Aequitas Task Force outlines University’s “Antiracist” Goals

Jack Birle, Staff Writer

On Thursday, Feb. 25, the Aequitas Presidential Task Force on Race held a briefing regarding the ways in which the University will assess and improve the racial climate on campus.

The briefing was an opportunity for the public to hear directly from the task force on the goals it hopes to achieve to pursue racial change at the University. 

The Aequitas Presidential Task Force was formed by University President Rev. Peter M. Donohue, O.S.A., Ph.D last summer in response to nationwide protests over the death of George Floyd in May 2020. 

The task force is led by Dr. Teresa Nance, who is also the Vice President for the University’s Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion and an associate professor of Communication. 

The briefing began with an overview message from Donohue about the importance for the Aequitas Presidential Task Force.

“We need to have a conversation…we don’t need to be debating each other, we need to be dialoguing with each other,” Donohue said. “We need to be having conversations with each other [and] for Villanova sometimes those conversations are overdue.”

Donohue cited the @blackvillanova Instagram page as inspiration for the creation of the task force. The page was created in June 2020 and provided a forum for Black and POC students, alumni and faculty to anonymously report about the University and the Villanova community. The Instagram page has 182 posts but has not posted since July 2020.

  “It became more and more apparent and important for us to begin a conversation with each other,” Donohue said. “A conversation not just about diversity and numbers or equity and inclusion, but a conversation about being antiracist. All of us in some way or another have participated in the racism that exists in our country.”

Definitions of antiracism differ from that of being against racism despite sounding the same. Being antiracist means being against any system or policy which has an unequal outcome by racial group, according to Ibram X. Kendi, who popularized the term in his book “How to Be An Antiracist.” Traditionally, racial justice initiates have attempted policies that try to achieve equal opportunity for all racial groups, rather than equal outcome.

The briefing highlighted several aspects of the Aequitas Presidential Task Force.

The first aspect discussed was the process of developing the University’s antiracism statement. One of the key authors of the statement, Kevin DePrinzio, O.S.A, Ph.D., provided detail about what went into the wording of the University’s statement.

“Truth, love, unity – together the three values at work necessitate deep careful listening, respect, and accountability,” DePrinzio said. “We know it is not easy work as we continue to hear painful experiences, hard truths, sins of commission and omission.”

Several other speakers shared the progress on the seven main goals of the task force. 

The first goal has to do with an academic anti-racist evaluation. Crystal J. Lucky’s goal is to evaluate departments and academic programs for assumptions about race. 

“We have undertaken the task of developing an antiracist tool that will help departments and programs and college administrators in [the process of evaluating race in the colleges],” Lucky said. “Some of what that will look like is to look at the composition of the field at the national level, what the faculty look like, what the curriculum will look like, what the department’s faculty and staff look like, along with the students.”

The second goal surrounded the topic of diversity courses and intergroup relations. With this goal, the University aims to have a one-credit course for all undergraduate students to take a course on race and antiracism. 

The one-credit course would be required for all students, and the colleges of the University would have more courses with race embedded in the curriculum to supplement the broader push for antiracism. 

The third goal set by the task force is to create a more diverse community at the University. The goal of this part of the task force is to improve diversity hiring practices.

The fourth goal deals with the campus climate and improving it for black and minority members of the community.

DePrinzio explained how the University is working to improve the climate.

“We have concentrated solely on the student experience, first because it is such a large endeavor to look at all members right now, but also because we feel since that they are only here for four years we feel it would be important to bring them in and involve them before they graduate,” DePrinzio said.

DePrinzio noted that the University has performed several focus groups and continues to collect data on the climate of the campus. He also set a goal for this part of the task force to identify and act on one recommendation by mid-semester and three total recommendations by the end of the semester. 

The fifth goal relates to race and policing and aims to shape reform around the University’s public safety department through an antiracist lens. The task force hopes to have recommendations for change by this summer.

The final goals of the task force relate to student relations and communications. The task force hopes to work more closely with students to share its antiracist goals and initiates. It also aims to conduct evaluations of the University’s internal and external communications and identify how it can further racial equity.

The task force meets once a month to report progress on its goals to the University’s President. More information about the task force can be found at the University’s website.