posted on: Thursday October 1, 2020
by Kyle Burgess ’21
This past Thursday, Sept. 24, approximately 225 members of the Providence Community gathered virtually to commemorate the 25th anniversary of Providence College’s Black Studies Program through the #BreakTheSilence Zoom. The inaugural celebratory event was designed to commemorate the actions of PC students five years ago in calling for then-president, Father Brian Shanley, O.P., to address racism on PC’s campus.
Back in November 2015, roughly 100 students and faculty joined in a walk across campus, with some wearing tape over their mouths. The protestors had hoped to speak with Fr. Shanley about their list of demands, which included “increased hiring and retention of faculty and staff of color, including campus security, and creating a more supportive environment for students of color,” per the Providence Journal.
In the protest’s immediate aftermath, Fr. Shanley committed the College’s efforts to satisfying these grievances and promised to establish committees to research and implement such demands as he signed the 2015 Demands for Redress. However, in the years following, these committees have seemingly disappeared along with any administrative interest in the demands made by those students.
Today, in light of the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement combined with the 25th anniversary of the Black Studies Program’s founding, many students and faculty members feel that the efforts of these students back in 2015 are more pertinent than ever.
“Current students seemed not to know about the #PCBreakTheSilence movement,” explained Dr. Zophia Edwards, assistant professor of sociology and Black Studies and director of the Black Studies Program, “but were nevertheless articulating that PC still was plagued by the same problems that the 2015 activists had highlighted. I wanted to create a space where the PC community could learn about what happened and about what came before, where the community could reflect on how far we have come since these events, and to imagine the future, where we might go next.”
The Black Studies Program was created by student activists and faculty advisors, but they were not the first members of the PC community to address the need for systemic change on campus. “At the [Break the Silence] event, there was an alumna from the class of 1988 who said the racism and exclusion that students were describing resonated so much with her because those were the same issues she and her cohort faced when they were undergraduates at PC,” Dr. Edwards explained. “That generation of students were also organizing. So current students can build on the foundation that was laid before them, pick up where former students left off when they graduated, continue the work, and avoid the mistakes of past generations.”
In honor of the sacrifices and efforts made by previous Friar generations to enact change on campus, the theme for this year’s anniversary celebration was “Remembrance, Resistance, Revolution.” Dr. Edwards revealed that the program wanted to “pay homage to those who organized, who protested, who risked their lives, health, and happiness to make this world and this campus a more just and humane place.”
She also stated that the Black Studies Program will require structural changes, including more faculty and resources, to help ensure that their aim of providing a platform for students to freely voice their opinions and advance themselves academically and socially in a community environment is preserved.
Students can continue to honor the legacy of the original Break the Silence activists and countless others by getting involved with the movement on campus. “Keeping the movement alive, staying connected with the alumni who were activists, continuing the work of maintaining those values and goals, passing this knowledge down from generation to generation though the student clubs and organizations on campus—these are all ways that current students can best honor the movement and keep the memory alive,” Dr. Edwards said.
There is also a video of the event posted on the Black Studies Facebook page, giving students who were unable to attend an opportunity to witness the stories of alumni and faculty committed to the fight against systemic racism.
Additionally, students can follow Black Studies on Facebook, Twitter (@BlackStudies_PC) and Instagram (@blackstudies_pc) for more information about the minor, events, and the 25th anniversary celebration. For more information about the Black Studies minor, specifically, please contact Dr. Zophia Edwards at firstname.lastname@example.org.