Safety Advisory and Humanities Forum Incidents Highlight Issue of Race on Campus

by Kyle Burgess on September 17, 2020


by Hannah Langley ’21

News Co-Editor

For several years now, Providence College has put diversity at the forefront of its planning, making it one of the milestones of its PC200 plan. While PC has improved in diversity in some ways, incidents from the past week have proven that the College still has work to do in creating the beloved and accepting community it promotes.

On Thursday, Sept. 10, an email with a safety advisory was sent to the PC community addressed from Koren Kanadanian, Chief of Public Safety. This safety advisory addressed potential “suspicious activity” reported earlier that day by a student walking on Admiral Street. As the safety advisory states, the student claimed they “had been approached by a light skinned male, with a heavy build, who was operating a grey minivan.” It was then stated the “operator pulled over to the curb but stayed in his vehicle” and then “motioned the victim towards the car while attempting to communicate in Spanish.”

This email was sent at 10:17 a.m. Nearly 30 minutes later, a series of emails were sent out by Kanadanian, stating that he would like to “recall the message.” Later that afternoon, Kanadanian addressed the PC community, stating the advisory was “premature, incomplete, and, most importantly, as worded, racially and linguistically insensitive.”

Father Kenneth Sicard, O.P., sent an email the following day stating Kanadanian will be taking a 60-day leave of absence and will be taking diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) training during this time. The email also addressed steps PC administration will be taking going forward to help eliminate bias and profiling on campus.

Many students, clubs, and organizations spoke out about the wording Kanadanian used in his safety advisory. The Organization of Latin-American Students (OLAS) released a statement on their Instagram account, stating the safety advisory was “harmful for the Latinx community and local Providence community,” as it “perpetuates the systematic racism and discrimination actively present at Providence College.” OLAS followed this statement by inviting the PC community to attend their Zoom meeting to discuss the matter further.

This was not, however, the only incident that became a large point of discussion on campus. Information about Dr. Spencer Klavan, a guest speaker invited to discuss Homer’s Iliad as part of the Humanities Forum series, became quite the controversy. It was made apparent that Klavan wrote controversial statements on his social media in regards to topics such as race, gender, and sexual orientation. These remarks, many students believed, did not reflect the PC community or its values, leading many students and faculty to protest Klavan’s invitation to speak at the Forum.

In response, Dr. Sean Reid, provost and senior vice president for academic affairs, sent an email stating, “The speaker was invited as scholar of the Classics, not because the College or the Humanities Forum Committee endorse the comments he makes on social media.”

Dr. Raymond Hain, the Associate Director of the Humanities Forum Committee, defended Klavan’s presence at the Forum, saying, “it is nevertheless worth keeping in mind that it has always been our practice to invite a broad range of viewpoints to the Forum, including conservative political voices. I believe it is unavoidable that a speaker series that strives to maintain a robust and diverse range of perspectives will at times trouble members of our community, and my hope is always that the proper response is robust intellectual engagement and discussion.”

This incident also led to many students, faculty, and staff within the PC community to speak out against Klavan’s invitation and the defense behind continuing to allow him to speak despite the protest. To learn more about the student backlash surrounding this article, including responses by the PC community, read “Humanities Forum Offensive to Many” by Savannah Plaisted ’21 and The Cowl’s Letters to the Editor in this issue.

These incidents come to PC during an already tumultuous and uncertain time. In his address to the PC community following the safety advisory, though, Fr. Sicard recognized the need for change, saying, “what happened [Sept. 10] provided yet more evidence of how far we are from achieving our goal of being a beloved community.” As a PC community, let us strive to do as Fr. Sicard implores and create “concrete steps to address the systematic racism that exists on our campus.”

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