Unseen No More: Student Exposes BIPOC Experience at PC
Rarely does a presentation of a single student’s undergraduate research have such high attendance, including the president of the College and the provost, that the venue runs out of seating. But rarely is there a student with the dedication and commitment to complete a two-year long research project, seemingly unrelated to his two majors, beginning in his freshman year and during a global pandemic. Justin Babu ’23 is just that student.
In 2020, Babu, a biology and secondary education major, approached the director of the Black studies program and an associate professor of sociology, Dr. Zophia Edwards, with a research proposal. Babu, recognizing that BIPOC students at Providence College have a “vastly different experience” than the average student at PC based on his own undergraduate experiences, wanted to show this difference quantitatively.
To do so, Babu created a survey with questions based on the HEDS Consortium Campus Climate Survey and the Brown University Climate Survey. Each question was optional to promote confidentiality, protect participant anonymity, and create a sense of trust among participants. Babu sent this survey out on April 7, 2021 via several departmental mailing lists. In just three days, Babu received 50 percent of the total responses received during the survey period (230 responses). By the end of the survey period, Babu had received 461 responses, approximately 10 percent of the PC undergraduate population. Edwards stated, “It takes whole offices with multiple people to do the work that Justin has done, by himself, in just two years.”
Approximately 90 percent of the survey respondents were undergraduate students, 10 percent were faculty, and just over one percent were staff and administration. Of the survey respondents, 75 percent identified as white and 25 percent identified as people of color, which Babu emphasized is a “really important statistic” considering people of color are often severely underrepresented in campus climate surveys distributed by the College.
Based on the survey results, Babu was able to compare the responses of BIPOC respondents to all respondents, representative of BIPOC members of the PC community and all members of the PC community.
The first questions Babu included were intended to measure participants’ satisfaction with the campus climate and diversity of PC. BIPOC respondents expressed more dissatisfaction with the campus climate than white participants, but all participants expressed dissatisfaction with the diversity of the College.
Regarding participants’ sense of belonging, acceptance of their identity, feeling of opportunities for success similar to their peers, and feeling that they receive the same recognition and praise as their peers, all metrics were lower for people of color than white participants. Similarly, questions relating to how valued participants feel by PC community members found that people of color feel less valued by administrators, faculty, staff, and students than the average person at PC.
Babu explained how these results must be taken into consideration when deciding on new policies at the College.
Babu also sought to understand trends in and rates of discrimination at the College, as well as people’s understanding and use of reporting processes. He found that the most common forms of discrimination experienced by people were on the basis of their race/ethnicity, physical appearance, and gender/sex/sexuality. Disturbingly, he found that more than 90 percent of people who reported experiencing discrimination did not report the incident to campus officials. The reason for this number can only be partly explained by Babu’s survey; a majority of respondents did not know how the reporting or investigative processes worked, and a majority found the reporting systems to be insufficient.
Babu reminded his audience that “behind each of those numbers is a person.” Given that PC is a relatively small community, it is likely that everyone on campus knows or has interacted with someone who has witnessed or experienced discrimination. Citing the College’s mission statement, Babu asked, “As a campus, are we truly committed to the flourishing of each individual person?”
In the spirit of James Baldwin, Babu explained that although this project makes it seem like he has a “hidden agenda” against the College, “I love PC. I wouldn’t do this project if I didn’t have Providence College’s best interests at heart.” Babu believes that these data, and the testimonies which he will collect during phase two of the project, must be at the forefront of all DEI initiatives “if we are going to promote this image of the Friar Family or this…Beloved Community at Providence College.”
The first steps Babu suggested the College can take to achieve these goals are 1) creating greater transparency in the Office of Institutional Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion; 2) creating greater accountability within data collection and recordkeeping of bias incidents through an ombudsperson and/or chief diversity officer; and 3) creating trust between IDEI and historically underrepresented groups on campus.
Regarding step one, Babu described how difficult it was for him to obtain campus climate data as it is not publicly available. When he reached out to professors with his project idea and survey, many asked him for his data when he concluded with the project, suggesting that there is an interest in this kind of information. More than an interest, Babu stated, there is a need; campuswide access to campus climate data is “how we can best make policies at the College.”
Following Babu’s presentation was an opportunity for the audience to ask questions. Dr. Rahsaan Mahadeo, an assistant professor of sociology and Black studies, asked about the 90 percent of people who did not report their bias incidents and whether that may be because they lack faith in the system. Mahadeo explained that people may see bias reporting as an attempt to “treat a disease with a symptom of the disease” as it can often be an additional site of racialized violence.
Babu responded that the data collection is necessary for our campus, but the way the College currently does it can be improved through the use of an ombudsperson or another impartial party. “I would recommend for kind of this floor-to-ceiling remodeling of IDEI and these bias reporting systems,” Babu said. Ultimately, he stated that both data and testimony are necessary to assess and understand these issues.
Jessica Gilman ’23 asked Babu if he had any recommendations for how students with privilege, particularly white privilege, can create a more welcoming environment, since 46% of bias incidents were committed by students. Babu explained that he did not really have the answer, but he emphasized that we must hold the perpetrators of discrimination accountable: “If we hold these perpetrators accountable, it demonstrates that the College has deemed these behaviors unacceptable.”
Drawing on the data that showed 30 percent of bias incidents were committed by faculty, 10 percent committed by administration, and 10 percent committed by staff, Dr. Ashley Smith-Purviance, an assistant professor in the Black studies program and public and community service studies department, asked how we can prevent our students who witness and commit bias incidents from becoming teachers, professors, and police officers who commit bias incidents. Earlier in his presentation, Babu addressed the concerning statistics around discrimination coming from faculty, staff, and administration: “We are putting these people in places of power such that they can lead every student at Providence College to academic success.” Unfortunately, that does not always seem to be the case, and certain students, whom Babu calls the “outliers,” are most at risk as a result.
Babu hopes that the main takeaway from his presentation is that we are all stakeholders at the College, and we all have a responsibility to push the needle forward if we want to see improvements in diversity, equity, and inclusion.
PC Prof Publishes First Book
Today at 6 p.m., the Black studies program is hosting a book launch to celebrate the publication of Akeem Lloyd’s book You Are Seen, You Are Heard, You Are Loved. In addition to teaching T.H.U.G. L.I.F.E. in the Black studies program, Lloyd is a youth inspirational speaker with AkeemSpeaks and the CEO of A Leadership Journey. He believes that to understand how the organizations and his debut book came into being, one must understand his experience.
Lloyd was raised by his grandparents in Atlantic City, NJ, who taught him indispensable lessons that made him who he is today. When Lloyd started preparing for college, he participated in the Education Opportunity Fund at Rutgers University-Camden. EOF helps young people who do not have the financial resources to go to college with financial, academic, and career support.
Along with approximately 40 other people, Lloyd spent the summer taking classes similar to remedial high school classes. He soon found that he was not prepared for them and was told by his math teacher that he would fail out of the program. This was the first time that Lloyd realized he had the opportunity to be the first person in his family to graduate from a four-year institution, and he did not want to squander it. He worked hard for the remainder of the program and was able to go to college. Lloyd explained that this moment and the whole program “changed the trajectory of my life.” After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in African American studies from Rutgers in 2010, Lloyd received his master’s in urban education from Temple University.
In 2016, AkeemSpeaks was launched to help Lloyd share his story and his truth with young people. AkeemSpeaks has allowed Lloyd to “work with young people [and] support young people in a way that I never imagined.” He realized that through his conversation with the youth, he could figure out what their challenges were and what they were actually experiencing. What became his “driving force” and the purpose of his work was the mental and emotional health of young people.
In the same year he began AkeemSpeaks, Lloyd also had the opportunity to go to South Africa to be part of a leadership team from an organization that was based out of Boston. This was the first time Lloyd traveled out of the country as an adult, feeling like this was “about to be the biggest adult experience I have ever had.”
Lloyd became apprehensive when he learned that he would have to raise money because he had previously struggled to raise funds for another program he was working on. His grandmother told him, “If you really want to go, give yourself a chance.” This gave Lloyd the motivation to fundraise despite his original apprehension, and “before I knew it, I was able to raise enough money to get me to South Africa.”
When he arrived, Lloyd realized that in a group of at least 20 to 25 people, there were only three people of color and he was the only Black man. Despite the trip ultimately being a success for Lloyd, he could not stop thinking about what this meant for the opportunities available to “the young people who look like me.” Lloyd recognized this trip as a resume booster for the white youth who were fortunate enough to attend and will be able “to talk about how these experiences helped shape them, helped educate them, [and] helped prepare them.” Leaving South Africa, Lloyd started wondering what it would mean if the young people who look like him had this experience.
When Lloyd brought his idea back home, he and his friends immediately decided to start fundraising: “We are going to give ourselves a chance.”
Lloyd described the beginning stages of A Leadership Journey like “we’re building the plane as we’re trying to fly it.” As they were fundraising, they were also meeting twice a month about what ALJ needed to be. Lloyd knew that the organization needed to have “a holistic approach” and that it “needed to be more than just a travel program.” After they decided this, next came the group’s values: equity, access, health and wellness, and education.
ALJ focused on youth aged 13-18 because “those populations don’t always have access to opportunities like the one that we wanted to provide.” However, “in order to give them access,” Lloyd stated, “we also had to make it equitable.” Lloyd did not want families to put themselves at a financial disadvantage in order to have their children participate in such an experience. Education was the most important value of ALJ, with the understanding that “education doesn’t always have to be classroom-related.”
In June 2017, ALJ took their first cohort to South Africa, and this was when Lloyd realized that “A Leadership Journey really needed to be a thing” for young people.
10 months later, ALJ took its second cohort to South Africa and received 501(c)(3) status; “and ALJ was now a thing.” In 2019, the third cohort went to Kenya. 2020’s trip could not happen due to the COVID-19 pandemic. But last year, the fourth cohort from ALJ managed a successful trip to Ghana.
With AkeemSpeaks and ALJ now thriving, Lloyd found himself “being encouraged to think about taking a chance in the classroom as a teacher.” Even though he had been encouraged for years by his mentors, Lloyd did not think that it was for him. Despite this, Lloyd’s experience with youth development and teaching began when he was just 14 as a peer mentor at the Boys & Girls Club in Atlantic City. Teaching became more important to Lloyd’s work with ALJ, as part of his responsibilities were programming and curriculum building.
Lloyd first considered becoming a professor after speaking at an event hosted by the global studies department at Providence College. He met and stayed in contact with the leaders of the event, trying to “connect global studies and ALJ in a way that we could collaborate.” After mentioning his desire to teach, Lloyd was put in contact with Dr. Zophia Edwards, director of the Black studies program and an associate professor of sociology. Edwards “provided a space [for Lloyd] to talk about what I already had going on” and was looking into how Lloyd could become a professor. Dr. Trina Vithayathil, chair of the global studies department, made this dream into a reality.
Vithayathil invited Lloyd to serve as a community fellow for her class “Comparative Race and Inequality,” giving him the opportunity to co-teach a college class in the global studies department. This was the first step to Lloyd becoming a professor, his “launching pad.” Lloyd was approved to be the professor of a curriculum that he designed himself, which he is teaching this semester on the topic of T.H.U.G. L.I.F.E.
In November 2021, Lloyd began writing You Are Seen, You Are Heard, You Are Loved. The idea for the book began in 2018 as he began his workshops by telling young people “I see you, I hear you, I love you.” He felt that it was not only important for him to say, but for them to hear.
Lloyd was inspired to begin writing after he received praise from his friends and colleagues on another book he was wrapping up and after seeing the statistics on how COVID-19 exacerbated the challenges young people were already experiencing. He stopped working on the other book “to help move this conversation forward in a positive way, in a very intentional way.” He thought, “If this book could help move this conversation forward, then I’m going to write it. And so I did.”
Lloyd explained that the book’s title is a “universal message” for everyone to feel seen, to feel heard, and to be loved. He wrote it, however, keeping in mind that the majority of communities served by AkeemSpeaks were predominantly students of color. “I want every young person who feels as though they are invisible because they feel like a social outcast, or they feel isolated, to be seen in the stories that are written in the book.” He also hopes to inspire young people by giving them something to believe in, “something to hold onto.”
While You Are Seen, You Are Heard, You Are Loved was written with young people in mind, Lloyd hopes it reaches adult audiences as well. Lloyd hopes that parents and guardians read his book to provoke conversations surrounding wellness; to encourage more involvement; and to “break the cycle, break the stigma, [and] start creating a new, positive narrative around wellness.” He believes that lawmakers who read the book should be provoked to do more, to move this from conversation to written laws with financial support behind them.
Lloyd emphasized that “this book isn’t about me.” While he used pieces of his own story that aligned with the stories and anecdotes he used, he wanted to “amplify the voices of young people.” By including bits of his story, though, Lloyd is saying, “No, I’m not just speaking on this because I see it, I’m speaking on this because I lived it.”
Everything in the book falls under the three chapters, titled, “You Are Seen,” “You Are Heard,” “You Are Loved.” One of Lloyd’s favorite parts of the book is a compilation of the struggles and challenges that young people in his workshops have faced. It is his favorite part because “of how authentic they are.” If the stories do not show you that this is real, Lloyd explained, then “maybe these real pieces of paper with real challenges on them will.”
Lloyd emphasized that You Are Seen, You Are Heard, You Are Loved is necessary at PC so that PC students can be more honest about what they are feeling and advocate for more services and support on campus. While Lloyd mainly works with people under the age of 18, he opens his book with a quote from a college freshman to demonstrate how applicable its lessons are to even college students who may act like they have everything figured out or that “everything is alright when it isn’t.”
At the end of the book, Lloyd encourages his readers to use the #mystorywill to share positive affirmations and stories with him and a community reaching thousands of people. Lloyd hopes that someone can read how people responded to this prompt on social media and be inspired.
You can purchase You Are Seen, You Are Heard, You Are Loved on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Bookshop, or AkeemWrites.com. Once you make a purchase, reach out to Lloyd via social media so that he can send you a gift as a token of his gratitude.
Listening Tour: An Interview with Nick Sailor ’17
PC Administrator Talks Social Change in Sports
By Jack Belanger ’21
This article is part of The Cowl’s Listening Tour, a series that aims to amplify the voices of BIPOC members of our community and bring awareness to social justice initiatives on campus.
Three years ago, Fox News commentator Laura Ingraham infamously said, “Shut up and dribble” on her TV program in response to criticisms made by NBA star Lebron James of former president Donald Trump. Ingraham argued it was unwise to take political advice from someone who gets “paid $100 million a year to bounce a ball.”
Fast forward to now and countless professional athletes across the country are using their platforms to speak out against issues plaguing our society and to make change. Where at one point socially active athletes stood out like a sore thumb, today’s environment has opened the doors for all athletes to have a voice, even providing young college athletes with the opportunity to make changes in their own communities.
At Providence College, the athletic department has become a leader in pushing for change and promoting conversations about diversity, equity, and inclusion. Thanks to much of the work of director of training and education for DEI, Nick Sailor ’17, a former PC athlete himself, being an athlete at the College has come to mean more than excellence in the gym and in the classroom.
“Student-athletes are starting to recognize they do have influence and they do have a voice,” said Sailor. “They don’t have to wait on someone else to do something. They recognize they can be advocates for change.”
Ever since Sailor came back to PC 18 months ago, he has worked to create a space where everyone in the athletic department can be part of an inclusive environment. What separates PC’s athletic department from other schools, Sailor believes, is the support and participation from the senior staff, starting with athletic director Bob Driscoll, to make diversity, equity, and inclusion a priority.
“We are really fortunate we have someone like Bob Driscoll who is passionate [about promoting DEI],” Sailor commented. “This work doesn’t happen without our senior staff.”
Sailor recalled a conversation with Driscoll during his final interview for director of training and education for DEI in which Driscoll expressed that he wanted to expand the goals of the athletic department.
“[Driscoll] says to me, ‘We have the national championships, we have built great facilities, now we need to enter this new frontier.’ He wants to be an innovator and a leader when it comes to creating these inclusive spaces on campus.” Driscoll and the rest of the senior staff have done their part to attend workshops and be a part of the growth process.
Needless to say, the staff’s work has turned into student-led action that has made a real impact. In the fall, the Student-Athlete Advisory Council worked to ensure every single student-athlete at the College registered to vote in the election, achieving 100% voter turnout for eligible athletes.
The access athletes had to vote was a major change from when Sailor, in 2016, had to take a train from campus into Boston just to get onto a bus to Connecticut in order to vote in that year’s election. Sailor notes that he would never want a student-athlete to go through what he did just to vote.
Sailor believes that the work the athletic department has done could prove to be sustainable as long as everyone remains committed to it long-term, and that includes smaller departments like marketing or even business development. While racial injustice became a hot topic during the summer, the athletic department has shifted their strategy to how they can keep pushing for change in a post-pandemic world where it does not take tragic events to grab people’s attention.
“I want us to be able to talk about these issues and take action without having to unearth deep pain. What is it that we can do long-term?”
Sailor believes that everybody in the department has a role in helping promote change, and he is passionate about helping people find their specific role. Even for those who are not experts in DEI, there are actions individuals can take to be part of the solution.
“You probably aren’t going to be up here giving an hour-long lunch and learn about intersectionality. You can make sure you have diverse candidates when hiring for [graduate assistant] positions. There are ways everyone in our department can do something to help where we are trying to go.”
More recently, SAAC created a new initiative called United Friars Week that ran from April 6-11. Each day during the week, student-athletes ran workshops that covered topics such as allyship, LGTBQ+ inclusivity, and anti-xenophobia. Athletes also wore Friars United warm-up shirts before games.
What makes college athletes especially amazing is how different the landscape is for them from just four years ago when Sailor was at school. Much of Sailor’s work now can be traced to his time as a student on campus.
“There are times I think how nice it would have been to have someone focused in DEI in an athletics role such as the one I am in now when I was a senior. Somebody that I could have looked up to as a Black student-athlete.”
Sailor’s time at PC coincided with events like Eric Garner’s death and when Colin Kaepernick began kneeling during the National Anthem. As a Black student, Sailor found Garner’s death was hard to process, and PC was still learning how to talk about events involving racial injustice. There were times Sailor felt isolated when it came to processing these kinds of events. He did point out, though, that the College is now much better equipped to talk about events involving racial injustice.
Trying to navigate through those tough conversations as a student-athlete “was definitely a tough time,” Sailor remembers. “Even then, the notion of athletes using their voice was not as commonplace as it is now.”
Looking to the future, a driving theme that Sailor envisions for student-athletes is “being bigger than the sport” and utilizing their sport for change.
“Our favorite athletes are obviously good athletes, but they have a voice bigger than their sport. Whether that is gender equity with Serena Williams, or the work Lebron James has done or Muhammed Ali. Of course, they are once-in-a-generational talents but we are drawn to them because we recognize their sport is just a part of what they are doing for a bigger cause.”
Sailor wants every student-athlete to find their voice at PC. Much like these inspirational athletes, Sailor encourages every student-athlete to help change their community for the better.
Listening Tour: Coaches For Action
An Interview with Coach Ivan Thomas
By Cameron Smith ’21
This article is part of The Cowl’s Listening Tour, a series that aims to amplify the voices of BIPOC members of our community and bring awareness to social justice initiatives on campus.
On May 25, 2020, just before 8 a.m., a white woman made a 911 call in Central Park, in which she falsely accused Christian Cooper, a Black birdwatcher, of threatening her life. Just a few hours later, George Floyd would be killed in Minneapolis, MN, after a police officer pinned Floyd’s neck under his knee. Both incidents, captured on video, would go viral, igniting what is now considered the largest mass movement in U.S. history.
For Ivan Thomas, an assistant coach for the Providence College Men’s Basketball Team, both of these incidents were jarring, but far from surprising. “I was brought up in the South…I’ve seen a lot,” Thomas said. What was different this time was that the incidents happened to be caught on camera during a time period when a COVID-19 lockdown had the whole nation glued to their screens.
As protesters took to the streets, companies and organizations began releasing statements in support of the movement for racial justice. For Thomas, it was vital that these words of support be backed up with meaningful action. “It was important that you’re just not releasing a statement,” said Thomas. “I’ve seen a lot of people release statements. And you know that’s good, to come out and say where you stand, that you don’t believe in it, but what actions are you taking to prove that you don’t believe in it?”
It turns out that other coaches in the Big East held the same sentiments. Thomas soon began speaking with Marquette University associate head coach Dwayne Killings, University of Connecticut assistant coach Kimani Young, and Villanova University assistant coach Kyle Neptune as they pieced together what they could do to enact meaningful change. The product of these talks: Coaches for Action, a coalition of all 21 Big East assistant coaches of color.
“We began to form a think tank in terms of what we wanted to do with the platform that we have, to better take action for the athletes that we recruit,” said Thomas. “We wanted to make sure that we just did not talk or form a group of coaches that was symbolic. We wanted to take real action for our players.”
Thomas explained that the main purpose of the group was to make sure they offered their current players a platform that could simultaneously teach them how to use their voices while amplifying the players’ voices as well. From this, Coaches for Action founded themselves on three main initiatives meant to deliver concrete action.
The first was to place Black Lives Matter patches on all Big East men’s basketball uniforms for the upcoming season. “We thought it was very important to give them an opportunity to basically say that their lives matter,” said Thomas. “We were the first to put forth having in collegiate athletics, BLM put on our uniforms.” Their efforts were successful. Thomas credits the support of PC athletic director Bob Driscoll, as well as Big East commissioner Val Ackerman, with getting the resolution passed.
The Friars, and the rest of the Big East, have now played almost an entire season with the BLM patches on their uniforms. “I was very pleased with how it came out,” said Thomas. “It means a great deal not only to me but to our players, and we want to be clear when saying Black Lives Matter, we’re attaching ourselves to the statement: our players’ lives matter. And we want you to understand that it matters not just when they’re in uniform…when they’re not shooting and dunking for your entertainment, that their life matters outside of that uniform.”
The second foundational initiative was centered around familiarizing student-athletes with voter registration and election issues. This took the form of a Big East-wide voter drive that made sure student-athletes were registered to vote in the November general election. Thomas spoke to the emphasis Coaches for Action placed on the importance of each of the players using their vote as a way to project their voice.
Indeed, the initiative was a resounding success. Thomas proudly relayed that the Big East reported 100 percent voter registration for both men’s and women’s basketball. This was part of a remarkable push for student-athlete registration across the board in November, as PC’s Student Athlete Advisory Council also reported 100 percent voter registration for all eligible voters across all sports at PC.
Finally, Coaches for Action’s third foundational initiative was establishing a scholarship fund for first-generation students of color to attend Big East institutions. This was a pivotal step in ensuring one of the group’s main goals: sustainability.
“We wanted to take action in terms of education,” said Thomas. “We created this scholarship, which is still growing, and we want to eventually give it to young men and women to attend one of the 11 Big East schools that are non-athletic related.”
Furthermore, Thomas stressed that “in order to take real action, education has to happen, and diversity within education.” While the Coaches for Action coalition is still working on the details, its members hope to begin officially awarding the scholarship as soon as possible.
Even as all 21 coaches are deep into their basketball season, they continue to provide a platform for their student-athletes. “We still talk regularly,” commented Thomas. “We have leadership building skills for our players. We’ve had different opportunities for building leadership skills with our current coaches.” When the basketball season ends, they will likely turn their attention to a new set of initiatives, in addition to the ongoing efforts in building the scholarship fund.
Thomas identified two potential areas of focus for these future initiatives. The first centers on the coaches themselves, as each is an aspiring head coach in their own right. “We want to make sure that we are ready for opportunities of leadership, so we do empowering sessions for ourselves in preparation,” said Thomas. Ingrained in this idea is also the importance of diversity in positions of power. “We think it’s important that we try to impact administratively, we can’t talk about diversity if none of the people who are hiring are diverse,” added Thomas. “You tend to hire people who look like you and talk like you. In order to make that happen, we have to effectively get more people of color in positions of power, and get these positions balanced.”
The second area focuses on the future of their student-athletes, beyond the realm of basketball. This includes ensuring that the players use their educational and athletic experiences at PC in the most successful manner possible. “We want to make sure our players take full advantage of their education and get opportunities to be in diverse situations that they are not typically hired in,” said Thomas. “Whether it’s Wall Street, whether it’s executive positions, and then putting their expertise of leadership that they learned for four years, and team building, of being part of something collectively, to good use.”
Whatever their next initiative ends up being, Coaches for Action will continue to provide an impactful voice for social justice on all 11 Big East campuses. Their voices are much needed in a country plagued by racial inequality, even as it has receded from the front pages of the news. “Progress is slow,” noted Thomas. “James Baldwin said, ‘How long?’… and it has been a steady crawl in terms of meaningful, impactful progress. The biggest thing is that you can’t just change the mindset of a nation overnight, but what you can do is impact what’s right. Just impact and do what’s right.”