by Hannah Langley ’21
Over the past few years, the Providence College community has been working hard to create a better sense of equality and diversity. Despite these initiatives, however, recent controversy has arisen surrounding the practices of the PC elementary and special education department.
On Sept. 18, an email was sent to the PC community addressing a recent press event held by the Providence College Coalition Against Racism, which argues that teachers of color throughout the state of Rhode Island remain a small percentage. The coalition also states that the practices of the PC elementary and special education department has directly contributed to this figure.
Hugh Lena, provost and senior vice president of academic affairs, stated that efforts to retain students of color within the department has become a major focus of the College, and Father Brian J. Shanley, O.P., will be meeting with other college presidents throughout Rhode Island as well as the new commissioner of K-12 education in Rhode Island.
Uprise RI, a local news site that, according to their website, covers issues such as social injustice, human rights, progressive politics, and climate change, reported on the press event. The article and videos from the event were released on the same day, Sept. 18.
The article began with a quote from PC graduate Kai Burton ’18, who stated, “I have never truly felt the support and encouragement that I was expecting as a growing teacher within [the education] program.”
Of the 53 education majors that graduated in the class of 2019, only two of them were African-American. While this statistic seems somewhat shocking, it is not surprising when taking into consideration the fact that only 11 percent of teachers statewide are teachers of color, according to the Uprise article.
Dr. Eric Hirsch, professor of sociology, was interviewed about this issue, and presented several facts that point towards PC’s apparent discrimination against the African-American and Hispanic communities in the elementary and special education departments at the College. These facts address bilingual students who “were forced to rewrite their essays many times” and students of color who were “encouraged to give up their dream to become teachers.”
Dr. Anthony Rodriguez, a professor in the department of elementary and special education since 2012, was one of the department’s professors who noticed these issues and started speaking out. “I noticed these problems before my first semester working in the department,” said Rodriguez in the article. “When I asked questions, I was roundly silenced by the department and the administration,” which has been a common theme, Rodriguez said.
Although the article provides many arguments and testimonies against the department, Lena concluded his Sept. 18 email by reiterating the idea that the College has been working towards creating more inclusivity, diversity, and equality among the PC community.