“If we are to have peace on earth, our loyalties must become ecumenical rather than sectional. Our loyalties must transcend our race, our tribe, our class, and our nation; and this means we must develop a world perspective.” –Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
This piece is a response to the most recent occurrence of racially motivated assault that happened at Providence College this past weekend. For more information, please see Channel 10’s coverage of the events.
Many members of the Friar Family like to think of themselves as “colorblind.” They don’t see race, because it doesn’t matter. Our society is “post-racial,” where men like Barack Obama hold the highest office in the world, women like Oprah and Beyoncé are our queens, and Lebron James is a household name. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 gave black people the opportunity to fully participate in the American dream. That was over 50 years ago; so, many Friars struggle to understand why we have a diversity requirement in our curriculum, why students of color need to have clubs and safe spaces specifically for themselves, and why a list of demands have been sent to Fr. Shanley by people of color in the PC community.
Some Friars might hesitate to engage in the discussion because they are white. They might be afraid of saying the wrong thing, asking the wrong questions, or being accused of something they don’t think they are guilty of. Some might think that as a white person, this isn’t their battle to fight.
Other Friars might shy away from this discussion entirely. They may believe that incidents of racial discrimination are a coincidence, or that there are two sides to every story, or that there simply aren’t enough occurrences to classify the situation as a high priority emergency at our college when we have other projects such as the business school, the new soccer stadium, and new Ruane practice arena to worry about.
Let’s take the plunge together. Let’s talk about race. Let’s learn about what’s happened in history, what’s happening across the country, and what’s happening on our campus.
First, I want to tackle what the term “colorblindness” means. In the United States, many people believe in the American Dream. This is the idea that if people work hard and are given opportunities to succeed, it’s possible for anyone to achieve economic prosperity. This perspective leads us to believe that class and culture, and not institutional racism, are responsible for social inequality. The consequence then, is that we completely stop thinking about and talking about the social, political, and economic arrangements that privilege white people in our country.
I find that my peers at Providence College are hesitant to acknowledge their white privilege. They say things to me like: “My family is working class. I didn’t come from privilege.” Or: “White people can be discriminated against too!” In an effort to dissect these arguments, I’m going to talk about the difference between institutionalized racism, and discrimination.
For most college students, it is helpful to look at institutionalized racism from a business perspective. One noticeable instance of institutionalized racism happens in a person of color’s early life: during elementary school. There have been studies done which show evidence that teachers who have more minority students implicitly expect them to achieve less than their white counterparts, which influences a person of color’s ability to obtain the same resume as their white peers from very early on in his or her career. Later in life, there are studies that show a strong correlation between the ethnicity of a job applicant’s name, and his or her likelihood to receive a call back. If two identical resumes to an accounting firm with the names “Scott” and “Jamal,” Scott will always be called back more often. Another example of systematic discrimination can be seen in the U.S.’s criminal justice system. According to the NAACP’s criminal justice fact sheet, while the drug usage rates for white men are 5 times higher than the reported drug usage of black men, black men are sent to prison for drug offences at 10 times the rate of whites.
Let’s take these macro examples down to the Providence College level. Our university is what some call a PWI- a predominantly white institution. This means that our president is white, our board of trustees is white, most of our professors are white, most of our administrators are white, and most of the students of PC are white. That’s not unlike the rest of the world. We also are similar to the rest of the world in the way we unjustly treat students, faculty and staff of color on this campus.
Within the past several years, there have been numerous issues of racial discrimination of which the student body might not even be aware. For example, our black faculty are stopped at horrifyingly disproportionate rates by PC security than their white counterparts. The normalization of the “white-wave” (the idea that a white student or faculty can cruise by security without question) is representative of a larger concern. There have been numerous incidents of Friars both drawing and uttering racially discriminatory epithets about their peers. Some departments on campus are so notorious for their bias against students of color, that the percentages of students that drop the major merited an outside review.
We also have micro-aggressions within clubs on campus. It’s been just three short years since our official source of news on campus, The Cowl, published an editorial questioning the importance of our Martin Luther King scholarship, claiming that it was unfair to white students. It’s been one short year since Student Congress looked at the proposers of the club Women Empowered and learned that black feminism and feminism are not the same thing. It’s EVERY year that clubs and organizations complain about the unfairness of putting in the extra effort to recruit and retain members of color, resenting the fact that a quasi-quota system exists.
Racial discrimination exists on our campus. That being said, an important distinction for people to make is to understand the difference between implicit and explicit racism. Most PC students are not explicitly racist. However, something that needs to addressed is that implicit racism is just as serious, because students can have the best intentions, but still be racist. Something as small as the spreading or believing stereotypical jokes is an example of implicit racism. But, most of the time, what implicit racism involves is being a complacent bystander.
The students of color on this campus are in physical danger. Both male and female Friars of color have been attacked physically and verbally. However, despite these very real and present threats, the college continues to delay the release of an Official Action Plan to target the demands made by our Friar Family.
The goal of our diversity requirement here at PC is to make sure that students understand that the ramifications of hundreds of years of systematic, cyclical enslavement and segregation have not disappeared in the past 50 years. We cannot expect racism and prejudice that was built up over half a millennium to be alleviated in just a few decades. We need Moore Hall as a safe space multicultural center as a symbol that this college cares about more cultures than just those developed in the West. With this comes a change in the way we structure our DWC program. Slowly, instead of solely using Western Culture as the core curriculum and ethnic studies as electives, we need to rework the curriculum to reflect the diverse mixture of cultures throughout history. We need a VP of Inclusion and Diversity to be a tenured faculty member so that they can safely advocate for the needs of minority students, without risking his or her job. We need diversity training for faculty and students, so that when this next class of 2019 arrives, the most diverse class in PC history, they can learn and grow in a safe environment that isn’t afraid to address the sectional loyalties that divide us.
This is my plea to the students of Providence College: let our loyalties transcend race. We are the Friar Family. We care about each other. So, when some of our members are hurting, we stand up for each other. What does this look like?
It looks like Ithaca College. If Fr. Shanley continues to deny the Black Coalition a 10 year strategic plan, then as a family, we should be willing to walk out of our classes in silent protest. The safety of our Friar brothers and sisters is too important to not prioritize above all else.
It looks like what athletes did at Mizzou. Friar athletes, Coach Cooley: we’re looking at you for leadership. We need to make the administration at Providence College care about this issue as much as we do- and that might look like showing solidarity on their uniforms, or a statement from our nationally ranked program to get their attention.
Father Shanley, we’re looking at you. We’ve heard from the Black Studies Executive Committee, the Women’s Studies Executive Committee, and from the Board of Multicultural Student Affairs. Each has condemned the events of the past weekend, and have called the behavior what it was: racial discrimination. Your turn is long overdue. Now, not only do we want an email from you stating the college’s zero-tolerance policy for racial intolerance, injustice, and aggression against Providence College students and faculty, we also want the more comprehensive, systematic changes laid out for you in the demands of the Black Coalition.
You have a choice. Next year is the college’s centennial. We have the unique opportunity to take this incredible moment and make history: and be hailed in newspapers across the country as being a Catholic liberal-arts school who attacks 21st century issues of race head on. Or, you can choose to continue to focus on fundraising, while putting racial discrimination on this campus on the backburner. It’s no secret that your time at Providence College is coming to an end. The orchestra you’ve conducted for a decade has played some sweet tunes: a hockey National Championship, a basketball Big East Championship, Ruane, the new business center. But I promise you that your legacy, all that you have worked so hard to be remembered by, will mean nothing if you continue to be an implicitly racist leader.
By: Taylor Gibson ’17
Original Photo: Humans of Providence College: by Minggui Yactayo, Class of 2018