteran station members were treating the zodiac concept—they each rattled off their sun signs, moon signs, rising signs—was this really the best way to start off a general interest meeting?
At this point in time, I didn’t know that I’d eventually be interviewing with and writing about the WZBC station members, but I was already intrigued by their culture. Over the last two years, I’ve learned that the average Boston College student is someone who is greatly concerned with being neat and proper, likes to stay up to date with modern trends and popular culture, and has little time for something as silly as astrology. So how, I wondered, could there an entire community of students who ostensibly held a set of oppositional values? How had they been hiding from me in plain sight up to this point, tucked away on the ground floor of the most popular student center on campus? BC’s student culture is generally homogenous, so finding such a vibrant and outwardly different group thriving on campus raised a series of questions that I sought to answer over the course of my research.