Working for Greater Equality On-Campus: College Responds to Call for Greater Inclusion and Diversity
by Maura Campbell ’22
On Monday, October 21, the Providence College student body received an email from Rev. Brian Shanley, O.P., president of the College, informing students, staff, and faculty of an update by the Office of Institutional Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (IDEI). The email provided general information regarding IDEI’s recent work to promote diversity on campus, and specifically addressed some potential issues previously raised about the elementary and special education department.
In light of recent claims that the Department of Elementary and Special Education has not been an inclusive department and major on campus, IDEI has partnered with the department to help to create a more inclusive environment.
In reference to the ESE department, the email also mentioned Jennifer Swanberg, dean of the school of professional studies, high lightingher work “to develop a cultural transformation process with the goal of ensuring that all ESE faculty and staff are equipped with the evidence-based skills, knowledge, and competencies to foster this type of inclusive environment.”
In particular, the email included a flyer that was distributed at IDEI’s recent meeting, explaining their major initiatives. These initiatives include the Diversity Strategic Directions Steering Committee, a committee to help engage internal leaders in a conversation about diversity and create a clear plan and direction for diversity, and Advocates for Beloved Community (ABC), a team promoting racial justice and reconciliation on campus and addressing Title VI racial bias incidents.
The flyer also detailed IDEI’s five focus areas for 2019-2020. This strategic plan, known as PC200, hopes to promote diversity, equity, and inclusion at PC through these focus areas, “ranging from structural diversity, access, and equity, to student learning and development—and has developed relationships with a diverse team of campus partners to address these areas through educational training, specific programming, departmental counseling, and other initiatives,” Shanley said.
These five focus areas are structural diversity, access, and equity, institutional infrastructure, climate and intergroup relations, formal and informal curricula, and student learning and development.
In addition, the flyer included information about events and programming held at the Center at Moore Hall. This programming includes the Urban Dance Series, classes on diverse dance styles and culture held by Providence-based dancers and educators. Other programming includes Conversations for Change, a set of workshops inspired by Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., promoting “nonviolence, consensus building, and civic action,” and the World Cinema Series, a PC faculty-hosted program centered around “the film traditions and innovation of different countries throughout the world.”
This email highlights the work of the Office of Institutional Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in recent and upcoming months. This work to promote diversity and inclusion is “critical to the future success of Providence College,” Shanley said. He further added that “each of us is responsible for communicating and working together to translate this vision into action.”
IDEI’s dedication to promoting diversity and inclusivity at PC an important part of the College’s mission, and this update is relevant to students seeking resources and outlets on these issues. The goal of their work can be summed up in their mission statement: “Rooted in our Catholic and Dominican identity, the Office of Institutional Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion advances Providence College’s commitment to developing purposeful collaborations across all areas of the College and the greater community to foster an environment where people of all backgrounds, cultures, identities and perspectives can flourish.”
The Office of Institutional Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or in their office in Harkins 312.
Addressing Father Shanley’s Announcement: Presidential Term for Shanley Comes to an End in 2020
by Kyle Burgess ’21
In an email addressed to the Providence College community on March 29, President Fr. Brian J. Shanley, O.P., announced that he will not be returning to serve as college president following the conclusion of his current tenure on June 30, 2020.
This decision came following a February Board of Trustees meeting in which the Board Affairs Committee recommended that Fr. Shanley be given a fourth consecutive five-year term as president of the College.
However, Fr. Shanley’s Provincial, the Very Reverend Kenneth Letoile, O.P., decided against such a proposition this past Monday, informing Fr. Shanley that he would not be eligible to return as president following his current tenure.
In response, the Board of Trustees issued its own statement on the matter, explaining that they were “deeply disappointed in this decision.” The Board stated Father Shanley’s time in office was transformational, with many new buildings being built on campus and the enjoyment of immense success in the College’s capital campaigns since he took the position in 2005.
In addition, the Board made it known that they “had been counting” on Fr. Shanley’s fourth term to materialize so that PC may continue to see extraordinary advances in the world of higher education.
“Father Shanley has enjoyed unwavering, and nearly unanimous support of the Board of Trustees, and, as such, the Board was deeply disappointed in the Provincial’s decision,” explained Ann Manchester-Molak, vice president for external affairs, marketing, and board relations. “However, the Provincial is Fr. Shanley’s religious superior, and he has the authority to decide whether or not to make Fr. Shanley available for another term. As a Dominican Friar, Fr. Shanley has sworn a vow of obedience, which he is bound to accept. When an institution is affiliated with a religious order, changes like this are often inevitable.”
The Board of Trustees was not alone in recognizing the impact that Fr. Shanley made on the College during his three terms of office. Fr. Peter Martyr Yungwirth, O.P., chaplain of PC, praised his fellow Dominican for his contributions to the College and student body at large.
“Father Shanley’s work with athletics and refashioning the Big East, his expansion of the network of buildings on campus, and his efforts to continue to develop the prestige of the school have all led to increased support from donors, which in turn have helped create a beautiful campus which is more appealing to prospective and current students,” Yungwirth explained. “These are things for which the Providence College community can truly be grateful.”
More information regarding the succession process is expected to be shared by the Board of Trustees in the coming weeks.
Bulletin Board Update:
Find out more about recent developments regarding the bulletin board controversy including responses from administration, the current status of bulletin boards, and an impending Title IX investigation.
The board was displayed by Resident Assistant Michael Smalanskas ’18, and represented the Catholic Church’s vision of marriage as a sacrament performed by one man and woman, and contained the statement, “Marriage, the way God intended it.”
Due to the controversy following this board, Jana Valentine, director of residence life, made a joint decision with her staff to suspend the use of bulletin boards for communication until a task force can more properly define a function and purpose for the boards.
Smalanskas explained that his intention was to proudly display Catholic teaching on a Catholic campus and to expose the double standard he finds at the College that does not protect conservative views in the same way as others. “A good example of this is the pro-same sex ‘marriage’ bulletin board on display in McVinney in February,” wrote Smalanskas in an email responding to The Cowl’s questions. “I have been accused of abusing my power and promoting hatred by displaying pro-traditional marriage views, but this other resident assistant was not.”
A summary of the initial events that occurred within the first week of the board’s installation, including a Board of Multicultural Student Affairs (BMSA) meeting in which Kristine Goodwin, vice president of student affairs, addressed student concerns, was reported by The Cowl and can be found here: https://www.thecowl.com/featured/bulletin-board-controversy.
Since the publication of the initial article, the controversy has continued to gain attention from outside media, and the College has made additional statements regarding the incident. A recent report from the National Catholic Register cited Smalanskas as stating that a Title IX investigation is underway to investigate a cartoon depicting Smalanskas being sodomized, which was found in his dorm bathroom of St. Joseph Hall in the following days since the bulletin board was put up.
A majority of the articles published regarding the controversy can be found on the Facebook page, “Make PC Catholic Again,” which was created and run by Smalanskas to “provide the most recent news about the developing situation at PC.” In the description of the page, it is stated that “Make PC Catholic Again” is not meant to be an open forum on the topic.
“It is meant to be a place where all news coverage of the situation can be found in one place,” said Smalanskas. Some students who have left comments to the page have voiced concerns that their voices are “silenced” when their comments are deleted. “All comments, whether they are supportive of me or adamantly opposed to what I’ve done, are deleted,” said Smalanskas in response.
One specific article found on this page is a letter from March 21 to Smalanskas written by Bishop Thomas Tobin of Providence, reaffirming the Church’s teachings on marriage and praising Smalanskas for his proclamation of faith. While encouraging prudence and charity with every action, Bishop Tobin did reaffirm that Christians “do them no favors, and we fail to fulfill our Christian vocation, if we hesitate to present and explain the divinely revealed truth about faith and morals.”
Bishop Tobin continued to express regret for the negative reaction Smalanskas has received from his community, especially on a Catholic college campus such as PC. “I think we have the right to presume that those who teach or study at a Catholic school should accept, or at least respect, the stated identity, mission, and fundamental teachings of the Faith,” said Tobin. “Otherwise, there are lots of other good options for higher education they can choose if they really feel threatened by or are uncomfortable with the teachings of the Church.”
Two days prior to this letter, President Father Brian Shanley, O.P., sent an email to the PC community regarding the board, and stated that the Church’s views on marriage is not homophobic as homophobia is a sin. “We will never eliminate the tension between what the Church teaches and what modern secular culture professes about human sexuality and marriage,” he said. “Our challenge is to create a campus climate that will enable us to explore our differences dialogically with mutual respect and charity.”
Smalanskas, as well as Dr. James Keating, associate professor of theology and advisor to Smalanskas through the Title IX process, expressed their disapproval of the College’s initial response regarding the reaction to the board.
“The College failed in many respects to address the situation properly,” said Smalanskas, who said he repeatedly asked administration to denounce the harassment toward him from the very beginning. He explained that he felt that the rape drawing would have been avoided if the College had acted. “It also seemed like an easy task for the administration to support the content of the board but it took several weeks for the school to affirm its Catholic identity and speak against the hatred and harassment,” Smalanskas said.
Keating explained that in his opinion, the administration’s reaction to the cartoon and lack of initial response is the “strangest thing.” “As soon as someone files a Title IX violation, the school should go into extreme protection mode,” said Keating, who earlier explained he felt the administration responded to the feelings of students in response to the board and should have also responded to harassment against Smalanskas. “They should have sprang into action, but we saw an absolute flouting of Title IX protections.”
The Department of Public Safety at Providence College did remove Smalanskas from his dorm room in St. Joseph following the initial incident and housed him in another dorm room for his protection.
Goodwin addressed the issue to student leaders in an email on March 18, and encouraged students to engage in dialogue. She encouraged students to attend a “March Against Transphobia and Homophobia at PC,” organized by SHEPARD, the student organization and support group for members of the LGBTQ+ community. Mallari Bosque ’18, president of SHEPARD, explained the march was meant “to acknowledge the discomfort that the LGBTQ+ community are often subjected to feel.”
At the march, faculty, staff, and administrators affirmed that homophobia has no place at a Catholic institution, and that the purpose of the march far extends the content found on the bulletin board. For full coverage on this event, please use the following link: https://www.thecowl.com/breaking-news/pc-community-marches-against-transphobia-and-homophobia
Fr. Shanley released a second statement in an email on March 26 in reaction to what he calls “negative publicity, mostly on conservative media sites” that are “not accurate,” and increasing phone calls from angered alumni.
“The College always has, and always will, remain faithful to the teachings of the Catholic Church,” said Fr. Shanley. He also denounced the hostility shown to Smalanskas in the passing weeks, and stated that the drawing was “odious” and “reprehensible.” “There can be no place on our campus for bullying, harassment, or intimidation,” Fr. Shanley said.
While this message did fulfill the initial request made by Smalanskas and Dr. Keating for the College to address the harassment and confirm Catholic beliefs, Smalanskas thought it came only after bad publicity for PC and was insulting to members of the media, alumni, and himself.
Looking to the future, this bulletin board controversy has shown a larger conflict at place at PC and within Catholic colleges across the country—how can a college maintain its Catholic identity while still being inclusive?
Dr. Keating believes that PC was not ready to address this “huge challenge” and now must decide, like many Catholic colleges, what it means to be a Catholic college not just in the pulpit or classroom but in the everyday life of students. Goodwin also stated that PC is “not alone in this struggle” and looks to professional organizations like the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities for guidance and information.
“I think about moving forward prayerfully and curiously,” said Goodwin. “It’s more important for me to understand than to be understood. Experience of students, faculty, administration, and alumni helps us move forward and we can count on professional organizations to help us in dialogue and conversations and inquiry.”
Smalanskas has continued to pursue his Title IX claim, which prohibits sex discrimination in educational institutions that receive federal fundraising and aims to remedy hostile learning environments. PC’s Sexual Misconduct or Relationship Policy complies with Title IX, and the College’s website defines sexual harassment as “any form of sex discrimination when the conduct creates a hostile environment.”
Investigations fall under the Department of Public Safety and are overseen by the Title IX Coordinator Dr. James Campbell. Complainants are given an adviser, in this case Dr. Keating, who has previously worked on Title VI and IX cases, and can find resources with the Dean of Students, Steven Sears.
While the investigation is ongoing, administrative figures are “reluctant to talk about an individual student” in respect of their privacy and to never compromise an ongoing investigation, said Goodwin.