Expanding the Echo Chamber: PC Community Attends Women’s Week Student Panel
by Nicole Patano ’22
Asst. Head Copyeditor
Imagine reporting a sexual assault to a public safety officer and having them tell your parents, “Well, she was drinking, so of course it would happen.” Imagine being picked up and pressed into a wall and having a fellow student jokingly yell, “Get a room!” Imagine being touched by a professor and then having to ask yourself if it was inappropriate or normal.
Unfortunately, for many college-aged women across the country and on Providence College’s campus, these are disturbingly common realities. In fact, these are just three of several experiences shared by female students at PC on Monday, March 1 during a student panel which kicked off the PC Democrats’ celebration of Women’s Week.
Hosted by PC Democrats and co-sponsored by the Board of Multicultural Student Affairs, Women Will, Women Empowered, and SHEPARD, the student panel focused on perspectives on being a woman and doing gender at PC. The panel included seven female students who shared their experiences as women at the College, as well as their suggestions for how PC can counter these experiences.
Shannon Sullivan ’21, external co-president of PC Democrats, began the conversation by asking the panel to explain how they see or experience gender inequality on campus. Kayla Luyo ’22, who represented SHEPARD, responded with a personal story about her experience transitioning from an accepting hometown to the College as a lesbian. “I was never closeted. I never had to hide who I was. I had to go through the process of closeting myself while being at PC, and that was very traumatic,” Luyo stated.
Other panelists commented on the difficulty of navigating PC’s campus as a woman. President of Women Empowered, Talysha Rivera ’21, said, “Being a woman, I am very aware of my body and my space.” As many of the panelists emphasized, this is typically a unique experience for women on campus. Rivera explained that this is because “men tend to dominate more spaces and feel comfortable in doing so because they never had to think about their body as an object.”
Kara Berlin-Gallo ’21 and Tess Jacobson ’22, representing PC Democrats and Women Will, respectively, spoke on the particular issue of victim-blaming on PC’s campus. Berlin-Gallo stressed that all of the responsibility is on women when it should be on men: “Why do girls always have to protect each other and look out for each other…? Why can’t we hold men accountable and teach them not to look at women as sexual objects?” This was a theme panelists and attendees returned to throughout the event.
Jacobson shared her experience as a survivor of sexual assault going through the Title IX reporting process. Her story is the first mentioned in the opening of this article. She explained that it is “sad to see that the resources and the people that are supposed to help you are also bringing you down in that way.” Jacobson, like her fellow panelist and Women Will executive board member, Jobie Hereford ’23, do not think the College is doing an adequate job of creating a safe environment for survivors at PC. “It feels like the school wants [survivors] to be as quiet as possible and not tell anyone and not be proactive in seeking the justice they deserve, which I think is a major issue,” Hereford expressed.
A significant portion of the event was spent discussing ideas for how the College can create a campus environment in which women feel safe, respected, and included. Many panelists and attendees highlighted the need for a curriculum which is diverse, inclusive, and centers intersectional histories and experiences of injustice.
Berlin-Gallo explained why she thinks it is important to change the curriculum so that it elevates the voices of other departments and programs, such as the Black studies and the women’s and gender studies programs. “It is the College’s responsibility,” Berlin-Gallo stated, “to incorporate the voices of people that have been marginalized or that have been ignored.”
Dr. Abigail Brooks, director of the women’s and gender studies program, suggested an improvement to the current curriculum which would create a more welcoming culture that embraces and respects diversity and difference. “Ideally, all students would take at least one required course, but better yet, a sequence of courses, that was intersectional and interdisciplinary, wherein everyone would be in classroom spaces reading, listening, discussing, and learning about these lived histories and current realities,” said Brooks.
Some attendees unmuted and others utilized the chat to share their thoughts on the need for a more inclusive curriculum such as the one proposed by Brooks. Jenny Chen ’23 commented that “[the Development of Western Civilization program’s] inherent colonialist and white supremacist and patriarchal narratives are harmful to equality and liberation.” Dr. Despina Prassas of the theology department noted, “There is a general consensus that DWC has to change. We just don’t know how…” Savannah Plaisted ’21, another panelist and external co-president of PC Democrats, cited the 2020 Demands for Redress, which were signed by 29 student organizations, was also cited as a potential solution. Article I, Section D of the student demands offers three possible paths the College may take to restructure the existing DWC program; however, the most important consideration in creating a new curriculum is that it has widespread student approval.
Beyond curriculum, panelists and attendees suggested several other ways the College can create a safer and more inclusive community. One suggestion was to allow the Vagina Monologues, which has been forbidden from being performed on campus since 2006 under the tenure of Father Brian Shanley, O.P., to be performed on campus once again.
Sullivan proposed the College begin teaching the idea of “yes means yes” consent in place of “no means no.” Under this framework of consent, if a person receives any answer other than yes, then the answer is no. Chen emphasized that “it doesn’t have to be a sexual transgression in order to be a violation of consent”; any unwanted touches by another student, or by a professor, can violate a person’s consent.
An important conversation arose after the panel section of the event officially ended when Nick Sailor ’17, director of training and education for diversity, equity, and inclusion, voiced his concern about how “these conversations feel like they happen in an echo chamber.”
Some panelists and attendees thought the turnout of faculty and administration was greater at this event than other events regarding women’s issues, due in large part to Plaisted personally inviting a number of faculty and administration members . Rivera was disheartened as she explained that in her three years on Women Empowered’s executive board, she had never seen so many faculty and administration attend their events as she saw at the Women’s Week event. She explained that “it’s always been other women of color” attending events held by Women Empowered.
Dr. Rick Battistoni of the political science and public and community service departments thought the panelists were being too fair to College faculty and administration, writing in the chat, “I am embarrassed by how FEW of us attended this!” Battistoni also shared how he felt listening to the panelists: “I was angry. I’m angry to hear year after year women tell stories that are like these stories. And I’m angry to hear year after year people talk about changes in the curriculum and they don’t happen.”
While the student panel, a novel event which will become a staple event in PC Democrats’ Women’s Week, began the process of expanding the echo chamber surrounding women on Providence College’s campus, it is clear that there is much more work to be done to make campus a place where women can feel comfortable and represented.
For Rivera, it is “important to create spaces for women where they can talk about their experiences and feel valid.” For Chen, students “shouldn’t have to sit in violent classrooms.” For all panelists and attendees, listening to women and validating their experiences on campus does not end with this event.
PC Democrats have sponsored events for Women’s Week all week. On Tuesday, a faculty panel discussed the topic of feminisms inside and outside the classroom. The Campus Ministry women’s study group presented on the harmful effects of pornography on Wednesday. The Board of Programmers rounded out the week with an installation on women’s achievements throughout history. The Zoom recordings of this and Tuesday’s events can be found on the women’s and gender studies program’s Facebook page.