Taking on the Presidency During Unprecedented Times: Congress Hosts Virtual Meeting with Fr. Sicard
by Kyle Burgess ’21
This past Tuesday, Sept. 8, the 71st Providence College Student Congress welcomed special guest Father Kenneth Sicard, O.P., for a virtual town hall meeting over Zoom.
Fr. Sicard succeeded Father Brian Shanley, O.P., as the College’s 13th president on July 1 amidst the height of the COVID-19 pandemic and nationwide protests following the murder of George Floyd at the hands of police. Now that students have settled back into the “new normal” of the fall 2020 semester, Student Congress used this opportunity to allow students to submit questions for the new president in a socially-distant environment.
The meeting began with Fr. Sicard discussing his path to the presidency. Originally from nearby Fall River, MA, he moved with his family to Westport, MA at a young age before enrolling at PC in 1974 as an accounting major and first-generation college student. At that time, Sicard had no intention of joining the priesthood; it would not be for another six years after his graduation that he would have a change of heart, joining the Dominican Order while obtaining his M.B.A. at the College.
From there, he spent time as director of the Office of Residence Life and later as executive vice president and treasurer from 2005 to 2019. In his spare time, he is an avid cook and often serves his favorite beef dishes to his fellow Dominicans at the priory.
As president of PC, Fr. Sicard recognizes the importance of ensuring the safety of the PC community in the midst of a worldwide pandemic, as well as promoting diversity and inclusion on campus. Regarding the decision to reopen the College for the 2020-21 academic year, he felt having a sense of normalcy would be crucial for the PC community during this turbulent time. “It would have been a shame not to reopen in person,” he explained. “And so far, it’s been a great success.”
He shared that PC has spent $12 million in preparation for reopening without having to lay off or furlough a single employee of the College. Fr. Sicard has also taken pride in the College’s ability to cover the costs of textbooks purchased through the school bookstore, as one of only two universities to do so across the country, and announced that this initiative would continue into next year.
Many of the submitted questions during this talk also pertained to issues involving race within the PC community. Fr. Sicard stated that more must be done to combat systemic racism present on campus. Specifically referring to the stories shared on the @BlackAtPC Instagram account, he said, “It is hurtful to see how many painful experiences students and faculty have had.”
Since his appointment as president, Fr. Sicard has taken multiple steps to improve what he and his predecessor had begun under the previous administration, most notably by establishing a board committee for diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). Fr. Sicard also encouraged the student body to provide suggestions about what further actions the College should take, claiming he is “willing to work with any organizations” to improve the experiences of BIPOC students at the College.
Many students who attended the talk are optimistic about future changes during Fr. Sicard’s tenure. “I appreciated his candor and willingness to acknowledge that PC’s got a lot of room for improvement,” said Sean Gray ’21, executive vice president of Student Congress. “Our school is in good hands with him at the helm. PC’s success in reopening and containing the virus so far is a testament to his leadership.”
Senior Class President Malik Washington ’21 echoed Gray’s praise, claiming that “Fr. Sicard is someone who we, the student body, can trust to take PC to the next level. His genuine desire and concern for students’ well-being shines through in his efforts.”
Although Fr. Sicard’s transition has not been easy, his outreach to the PC community during such tumultuous times has been appreciated by many. He has already had to deal with several issues including the pandemic, race, politics, and other issues. The entire PC community is eagerly looking forward to where he will lead us during these uncertain times.