by Alyssa Cohen ’21
Dr. Anthony Rodriguez has been fighting for racial justice within the elementary and special education major since his students and advisees began reporting professors within the department for conducting discriminatory practices in 2012. In subsequent years, Providence College’s efforts to reform have done little to abolish the continuation of such injustices. To that end, it is time that as a campus community we condemn these discriminatory practices and demand immediate rectification.
In anticipation of the press release that the PC Coalition Against Racism issued on Sept. 18 highlighting discrimination in the department, the College sent a statement to the PC community. In this statement, the College referenced attempts it has made to address these issues, which included removing the essay requirement for entrance into the ESE program and advocating for the RI Department of Education to reform their admission requirements for educator preparation programs in the state. The College also cited ongoing efforts by Fr. Brian J. Shanley, O.P., in conjunction with the state, and referenced goals for the ESE program outlined in the PC200 Strtegic Plan.
However, these efforts have yet to bring about adequate change in the program. According to the press release by the PC Coalition Against Racism, students of color are facing discrimination through multiple facets of the elementary and special education major.
Students of color within the program were discouraged from becoming educators when they faced challenges within the major, while white students were encouraged to persevere and were provided with resources to aid them in their areas of difficulty. English language learners who wrote in non-traditional grammar were required to perpetually rewrite their essays or were rejected from the program entirely. Some bi-lingual students who wrote using non-traditional grammar were required to attend a non-credit-bearing course conducted by a professor within the department in order to gain entrance to the program. Students of color within the Elementary and Special Education program are also placed in predominantly deficit-focused classrooms during their student teaching experiences, while their white peers are placed with classes of advanced or college preparatory students.
Dr. Rodriguez underscored the extent to which these discriminatory practices have proven to be an impediment to students of color continuing within the elementary and special education major, as well as a deterrent to those who wish to become enrolled.
“I have known many, many students of color whom I thought would make wonderful educators drop the major entirely because of discouragement from other professors within my department,” explained Rodriguez. “‘I care about you so much I don’t want you to become a teacher’ [professors within the Elementary and Special Education Department] would tell [students of color].”
To that end, statistics of the demographics of graduating classes from the elementary and special education department support Rodriguez’s argument.
According to UP Rise RI, the graduating class of 2019 yielded two students of color in a graduating class of 53, which approximates 3.8 percent. The class of 2018 had a 6.8 percent graduation rate for students of color, meaning the trend is going in the wrong direction. These percentages also compare unfavorably to 17.8 percent of the College’s student body that is comprised of students of color.
As illuminated by these statistics as well as Dr. Rodriguez’s experiences, continuances of the implementation of discriminatory practices within the elementary and special education department has directly impeded the success of students of color within the program, while concurrently blemishing the integrity of the institution and hindering the College’s mission—the search for truth or “veritas.”
The efforts the College has implemented in previous years to combat these recurring claims of racial inequities have been in vain. Dr. Rodriguez discusses how reports of students being discriminated against within the elementary and special education major have resulted in department “rebranding” instead of reforming and addressing the root causes of discrimination within the program.
“Rebranding is merely covering up racial issues,” says Dr. Rodriguez as he discusses how the dean of his program has attempted to improve the superficial image of the elementary and special education major in regards to diversity without actually identifying or remedying the existing problem.
In order to truly terminate the issues of discrimination within the department, Dr. Rodriguez says, “We must own this history [of racism] and we are going to stop this discrimination right now.”
Dr. Rodriguez also expressed concern for the domino effect of enabling the continuance of such racial injustices.
Dr. Rodriguez discussed how discrimination within the elementary and special education department has contributed to the ever-expanding shortage of teachers of color within Providence districts because of the College’s low rates of diversity in graduating classes from the program.
He also broached the possibility of the scope of discrimination expanding within the program based on the College’s present lack of condemnation.
“If we let the program continue to discriminate against students of color, we may be enabling the scope of discrimination to expand to other communities, such as the disabled,” says Dr. Rodriguez.
For years, Dr. Rodriguez has tirelessly advocated for sanctity and justice for students of color in the elementary and special education department and in turn, the betterment of the PC community— and he should not be alone in this fight. As a campus community, students and faculty must unify, support Dr. Rodriguez, and demand the termination of any semblance of institutionalized racism in both the elementary and special education department as well as within our college culture at large because as Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., emphasized—“injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”