Organizing and Acting for Justice

Andrew Konnerth ’17 & Taylor Gibson ’17
The last Monday of the 2014-2015 academic year seemed to be an ordinary sunny first day of finals week. The PC student body was migrating towards the classic IG photo spots to take pictures, and I was prepping my own camera for a community event on campus. I had been looking forward to this dialogue for some time; PC faculty and students had organized a peaceful rally in support for labor rights, specifically in the Renaissance Hotel in downtown Providence, as well as for racial equality here on campus. For some time, the hotel has violated the rights of their workers, spurring a series of boycotts to demand more humane working conditions. Within our own college community, there exists similar injustice in the form of racial profiling against persons of color. The hope of this rally was to continue the conversation on these issues and petition the college to act on a series of demands put forth by the key organizers.
Upon arrival to the iconic Harkins gate on River Ave, I realized very quickly that this was not something that I was going to photograph, export the pictures, and be done with it. One of the first things that I learned was that this rally is nothing new. In fact, just two short years ago, Providence students and faculty gathered in the same way to make very similar demands. The result of that petition came in the form of a new Anti-Racial Profiling statement issued by the college, along with some new training for PC Security.
However, these changes were not enough. Today, I heard the story of Dr. Julia Jordan-Zachery, an Assistant Professor of Political Science and the Department Head of Black Studies. This morning, Dr. JZ heard that she received tenure. Typically, this is a cause for celebration and relief for professors. For Dr. JZ—it was only bittersweet.
In the past eight years she has worked at Providence College, Dr. Jordan-Zachery has been profiled by PC Security no less than seven times. Some of her white, male colleagues spoke up saying that they have been teaching here for over ten years and have never been stopped—only being given the “white wave.” Dr. JZ spoke about how people explain Security’s actions in a variety of ways: it’s the way she dresses or the car she drives. Jokingly, she pointed out that with her level of intelligence, she knows how to dress. She drives a car that’s a dime a dozen here at PC. The only thing that’s left, she said, is the color of her skin; the one thing she cannot control.
Faculty members are not the only ones that experience the profiling described by Dr. JZ. Graduating senior Bini Tsegaye also spoke out through his own experiences here. “I am tired and weary, those who are behind me and will come after me will go through this.” He spoke not just about one but several instances where his membership was questioned, every time making him feel less and less a part of the “Friar family.” In an encounter with another student, his place in Providence College was summed up in terms of “need” instead of “want,” referring to the idea that the school recruits to fulfill diversity quotas instead of choosing valued applicants to enrich the Friar community. If the concept of race is being utilized as an indicator of both enrollment and safety and security factors, than we must question the ethics and standards of our community.
That was what this rally was all about: the Providence College community is currently sending a message to people of color that they do not belong here. When students, such as Bini, were confronted by Security guards, they defended themselves by saying that they were just making sure that he wasn’t a “neighborhood kid.” As Matt Smith said in front of the crowd in the Ray circle this morning—he is a neighborhood kid. What PC is guilty of is systematic exclusion based on race. We dissociate from the neighborhood community because it is dangerous—this is a way of explaining away racism. We then allow our staff members, people in positions of authority, to protect this system. Students and faculty are the overwhelming majority of those stopped and questioned by Security, that much was made clear today.
We can understand that there is a call to address an injustice in our community: the persistence of racism. Whether we are affected by this in one way or another regardless of our skin color, we have a civic duty to protect the rights, values, and dignity of those we call our own. As Friars, we engage with the college’s mission in welcoming “qualified men and women of every background” based on their “God-given dignity, freedom, and equality.” If we are to uphold these morals, then we must act to change how we look at one another and how our school defines who we are. If race is a determining factor in opportunity and potential, then we must persist with what we began today: organizing and acting to achieve justice.

Keep Your Head Up

Andres Taborda ’15

“So look up from your phone, shut down that display,
take in your surroundings, and make the most of today.
Just one real connection is all it can take,
to show you the difference that being there can make.” 
Gary Turk

What I thought was a compulsive midnight run to McDonald’s on a weeknight ended up leading to one of the most eye-opening conversations. After struggling to talk to a box where there was human on the other side taking our order, a few friends and I  sat in the Davis lot inhaling fast food, and came to the realization that we might be screwed.

Looking back at the last four years triggers a trip down memory lane. What if I told you that we’ve spent most of the past four years looking down instead of up? I’m just as guilty as you are. We’ve been staring deep into the pixels of our iPhones and Galaxies and what not trying to avoid awkward encounters or figuring out where everyone is at any given time.

I have been trying to come up with some farewell words as I prepare to leave Providence College in two weeks time. It was after watching this YouTube video that everything was put into perspective. I thought about the great memories I had made at PC, but couldn’t help but think about the many more I could have had. Most of the ones never made were because I was on my phone, with headphones in, or simply just looking down.

Where to begin? If only in the past four years I had paid attention to whoever was trying to make small talk in the elevator instead of aggressively making Twitter reload on my phone. What if I had taken the time to say hello to someone making the trek up Guzman Hill to our 8:30? That could have helped the serious case of the Mondays. Or what if you had gone in for the kiss instead of frantically texting your friends for advice on whether or not to make a move?

That escalated quickly, didn’t it? Here’s the thing. Our generation has lost that personal feel and the ability to interact with other humans. Do we even know what taking a risk is anymore? Why bother facing rejection in person when Snapchat will delete it for you in 1-10 seconds and you can forget about it? It’s so much easier to send Snapchats and tweet and text people, but when it comes to interacting with others in person, we freeze. Steve Jobs and Co. put the world in the palm of our hands, but took away one of the best qualities a human can have: personal interaction.

Here’s what I’m trying to get at. We need to start claiming back our humanity. Technology is preventing us from making the memories that our parents still remember decades later. Our memories are becoming like Snapchats. They’ll disappear in a matter of seconds. So I’m offering my apologies here to everyone I so easily send Snapchats to but ignored in person. If I flirted with you over any of these apps because it was easier, but refused to tell you how I felt in person, I’m sorry for wasting time and not stepping up to the plate. To everyone who had a conversation with me and I told you I was “multitasking” when I kept looking at my phone, odds are I don’t remember our conversation and how I wish I did.

To my fellow seniors: We’re about to head into the real world. Two weeks from this exact moment (11:30 a.m.) Father Shanley will open our commencement ceremony. We (insert expletive here) did it! You actually need no better reason to have your head held high. As we go forth, let’s make a pact to look up and we’ll see how it went when we come back in five years for our first reunion.

This world is pretty screwed up sometimes, but I can almost guarantee that no one will propose to their future spouse on Snapchat nor will they say, “I just fell in love when she tweeted at me.” But what you will hear is, “We just locked eyes and that’s when I knew she was the one” or “We just kept in touch after college, met up, and regretted wasting so much time.” These are the romantic stories we hear from our parents or even those that entered adulthood before cell phones did everything for you. What’s so bad about bringing these back?

To everyone else: Make the best out of the four years you have here. Keep your head up and make sure that every moment, whether good or bad, is a memory that stays with you and doesn’t disappear when your brand new iPhone 6 takes a plunge in the pool this summer. Take the risk. Take a chance. Do it for our generation, not for the Vine or the Snapchat Story.