“Politicize” Me!

mhagandefaultMichael Hagan ’15

In the holiday weekend following the touchdown of a massive tornado in Moore, Oklahoma, Senator Jim Inhofe stepped aside from his family picnic for a short while to give an interview in which he asserted, “The liberal media is trying to exploit a tragedy to advance and expand its own agenda. And, believe me, the victims all know this.” The agenda Inhofe was referring to is climate change action, and he used all too familiar language to stonewall calls to seriously weigh potential factors that may have precipitated the four-day tornado outbreak in the American heartland.

I grow weary of this rhetoric. It’s exactly the kind of language that prevented commonsense gun reform after horrific massacres in Tulsa, Aurora, and Newtown. To use an example my more conservatively inclined friends might appreciate, it is the kind of language that could serve to shut down calls for a further look at the Obama administration’s handling of the Benghazi incident. Opponents of reform on just about every front have succeeded in making “politicizing” tragedy a mortal sin in American political discourse.

But there’s a glaring hypocrisy that such staunch opponents of reforms get away with every time. Take a look at the members of congress who plug their ears every time someone suggests that gun violence may warrant a serious discussion of gun law. Just how many of them accused the last administration of politicizing tragedy when the Bush Doctrine diverted us from bringing the terrorists behind 9/11 to justice and led us into war in Iraq? At what point did a Republican congressional leader (or a congressional leader, period) say, “The Bush administration is trying to exploit a tragedy to advance and expand its own agenda?” Ron Paul, bless his heart, hardly counts.

I didn’t want to have to do this, but since the public has largely accepted this notion that it is inhumane and unforgivable to have a serious discussion about factors that lead to tragedy, I have to issue the following as a kind of proto-last-will-and-testament:

If I am to perish under tragic circumstances of any kind, for the love of God, exploit the hell out of me. Ask questions, engage in public discourse, and put policy forward. Do whatever you can to understand the factors that lead to tragedy, and address them! Do whatever you can to prevent the same tragedy from occurring twice. Oh, and find the Friarside Chats admin codes and give them to Nick Wallace. I think they’re written down in my sock drawer.

I don’t foresee tragedy coming my way, but semi-automatic weapons are still easier to buy than my allergy medicine, and the weather’s getting stranger. I guess I can sleep a little easier now.

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We Are PC

mattdefaultMatthew Henry Smith ’16

These aren’t the words of a sagely senior, nor a misty-eyed graduate deserving of every accolade and recognition. But after I having two semesters of civ under my belt, I have some thoughts for your reading pleasure.

As is usual for me, last night I went for a walk, (in the cool of the evening). I thought about the year. I thought about the storms.

I thought about the winds that blew with such ferocity during Sandy that they put our families in jeopardy. I thought about being snowed in when Nemo threatened to keep classes from convening. I thought about the storms of racism in publication, of bombings in Boston, of violence on and off campus.

But, in the cool of the evening, walking with a friend by the joyful forsythia and under the boughs of the magnolia tree, I remembered that Sandy didn’t hit here as hard as we’d thought it would (praise the Lord). I remembered that despite the snow and the winds of Nemo, Big Tony’s still delivered. I remembered that the champions of inclusion in our community rose to meet the challenges of diversity, that Boston was strong, and that the indefatigable spirit of celebration on this campus was not extinguished by violence on the streets of Providence.

My thoughts, in the cool of the evening, were not blissfully ignorant to the challenges we faced: they were proud of the things my Friar community was able to face without hesitation and in spite of adversity.

In my short time here, it is abundantly apparent to be that the students and the faculty have a vision of Providence that comes from a love for this school that I have come to know, and even as I write this, it makes me smile.

In some cases, we knew spring was coming. In others, we manifested spring all around us. According to the tweets of Steve Sears, “WE ARE PC.”

Certainly so.

God Bless you and have a wonderful summer.

Taking the Lead: Making Justice and Diversity Student Priorities at PC

Guest Chat

David Pinsonneault ’14

As the end of the academic year approaches, I think it is appropriate to examine the events that have occurred throughout our spring semester at Providence College and ask what we can do to seek change as a community.  Diversity has become a prominent issue that has brought with it several different viewpoints.  One of Providence College’s five core values is diversity.  For Providence College to fully embrace diversity, they must try to attain three main points.  Our school hopes to create:

  • A campus community that mirrors the catholicity of the Church in all of its diversity, and that is inclusive and welcoming of all;
  • A culture in which diversity is considered in every aspect of campus life and is a factor in, and component of, institutional decision-making;
  • A campus climate that inspires respect and that provides support for the academic, social, and personal development of diverse students, faculty, and staff. (Providence College Strategic Plan, p.8)

These appear to be manageable criteria to strive for as a college.  In early February, a Cowl writer sparked controversy on campus.  An opinion piece was written condemning the school’s diversity initiatives.  The article isolated minority students on campus, including those who receive scholarships.  A response to the article was written right away on Friarside Chats presenting a more historical and cultural view on diversity and why it is important for an institution, such as Providence College.  Tim Wise, a prominent speaker on diversity, then came to campus shortly after both articles were written.  His presentation concluded with an open diversity forum where students discussed their views with one another.  This was encouraging but this was not the only problem on our campus pertaining to diversity.

Another issue relating to diversity that has been prevalent on campus is racial profiling.  Minority students have been subject to racial profiling on campus.  Many minority students have been stopped and asked by security to show them their school ID’s.  This does not happen to white students.  Further, a Political Science faculty member, Dr. Jordan-Zachary, has been the target of racial discrimination.  Dr. Jordan-Zachary has been profiled by campus security when trying to park on campus, despite her prominently displayed faculty parking pass on her front windshield.  Earlier this semester, Dr. Jordan-Zachary created a social justice scholarship in honor of Trayvon Martin, a seventeen year old (and unarmed) Florida teenager who was slain by a neighborhood watchman.  She received several complaints to the creation of this award.  In particular, she received emails that called her a “racist pig.”  The same email also said, “White people should be given an award for killing black people” and “black people should be given an award for killing Mexican and Asians.”  As a response to the hostile climate minority students and faculty member’s face on campus, a Coalition Against Racism was formed.  This past Wednesday, the Coalition put on a peaceful demonstration on Slavin Lawn and held a press conference afterwards to bring these issues to light.  Providence College responded by emailing its students Wednesday night and inviting them to attend a dinner with Fr. Shanley on Friday night to discuss diversity.  The dinner left me feeling that change will not come soon enough.  Providence College is content to wait until issues of diversity become so pressing that they are forced to take action.  It is important to understand what we can do as students to begin to break down the hostile climate for minority students at Providence College.

When I use the term “we”, I am speaking for a group of people who acknowledge their own white privilege.  White privilege exists.  It exists.  It exists.  It exists.  Being white in the United States means never having to think about it.  We are never asked what we like about being white.  We do not have to acknowledge the advantages we receive in being white.  We do not attribute our success to being white.  The common critique to white privilege is when you hear someone say, “But I worked hard for what I have.”  Yes, yes you did.  You can tell me all about your difficulties growing up.  You can tell me about all of the obstacles you have overcome.  I have nothing but respect for the hard work and determination for an individual such as this.  They, however difficult their situation may be, simply are not affected by their race in the same way minorities are.  In an article titled White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack, by Peggy McIntosh, she presents a series of statements that show the effects of white privilege.  Some of my personal favorites are:

  • 4. I can go shopping alone most of the time, pretty well assured that I will not be followed or harassed.
  • 5. I can turn on the television or open to the front page of the paper and see people of my race widely represented.
  • 14. I can do well in a challenging situation without being called a credit to my race.
  • 15. I am never asked to speak for all people of my racial group. (McIntosh, p.122-123)

These are just some of the author’s ways to show her readers that white privilege exists.  For the white audience reading this, you will be able to confirm these points.  Minorities, however, cannot say the same.  Providence College does not have an environment that treats all people the same.  What can we do to change this?  Changing the attitudes of students, faculty, and administrators at Providence College will take time.  My suggestion to students is to be an ally for minority students on campus.  I went to the rally this past Wednesday and there were a good number of white students there, but still not enough.  Many white students vacated Slavin lawns, made jokes, or took videos of what was going on.  A more proper course of action could have been to listen and learn.  Many students who may have been scared to attend this event but support the cause did not go.  It is time to stop living in fear and caring what people will think if you tell them you are going to a rally on racism.  By overcoming this step, we become closer to reaching real change.  It helps to create power by visible numbers.  It is important for Providence College students to begin to challenge the rules of white supremacy.  When you are in DWC and your professor asks a minority student to speak for their entire race, call them out on it!  It is not the time to be patient and wait for change.  It is time to be more active and less defensive.  Why is it that every time white privilege comes up in conversation with a white person they immediately become defensive?  We learn many excuses and justifications for racism in society.  We avoid taking responsibility for the wrongs of our past.  We avoid talking about things that make us feel uncomfortable that force us to own up to our white privilege.  No one person, or group of people, should have to earn justice.  This, however, is something being fought on our campus.

We have to fight this problem by attacking the problem head on (a phrase used by the administration throughout the dinner with Fr. Shanley).  This means we need to take action.  The Coalition Against Racism has asked administration to do four things: train campus security in racial awareness, send an email to the entire campus condemning the harassment of the faculty member, create a for-credit class on race relations and implement a policy prohibiting racial profiling by campus security.  Providence College has agreed to the first point but has not responded to the other three.  Fr. Shanley said at dinner on Friday that he should have emailed the campus at several different points during this past semester.  I do not think it is too late to do this.  When issues come up where a student or faculty member has been discriminated against, Fr. Shanley should email the campus and tell us that Providence College does not tolerate discrimination and then detail the steps that will be taken.  Instead, he has chosen to remain silent on these issues.  This is why it is time for students at Providence College to leave their comfort zones.  It is time to start talking about white privilege and how this applies to us as students.  It is time to challenge the system and ask Providence College to live up to its mission statement and be accepting of all people.  To do this, the words “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” also need to be added to the College’s non-discriminatory policy.  Diversity goes beyond race, but also into socioeconomic background and sexual orientation, among other areas.  This addition to the non-discrimination policy would not compromise our Catholic identity.  It does not mean the school is reforming marriage in the Church.  This is a change that should have been made years ago, but is something being discussed now.  Administrators are debating whether to continue to discriminate or not.  It amazes me that people in power believe they have the right to decide when discrimination has gone on long enough or when it is time to admit they are at fault.  This change should be made swiftly and politics should be left aside.  The addition of these words will help to make Providence College a more inclusive and diverse institution.

While we await policy and wait to what our fall semester holds, it is important that we begin to unite as a student body.  We need students to align with one another.  It is important that all students interact with one another and help make Providence College feel like it is not segregated.  Listen and watch for issues that deal with racism.  Challenge white supremacy and acknowledge white privilege.  If the administration does not take appropriate action to the many issues that have accumulated on the topic of diversity this semester, be ready to advocate for change.  It is not time to remain silent as an institution.  Students will continue to demonstrate and protest until we start seeing changes in attitude, policy, and in practice on campus.  Do not forget over our summer vacation what has gone on this past semester.  Hold onto those feelings and carry them with you into the fall semester.  Even if the administration does not see what it needs to change, a united student body can help point them in the right direction come fall.  If Providence College remains silent and continues to allow for improper treatment of its students and faculty, I will be ready to protest in the fall!

David is a rising Senior at PC, and is a double major in Political Science and Public Service. He is a competitive distance runner who qualified and finished this year’s Boston Marathon in under 3 hours. 

Takeaway Points from “Embracing Diversity: An Invitation to Conversation with Fr. Shanley Regarding the College’s Core Values”

NickDefaultNick Wallace ’14

(Blog Admin’s Note: This piece was written on Friday night with the event fresh on the author’s mind. Finals can be blamed for the delay in turn-around time for posting it.)

1. Administrators refused to admit that the event itself was largely in response to the rally against racism just two days earlier, which was covered by numerous local news outlets.

The administrators in the room, including Father Shanley, proclaimed that the event had been “planned for months,” and had nothing to do with the “Hoodie Day Rally for Social Justice” that took place this past Wednesday. However, it is hard not to be skeptical of these assertions, being that the rally against racism ended just before 5 pm, and an email to the student body with information about the special dinner with Fr. Shanley was sent the same night at 8 pm. When is the last time you as a PC student have received an email blast after administrative offices close at 4:30? Look through your email archives on outlook, and you will realize that you do not get emails from the school after the offices close, simply because all mass emails must be approved by SAIL. Now, I know that administrative emails do not have to be approved by SAIL, but I am still reluctant to believe that an event with such weighty subject matter, if it truly had been planned for months, would have only been advertised less than 48 hours before it occurred. Therefore, if this event were truly planned beforehand, the email would have been sent much earlier in the week to bolster student participation and interest.

2. Diversity is (slowly) increasing.

Whether or not you like it, PC is slowly becoming a more diverse place (at least in terms of racial diversity). According to Fr. Shanley, in 2008 “students of color” made up less than 9 % of the populous at Providence College. More, students of minority status make up 16 % of the incoming class of 2017. That is almost a 100% increase in five years. Shanley said that there is no quota for minority students, but that every year, his goal is to see the number increase. Nevertheless, diversity amongst the student body means little when…

3. There is little racial diversity amongst the faculty.

Students at the dinner with Father Shanley voiced concerns about not being able to relate to professors here on campus, and rightfully so. When asked why more professors of color were not hired, Shanley argued that Rafael Zapata, the Chief Diversity Officer of the school, would be more equipped to answer the question. The student courageously asserted that she did not want to hear Rafael speak, and that she instead wanted to hear what the President of the College had to say. Shanley responded by saying that minorities are less likely to be enrolled in PhD programs than whites, and subsequently it is hard to convince the very few professors of color to teach here. While this is confirmed by empirical research, perhaps professors of color are choosing other schools because they feel as if they would not belong at PC, or that PC is not taking the proper steps to protect faculty members of all races. Being that the recent rally against racism was organized by a professor who was a victim of racist emails and tweets, (which, by the way, the administration never publicly denounced via email) it is by no means ridiculous to assert that PC has created an environment in which both professors and students of color alike do not feel comfortable living. If you were a prominent professor of color looking for a teaching position, would you be particularly inclined to seek a position at a school with an apparent diversity problem that refuses to include certain groups of people into its notice of non-discrimination? Which brings me to my next point…

4. The student body wants the terms “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” included into the non-discrimination policy.

Student Congress passed a piece of legislation, which addressed the issue, two weeks ago. The Faculty Senate overwhelmingly backed the recommendation just recently. Now is the time for the administration to act. As stated in my last article, Fr. Shanley told The Cowl in 2010 that PC does not discriminate based on sexual orientation. However, in 2010 he was still unwilling to include the term, which would officially prohibit PC from discriminating against an individual based on his/her sexual orientation. Three years later, the issue is still pressing. However, other Catholic schools have taken the initiative to include “sexual orientation” into their non-discrimination policies. Perhaps this is what is needed to convince Shanley to concede. It should be noted the importance of including gender identity into the non-discrimination policy as well. Doing so does not condone the lifestyle. It would not, by any means, show that Providence College endorses or advertises the way of life. It would simply allow a group of people on campus to be legally protected against discrimination. It is not much to ask, and it does not compromise Providence College’s Catholic identity; it is an issue of equality. Implement the piece of legislation passed by Student Congress, and allow these human beings to feel safer on campus.

5. Students want to see the Shan-Man at more events, not just men’s basketball games.

Sure, he isn’t a superhero, and obviously can’t be in two places at once. But with issues like racism still pressing here on campus, it would have been both reassuring and encouraging to see Fr. Shanley at the rally. I understand his role as President involves countless hours of traveling around the country, recruiting students/faculty members, and bartering with alumni for more money. But a lack of transparency clearly exists. If he can make it a priority to attend men’s basketball and ice hockey games, Fr. Shanley can make it a priority to take the issue of diversity and racism “head-on.” Attending the rally on Wednesday would have been a way of doing so, while subsequently increasing collaboration and transparency.

6. Fr. Shanley apologized for not taking action when he should have.

When hearing Fr. Shanley speak, it doesn’t take too long to realize that the man is both very intelligent and sincere. With that being said, he said that with hindsight, if he had a time machine and could do one thing over, he would have released a statement to the entire school defending the diversity initiative that was attacked by a misinformed Cowl article earlier this semester. He proclaimed that he was human, and that humans make mistakes. I give credit to our president for acknowledging his faults. But is it too late to issue such a statement? Clearly diversity is still an ongoing topic on campus. A school-wide email wrapping up the year as a whole, and addressing the school’s intentions moving forward with diversity, would still be appropriate and effective.

7. It will take time to see change, but that does not mean we should not seek it.

Diversity is something that cannot be achieved over night. I understand that it will take years to assess the effectiveness of PC’s current diversity initiatives. Nonetheless, this should not be used as an excuse for inactivity. Racism is clearly still a problem on this campus. If it weren’t, there would not be the many reports of racial profiling of students by security guards on campus. There would not be instances in which racist remarks were graffitied on bathroom doors. Finally, teachers and students would not be prejudged and even demonized because of the color of their skin. As long as these realities exist, we should not patiently await for diversity to arrive; we must actively pursue it.

8. The diversity initiative will be considered complete once nobody on this campus, despite his/her ethnic background, religious preference, socioeconomic status, sexual orientation, gender identity, or skin color, feels marginalized.

This is pretty self-explanatory, and the end to the diversity initiative is not in sight. When will we have achieved diversity? The answer is when we do not have to put on events like the one that took place tonight.

This event failed in the sense that Fr. Shanley did very little talking. Instead, he was an active listener in a seminar-type atmosphere, only speaking when being directly called out by students. But this was also a good thing; this event was successful in that it gave students the opportunity to interact with administrators and voice their opinions in a professional way. In fact, much of the time was spent asking students for their suggestions on how the administration can make this campus more equipped to handle the issue of diversity. Here are mine:

-Add “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” into the non-discrimination policy of both students and faculty members.

-Require Safe Space training of all students, faculty members, and administrators (I stole this one from fellow writer Matt Smith, but I wholeheartedly agree with it)

-Train security guards about the dangers of racial profiling and stereotyping, and how to avoid these issues. Moreover, if the problem persists, hold those responsible accountable for their actions.

-Diversify the theology department to include classes about different religions and cultures. Furthermore, allow these classes to counts towards our theology requirements.

-Require service learning in all classes that will satisfy the diversity requirement of the new core curriculum. Learning about an issue and experiencing it firsthand are two completely different things. It would allow PC students to get more involved within the city of Providence, while subsequently opening their eyes to new perspectives.

-Emphasize the fact that diversity goes beyond skin color. PC will not truly become more diverse until starts reaching out students of lower socioeconomic backgrounds, different geographical regions of the country, and who do not self identify as Catholic.

-Publicly announce your views via email, especially during a time of controversy. Unfortunately, most students have not read the newly revised mission statement or the strategic plan. Email is the best way to reach most of the constituents.

-Continue to provide events like this one, along with the “First Friar Forum on Diversity,” in which students can voice their opinions to the administration.

-Keep the Development of Western Civilization Program, but challenge the currents of Western intellectual history with a more diverse array of western and non-western perspectives. Currently, the program seems more interested in developing graduating classes of Catholic apologists than well rounded thinkers.

I have always found it interesting that Fr. Shanley’s self-proclaimed number-one concern is currently “finding a name to put on the school of business.” As the President of our College, he ought donations from alumni to increase our endowment. But the truth is that with the current marginalization of specific groups of people on this campus, it may be the case that graduating students are less inclined to give back to the school as long as it continues its backwardness. Certainly, this applies to myself. This dinner was a small step in the right direction, and I look forward to seeing administrators get “down and dirty” over the summer to fix these problems.