Addressing Racism and COVID-19 Concerns: Fr. Sicard Holds Virtual Town Hall Webinar
by Hannah Langley ’21
Over this past month, the Providence College community has had to adapt to many different issues and address actions that must be taken in order to create change. In an effort to do this, College President Father Kenneth Sicard, O.P., held a virtual town hall meeting open to all students on Oct. 5 to voice their questions and concerns related to racial injustice and COVID-19 procedures on PC’s campus.
While Fr. Sicard called the meeting, many members of PC’s administration and faculty were also present on the call to respond to questions when necessary. Phionna Cayola-Claude ’18 moderated the meeting, as well, asking questions live over Zoom for Fr. Sicard and others to answer.
To begin the meeting, Cayola-Claude asked questions that came from students regarding the issue of racism and discrimination, wherever it may exist in the PC community. These questions spanned from issues in diversity within PC’s Development of Western Civilization (DWC) program, to racial profiling and reporting, to how PC intends to hold students, faculty, and staff accountable for acts of discrimination and racism.
The very first question asked was how Catholic social teaching could be at the forefront of combating racism.
A later, similar question asked how members of the LGBTQIA+ community could be protected under Church teaching. In response to these questions, Father James Cuddy, O.P., vice president for Mission and Ministry, stated that the Church does not believe in discrimination, saying, “Every person without exception and without qualification is made in God’s image and likeness.”
He argued that the Church’s teaching on marriage “in no way precludes the necessity of treating one another well” and the treatment of every person as an individual of the PC community must come first.
Several questions were posed on the subject of racial profiling and the procedures surrounding how one should report incidents of racism, and how to feel safe doing so. Fr. Sicard addressed this question by explaining the new Title VI procedure students, faculty, and staff should use, which allows for anyone to file a report by using a link.
He addressed the fact that reporting such incidents should not be up to just students, and higher levels of administration should recognize racial bias and discrimination when they see it, but he asks that students use the system so that incidents will not go unheard.
Jacqueline Peterson, special advisor to the President for the Institutional Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (IDEI) department, addressed Title VI reporting as well, discussing how the system for filing a report has recently been remodeled. She hopes that this new software will make tracking and monitoring incidents more effective, time efficient, and will improve record keeping. These reports are then reviewed by several people, including Quincy Bevely, assistant vice president of IDEI, and Kathleen Alvino, associate vice president of human resources. There are then several different steps that may be taken following the initial report, which can be seen in detail on the IDEI page on the PC website.
Questions were also asked about how the College is working towards eliminating unconscious bias incidents. Peterson addressed this, saying, “the more we can educate the community around unconscious bias, the more we will be able to change the [College’s] culture.”
To work towards this goal, the IDEI department created the Advocated for a Beloved Community (ABC) group earlier this year. This group consists of students, faculty, and staff who have been through professional training to learn more about social justice and to help educate people throughout the campus community to prevent unconscious bias.
In regards to reforms around the Development of Western Civilization (DWC) program, Sean Reid, provost and senior vice president of academic affairs, said that he recognized the “narrow scope” of the program when he joined the PC community this year.
He said that an implementation plan for reform is currently in the works in the hopes of broadening the program’s scope and making it a more holistic program.
That being said, the College released a response to a question about whether or not DWC should be required, and the College stands by its stance that the program is a “foundational element of the core curriculum.”
The statement did include, however, that there should be a more critical eye turned inward on the negative impacts of the ‘triumph of western civilization’ such as colonialism, genocide, forced conversion, exploitation, religious wars, etc.
While more was said on the College’s response to racism, the meeting also addressed questions and concerns surrounding the College and COVID-19. Although directives from the College have changed over time, one thing that has remained consistent is the College’s decision to re-open beginning Oct. 12 for both on-campus and off-campus students with weekly tests administered based on alphabetical order.
When asked about how another outbreak can be prevented, especially as colder months approach, Fr. Sicard and Dr. Ann Manchester-Molak, executive vice president of the College, stressed the importance of students remaining in their pods, or groups of people with whom they directly live.
Dean Steven Sears, associate vice president for student affairs, also noted that while students are encouraged to remain in their pods, they should get out around campus and take advantage of the buildings on campus that are open.
John Sweeney, senior vice president of finance and business, also noted that the outbreak that began primarily off-campus did not spread to the larger Providence community, which was a major concern for many. He also noted that of the over 200 cases, those students who were in quarantine or isolation from the very beginning are far past their required 14-day isolation period.
In regards to communication about repercussions and what is to come, especially for off-campus students, Sears mentioned a mandatory Zoom session regarding that on Wednesday, Oct. 7. This Zoom session was also hosted in a town hall format, and the main purpose was to advise off-campus students to remain in their respective homes and pods or face consequences from PC Public Safety, Providence police, or the 02908 Club. Sears said that any students caught on video or in photos will be reported and called, and those breaking the rules will be held accountable.
Before the town hall meeting even began, many students boycotted the event due to the webinar format, which did not allow for live questions to be seen, creating a fear of censorship. The College responded that the platform was meant to be more accommodating, as it allowed for more people to attend and removed the potential for Zoom-bombing.
Fr. Sicard also made sure not to censor any question by releasing a written statement afterwards with responses to all questions asked during the meeting.
While no one is certain of what the future will hold, Sicard hopes that these types of town hall meetings will allow for continued open discussion to create a more beloved community. Fr. Sicard and PC administration want students to share their thoughts, experiences, and feelings so that the College community can learn and progress in the right direction.