The Villanovan: A Year in Review


Courtesy of The Villanovan

The 2020-2021 school year was unprecedented.

Cate McCusker, Co-Editor-in-Chief

On August 17, 2020, the University held its first day of classes for the 2020-2021 academic year on campus, thus beginning an unprecedented year at Villanova.

Several other colleges and universities had chosen to remain virtual for the fall semester, such as the University of Pennsylvania and Georgetown University. However, Villanova opened its campus to all students and set in place the Caritas Commitment, a pledge to modify student behaviors in an effort to ensure the health and safety of the community.

Many doubted the University’s ability to remain on campus for the entirety of the semester, especially after videos of a large gathering of freshmen spread throughout the community during the first night of move in. University President, Rev. Peter M. Donohue, O.S.A., Ph.D., however, had confidence in Villanova.

“I really believed that we could do it,” Donohue said in an exclusive interview with The Villanovan on Friday afternoon. “I wasn’t concerned that we couldn’t. There were a lot of naysayers out there. But we did it. We proved that we could do it.”

And the University was successful. Students followed the Caritas Commitment and kept the case count relatively low, despite a spike at the very end of the semester, and the fall semester concluded with everyone on campus.

Over the summer, after the unjust death of George Floyd set off protests across the country, the call to action for racial justice was brought to Villanova’s campus.

“I think it’s been not only a call to Villanova but a call to the nation…Particularly for me that was a call to acknowledgement,” Donohue said, reflecting on the @blackvillanova instagram, which was created over the summer as a platform for Black and POC students, faculty, and alumni at Villanova to share their experiences with the community. “We talk so much about community here, and in some cases we really failed people. We called people to live in community, but we never realized the struggle they had in living in our community.”

The Aequitas: Presidential Task Force, led by Vice President of the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Dr. Teresa A. Nance, was created over the summer as an effort to “assess the racial climate on campus, identify areas for improvement, and create a plan for developing the cultural competence for all students, staff and faculty who are members of the Villanova community,” according to the University’s website. Donohue explained how the task force worked over the summer to talk about issues on campus and call people’s attention to it, and creating direction for the community.

“It’s been sobering in some ways, because I think it really calls on each one of us to reflect on how we live our lives, and how some of our actions or words intentionally or unintentionally can be perceived by others as very racist,” Donohue said. “We need to be aware of it and we need to make ourselves aware of it.”

A new university-wide race and justice course will also be piloted this fall, and hopefully implemented in the spring semester as a requirement for all students to take.

Another challenge the University, and the rest of the nation, faced this past year was the growing mental health crisis. Some students took action, such as sophomores Julia Stainisci and Dayna Deakin, who started the mental health initiatives IfYou’reReadingThisNova and the Bandana Project, respectively.

Additionally, after receiving feedback from students who expressed their exhaustion from a full semester without any breaks, the University implemented two “working breaks.” The “working breaks,” were helpful for some, but for most others it pushed back their workload and added to their stress.

With a full fall semester under their belts, students seemed to relax on the Caritas Commitment, as within the first week back on campus for the spring semester, the University saw a spike in cases. To combat the spike, Donohue emailed students instating the Slow the Spread Directives, a two week lockdown across campus, and warning students that if the cases did not go down, students would be sent home.

“We got really close to the point of saying that we just can’t handle this anymore” Donohue said, reflecting on the spike. “People again really rallied and came up and said that we can do this. I think we’ve proved it, the numbers have gone way down. I’m really proud of this community for the Caritas Commitment that they lived. People really came together. I know there were a lot of sacrifices made, but we did it.”

After the number of cases was brought under control, another crisis on campus came to light: sexual assault. On Wednesday, March 3, the University received an email from Director of Public Safety and Chief of Police, David Tedjeske, notifying students of several cases of sexual assault over the past few days. A week later, a University football player was arrested for a sexual assault case that had occurred back in September.

Alarm immediately rose in the student body. Students were angry about not only the multiple cases, but also the timing and language of the email.

“I think we could word it differently, we have to be a little more careful about some of the words we chose and how it’s introduced,” Donohue said, reflecting on the way the University handled the situation. “As I said in the town hall that we had with the students, there’s information that you just can’t share with people, for the protection of the people involved and for the people that have been victimized…We do have federal regulations that we have to follow. That’s not something we have a choice in. If a certain event happens in a certain way within a certain timing, we are mandated to put those things out.”

Finally, as we near the end of this academic year, and with more and more people receiving the vaccine, students are eager to find out about what next semester will look like. Donohue is optimistic, but he was unfortunately unable to provide The Villanovan with any concrete answers about the future.

“I hope and I expect that things will be more normal. We haven’t made a decision requiring (the vaccine) yet, but I hope people do take advantage of it, it has been proven that it can work,” Donohue said. “I don’t know about mask wearing, it’s not necessarily our call. We wait for the governor’s office to give out those indications.

I expect that we will have most of our classes in person, and faculty and staff have been told to be prepared to come back in August, so I am hoping and expecting that things will have more of a sense of normalcy to them.”

Although the future is unknown, Donohue is thankful for the efforts of the community this past year.

“I’m really proud of the faculty, staff, and students. I can’t tell you how thankful I am to everybody,” Donohue said. “People stepped up and did things differently and it wasn’t always easy, but we did it. That’s something to give thanks for and that’s something we should celebrate. And hopefully we won’t have to do it again.”