by Katherine Torok ’20
A recent bulletin board found in St. Joseph Hall proved that the Providence College community still struggles to fully accept some students’ identities—even though it is 2018.
The bulletin board was decorated with the phrase, “Marriage: The Way God Intended It. One Man. One Woman,” a quote from Pope Francis which states, “We just reaffirm the right of children to grow up in a family with a father and mother,” and a variety of pictures emphasizing the belief that marriage should exclusively be between a man and a woman.
While PC was founded on Catholic and Dominican beliefs which support the ideas expressed in the bulletin board, these ideas should not be forced on students, especially in a residence hall, which should be one of the safest places on campus. This is also not PC’s first time receiving attention for homophobic sentiments. In 2011, The Princeton Review—an organization that collects their statistics from student feedback and surveys—gave PC a spot on “The Least-LGBT Friendly Colleges.” In the seven years since that ranking, PC has remained off the list, but the College still has a lot of growing up to do.
Small, colorful “Safe Space” stickers on some professors’ office doors are not how the College will successfully tackle this issue. Students have the right to feel safe on this campus, especially in the residence halls in which they live.
A dorm is a student’s “home away from home” where he or she should feel comfortable and respected by all other residents and resident assistants, not threatened, attacked, or disrespected. If the only true safe spaces on campus are located in academic buildings and various offices, PC gives the impression that they do not put the safety, respect, nor comfort of all students first. This simply must change.
The year is 2018, and people need to start having open and respectful conversations. SHEPARD (Stopping Homophobia, Eliminating Prejudice and Restoring Dignity) collectively commented on the recent bulletin board put up in St. Joseph Hall.
They stated, “This incident is representative of homophobic behavior on this campus. Sweeping it under the rug or turning a blind eye to it is directly detrimental to PC’s LGBTQ+ community. We have to have face the reality that individuals with queer identities do exist on this campus and they deserve equal amounts of respect as any other student. PC’s LGBTQ+ community resides in discomfort because of hostile attitudes that directly influence interactions between those who choose to live openly about their identities and those who adhere to conservative ideologies. There is no justification for differential treatment on any basis or for regarding a person as a second-class citizen because of their identity. SHEPARD will continue to fight through to ensure that the LGBTQ+ community and its allies are adequately represented and heard on this campus.”
On Monday, March 12, 2018, the Board of Multicultural Student Affairs (BMSA), Kristine Goodwin, vice president of student affairs, and several other PC staff members addressed the bulletin board issue at the weekly BMSA board meeting in Moore Hall.
Goodwin clarified some details regarding the situation. She explained that she could neither approve nor deny the bulletin board since there is no clear, specific policy regarding what kind of content is allowed to be posted on them, and because the message of the board lines up with the church’s beliefs. She then let the student audience take control of the conversation.
However, this quickly became less of a conversation and more of a way for students to express their anger, frustration, and concerns towards the various social issues on campus. Throughout the meeting, Goodwin made her point very clear: How do we—as a community—tackle these issues?
“Where do we need to get to, I guess is my question?” Goodwin questioned. She went on to state, “My hope is that [at] some point this year, with the help of my friends from SHEPARD—because we spent some time together talking about what it’s like to be an LGBTQ+ student, a transgender student, a non-identifying student on this particular campus—because I want to understand and I want to be an ally to you in that space, and to help you love and be loved at Providence College.”
In the second pillar of the Friar Four, a set of foundational principles that PC promotes through various Student Affairs programs, the final “Learning Outcome” states, “Students will create and maintain inclusive communities that respect the essential dignity of every individual.”
However, this bulletin board proved that these intended “Learning Outcomes” are not being fulfilled whatsoever. This bulletin board is simply an expression of exclusivity.
Daniel/Hieu Nguyen ’20, a resident of St. Joseph Hall, expanded on this idea, stating, “I have always considered Providence College as my second home because of the loving and supportive community. I am from Vietnam, so I don’t get to go back home as frequently as most of the students here and it is hard, but the friends that I made here have become my family and they offer me the same love and support that my real family would. Because of that, I feel really disappointed, hurt, and angry to see that such a controversial message was put up on the bulletin board on the floor that I live in. The bulletin board promotes the exclusion of a whole community and it is inflicting pain and fear among so many people…I really hope the school administrators address the problem and give us a solution as soon as possible.”
During the BMSA meeting, Goodwin made it very clear the PC does not have a policy regarding what subjects RAs can and cannot use for their bulletin boards. While it seems extreme for Residence Life to be policing and preapproving what resident assistants put on their bulletin boards, it is clear that this incident was also an abuse of power.
Gloriana Navarro Delgado ’18, head resident assistant of McVinney Hall, touched on this idea during the BMSA meeting and further expanded her thoughts on this issue. She explained, “As RAs we have the role of encouraging our students to become the best version of themselves, as well as to host a community where everyone feels safe, included, and respected.”
While PC is a Catholic institution and thus supports the beliefs promoted by the St. Joseph’s bulletin board, the bulletin board directly targets a community that is present on campus—no matter how small they may appear to be. They are Providence College students; therefore, their safety is just as important as every other student’s on this campus.
Amber Silva ’18, head resident assistant of West Apartments, commented on the intended meaning of the bulletin boards: “They can really be anything. They always strongly encourage it to be something uplifting, or holiday-related. It’s either student promotion or self well-being for students. It’s really promoting community.”
Students and administrative staff need to seriously start talking about the discrimination that occurs on this campus and figure out ways to tackle this consistent issue. A plan of action needs to be created and publically promoted. Issues and plans of actions directly concerning the student body cannot be kept under wraps anymore. If the administration wants to solve issues with the student body, they must begin to seriously listen to what students have to say.
“My hope is that we—during this year—are going to have conversations about this where people can say how they feel and what they think about this matter,” stated Goodwin, “And part of that is going to start with the solidarity march.”
SHEPARD’s solidarity march against transphobia and homophobia is set for Wednesday, March 21, at 6:30 p.m. in front of Moore Hall.
This is allegedly the event that will catapult the PC campus into a new chapter filled with open conversation and respect; yet who knows if change will actually come?
One thing is for sure: students are rightfully breaking the silence and demanding respect on a campus that many consider their second home.
So, at this moment, where are your safe spaces, PC?