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. 


One thought on “Taking the Lead: Making Justice and Diversity Student Priorities at PC

  1. Interesting post and a good recap of the semester. The only thing I would challenge is your statement on “calling out DWC professors who single out students and ask them to speak about their experiences.” How is this any different than a business faculty member calling on me and asking about the ______ industry because of my internship there? Are we not all supposed to bring our experiences to campus and learn from one another? If you don’t have an issue with a student from Georgia being asked about growing up in the south or an HPM student being singled out in a PSC class, why an issue with this?

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