Popping the Bubble at Providence College

A Senior Discovers and Breaks Through the Walls that Divide Our Neighborhood

A Guest Chat by Chris Tansey ’13

As you walk towards Phillips Memorial Library, a large concrete façade looms in front of you. The combination of construction workers yelling and metal clashing with concrete hits your ear drums. The foundation for this building is already in place. When finished, it will be the 30 million dollar Ruane Center for the Humanities. You take a sharp right and head towards Slavin Lawn. As you walk down the newly paved sidewalk, the beautiful Harkins Hall materializes to your left. Built in 1917 and recently renovated, it is the most significant structure on the Providence College campus. As you walk past Harkins, Slavin Lawn emerges. Behind the Lawn sits the Ruane Atrium, another multi-million dollar building. It is late October, and the trees surrounding the lawn are bright yellows, reds and oranges. The grass itself is a healthy green. Pumpkinfest is in full swing. There is a hayride, a pumpkin-painting station, free food, and vendors selling everything from cupcakes to flowers. You see children dressed up in Halloween costumes and their parents laughing and enjoying themselves. You are a resident of the Chad Brown projects, and you were not invited to this festival.

I am a white twenty one year old male who goes to Providence College. I am not a resident of Chad Brown. I have lived a comfortable life in which I have never been faced with financial adversity. Most of my fellow students fall under the same category. Of course, you’ve heard it all before. The stigma is that Providence College’s student body is uniformly upper-middle class, white, and many times narrow-minded. Some of the accusations are unjust, and Providence College is very conscious of its lack of diversity within the student body. However, while the Providence administration has been trying to fix the diversity issue, it has lost sight of the community surrounding PC. The Chad Brown subsidized housing complex lies about 4 football fields from Providence College’s innovative Smith Fine Arts Center. The residential side streets off of Eaton are less than twenty yards from campus. In spite of that, neither of these neighborhoods were invited to take part in Providence’s community outreach festival, “Pumpkinfest,” on Sunday October 28th. Both are predominantly lower-income, minority communities.

As I dropped off fliers to the houses lining Bradley and Sharon Street, I realized that no Congress member (Pumpkinfest is partially sponsored by Student Congress) had been assigned to hand out fliers to any other neighborhoods. When I suggested that Congress correct this and volunteered to distribute the fliers, I was told that the SAIL (Student Activities-Involvement-Leadership) office would not allow it. I was utterly shocked at this response. How could the office of Student Involvement and Leadership not want us to get involved and be leaders in our local communities, the communities that need our involvement the most? I went to the SAIL office to find answers to my questions.

I marched into the SAIL office without an appointment to speak to an administrator. But after waiting five minutes, I was led into the office of one of the SAIL officials. I told her my name and my story about wanting to get the other communities near Providence College involved with Pumpkinfest. I asked her why they were not invited. She told me that there was just not enough room, that Pumpkinfest could only have so many people at the event at once. Upon first consideration, this is a valid argument. There is only so much food and so many pumpkins to go around. However, the event also includes a hayride, vendors, live music and a costume competition. Could having more people at an event like this really spoil it? It would be easy enough to order more food and pumpkins and invite the other surrounding communities. My response to her was along these lines. The administrator then moved to a different argument. She stated that Pumpkinfest was specifically an “olive branch” to the River and Sharon Street communities because they had to deal with PC students drinking habits. Another valid point, until it’s looked into a little further. Not that I know from experience, but Providence College students do not party on River Avenue. Where do they party? Eaton Street. What bars do they go to? They go to bars on Douglas Ave, a block away from the Chad Brown community. Again, I responded to her along these lines.

At this point I could tell she was considering the issue. She finally seemed to relent without fully agreeing with my idea to hand out fliers on Chad Brown and Eaton Street. Her acquiescence was something along the lines of “Well do you have any experience in the inner city?” I told her that I played sports in the inner city back home in Washington DC, and that one day I would like to work in law enforcement there. She seemed a little bit surprised and responded with something like, “That’s good, because a lot of students here do not have that experience.” We do not have that experience, because we do not connect with the less fortunate communities enough. And we do not connect with the less fortunate communities enough, because we do not have the experience to do so. And so everything comes full circle. Providence College is a beautiful and perfectly inaccessible bubble.

I do not write to point fingers or accost the administration for not doing more to connect our campus our surrounding area. In fact, to the SAIL administrators credit, she later came up to me and brought up the idea of handing a flier out to the Recreation center in Chad Brown; a small step in the right direction. Providence College is a great school and has a lot of strong qualities. I write to affirm the need for more participation in outlying and more marginalized communities, not to attack anyone for lack of it. It is time, as a school and as students, to be active, take initiative and be leaders not just on campus and on River Avenue, but on Eaton Street and in the Chad Brown neighborhood as well.

Chris Tansey is a senior English major from Washington, DC.

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