by Catherine Brewer ’20
Once the crowd of roughly 100 attendees settled into their seats at the circular tables assembled throughout ‘64 Hall, the voices of the Providence College Footprints Gospel Choir bellowed through the silent air with sweet sounds of peace and unity. As a continuation of the Dr. Bernice A. King Convocation speech that was held this past January, the Committee for Diversity and Inclusion Implementation facilitated the first of three Community Teach-Ins on Monday, February 26 from 3:30 to 5 p.m. The Committee was established in 2015 in response to student demands on campus. As advertised by PC’s Morning Mail, the event was intended to provide a safe space for faculty, staff, and students to discuss the development of inclusion amongst the PC community.
In honor of King’s remarks at the College and the season of Lent, the theme for this specific session was “Toward Becoming a More Beloved Community.” In celebration of the life of her father Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., King encouraged members of the PC community to perform 50 acts of kindness and service by April 4, the date of his assassination. In his opening remarks, Rev. Kenneth R. Sicard, O.P., explained that the Committee felt King’s words “inspired and challenged” their thinking. While Sicard acknowledged that inclusion must come “a long way until we can say that PC is what we want it to be,” the community has a responsibility to work towards progress.
One step towards growth is #Friars50Forward, a new campaign spearheaded by the committee. Through on-campus events and social media, the movement encourages all members of the PC community to make an intentional effort to engage in interactions across the real and perceived barriers that they encounter in their everyday lives. Father Brian Shanley, O.P., advocated for further “courageous conversations” and taking the initiative to educate ourselves and others on how to talk through difficult topics. He argued that the first step in the direction of progress is having a courageous conversation with yourself through reflection in order to “know yourself better.” In the spirit of Lent, Fr. Shanley acknowledged that one form of the repentance called upon at Ash Wednesday is to get beyond the mind that you have by broadening your capacity for compassion. “We are all small minded in our own ways,” stated Fr. Shanley.
Theresa Moore, a professor in PC’s MBA, Masters of Urban Education, and School of Continuing Education programs, was the primary facilitator for the teach-in. Moore is also the founder and president of T-Time Productions, where she works to bring diversity, inclusion, and equality to film. She began by explaining the nature of the teach-in model, stating that these events typically focus on topical issues, and include audience participation. She also centered the program on producing action-oriented ideas for creating change.
Moore acknowledged the fracturing and polarization in today’s society, adding that colleges have become microcosms of these qualities. She feels that one way for communities to build bridges across divides is for individuals to take it upon themselves to distinguish between hearing and listening. Moore explained that while we may be hearing our peers and colleagues talking in conversation, we are too often mentally planning out our reply instead of listening and understanding what they have to say, leading to missed opportunities to connect and build relationships with others. To show how listening takes shape in practice, Moore described how her friend remembered her comment that her father sent her a Valentine’s Day card every year, and she continued the tradition after he passed away.
Empirical data that helped spark discussion at the event came from the PC Campus Living, Learning, and Working Environment Survey that was conducted in spring 2017. The survey showed overwhelmingly that community members wanted an increased opportunity for diverse interactions. Concern regarding diversity and inclusion was also generated by the Princeton Review’s report of on-campus socio-economic and racial segregation.
“Purposeful action is not one and done,” said Moore of the change that would respond to this data. “It is not done after Lent and Easter, it is not boastful, and it can be hard and messy.” In discussions facilitated at their respective tables, attendees reflected on their own experiences and observations of marginalization at PC and the greater Providence community and the need for care in all social spheres. They also evaluated programming ideas generated by students prior to the event, such as the Walking School Bus, Board of Multicultural Student Affairs Outreach with the Smith Hill neighborhood, and More Love Letters. New ideas for progress from attendees included better utilization of Moore Hall and a community effort to spread the word and encourage commitment to consistent participation in caring for each other everyday.
An important message that attendees took away from the teach-in is that in order to create the beloved community, everyone has to care. There will be more #Friars50Forward events throughout March and the Lenten season, as well as two more teach-ins. The next session will be held on Monday, April 9 from 3:30 to 5 p.m. in Peterson Recreation Center.