By Sabrina Guilbeault ’18
It’s 12:37 a.m. and honors student Caitlin Shanley ’18 is sitting cross-legged on a large gray rug in her apartment in DiTraglia Hall, where readings and the syllabus for a new class just for freshmen are spread out in front of her.
Shanley is one of a select few leaders on campus who were asked to be a teacher’s assistant for Engaging PC, a course designed to help students in their “intellectual, social, and emotional adjustment to college.” A pilot version of the class ran last year, and this is the first year in which current Providence College students are serving as peer mentors for the course.
“I guess my purpose is to be a leader,” said Shanley. “I can do this by providing insight and support both leading by example, and also offering myself as a companion to help someone navigate through their time here.” Shanley’s team includes Brigid McGrath ’20, who was part of the pilot program last year, Dr. Dana Dillon, professor of theology, and Kristine Goodwin, vice president of student affairs.
“So far we’ve talked about what is the value of a liberal arts education, and what it means to learn in a liberal arts school,” said Shanley, explaining that there are pros and cons of a liberal arts education. “We’ve talked about who we are as learners, and how to be better learners.”
The class, which will cover everything from time management to something as concrete as how to register for classes, has given Shanley a chance to reflect on her time at the College.
Born and raised in Saratoga, New York, Shanley thoughtfully described her PC experience, stressing that it has not always been easy. “The hardest part about being a PC student is feeling like so many people are having such fantastic experiences at PC,” she said. “They love the school, and they love their lives and sometimes when you aren’t having such a fantastic experience yourself, you don’t feel like you are fully part of the ‘Friar Family.’”
Yet if anyone was part of the “Friar Family” one would it expect it to be Shanley, considering she is closely related to President Fr. Brian Shanley, O.P. ’80.
“It has been truly a blessing and a curse,” Shanley said. “I value even just having family nearby, and I have been able to develop a relationship with him that I would never have been able to otherwise.” She explained that on the flip side, there have been some instances where she was hesitant to even say her last name, because she feared how people would perceive it.
“It has not impacted my experience at PC as much as I thought it would,” she said. Shanley then looked back and laughed about times during her freshman and sophomore year where she would get late night texts from random numbers or people she did not know closely who would ask if she had any inside scoop on the possibility of a snow day. “It’s funny because [Fr. Shanley] doesn’t even make the call, it’s the provost that decides that!” she exclaimed.
A psychology major and French minor, Shanley is on the executive board of Women Will, and is also an active participant of the Vagina Monologues, a performance that takes place off campus each year and is completely unconnected to the school, but driven entirely by PC students.
On Women Will, Shanley said, “It’s a community of empowered, thoughtful women who are willing to discuss life’s hardest topics.” She then explained that after seeing the Vagina Monologues her freshman year at the Avon Theater, she was totally captivated and wanted to be part of it. “I believed in the mission, and wanted theater to be part of my life,” she said, as someone who was once very involved with theater in high school.
Carolyn Grandits ’18 who has roomed with Shanley since freshman year, explained that since the beginning, she knew they would be great friends. “We had a lot of things in common, and she had a huge heart,” she said. As Shanley walked into the room, Grandits began telling the tale of when they joined the Outdoor Adventure Club on a whitewater rafting trip, which resulted in a fit of giggles.
Last fall, Shanley studied abroad in Ireland, and stated that her time there was probably the best thing that has happened to her while she was at PC. “I think personal growth is something people talk about a lot, but it is a really abstract and highbrow concept,” she explained. “I never knew what it meant until I had the opportunity to go abroad, and saw my world view and self-view mature.”
She went on to explain that it was there that she began to consider what role she wants in this world, and what she cares about when all the superficial stuff is washed away. “When you study abroad you have to grapple with your own thoughts and get to know yourself better,” she said.
An orientation leader, Shanley explained she is grateful for the opportunity to work with more first year students through this class. “I’m feeling very protective of my freshmen year self,” she said with a laugh. “College is going to be a lesson in resilience, and struggle does not mean failure. It has been such a struggle, but it’s been all about building relationships, and its been personal connection that has fed my soul.