Casey Gradisar

Students attending Villanova to prepare themselves for a successful future in the real world may be missing out on one major life lesson: most of the people they will encounter upon graduation may not look or think like the students and faculty they meet here. Though the admissions office is making slow progress to diversify Villanova, six seniors have developed a viable plan of action.

K.C. Christian, Emily Connelly, Elizabeth DiDonato, Candice Ottaviani, Jana Rediger and Jennifer Rutledge presented their strategy as a culmination of Dr. Nance’s communication senior project class last semester. Their UNIty through diVERSITY plan suggests diversifying the faculty, a change which would make multicultural students feel more comfortable while increasing the diversity of thought on campus. Additionally, the group pointed to the success of Kutztown University’s multicultural mentoring program. This could be implemented at Villanova by pairing multicultural students with multicultural advisors who will guide them through their years at ‘Nova. The seniors criticized the uneven level of diversity portrayed in Villanova’s current view book. Their multi-tiered public relations plan, targeted to be applied by the Office of Admissions, would likely be successful in leveling Villanova’s diversity ratios.

Currently, those ratios weigh quite unevenly. According to Villanova’s Fall 2003 Ethnicity Report, out of 6,550 full time undergraduates, Villanova boasts 2.7 percent African American, five percent Asian, five percent Hispanic, and 83 percent Caucasian students. Currently, Villanova maintains a 15 percent multicultural enrollment, a sizable increase from 10 years ago. The goal remains 20 percent. Though the issue of diversifying Villanova is often raised, the numbers speak for themselves.

Certainly, students have the opportunity to interact with several multicultural organizations on campus. According to Dean Pugh, “It’s hard to put a number on just how many there are. There is a Black Cultural Society, an Irish Cultural Society, an Indian Student Association and also several clubs.” According to Villanova’s homepage, there are 21 cultural societies. One such group, The Friends on Campus program, pairs a volunteer from within the campus community with a multicultural student for friendship and mentoring. The Multicultural Students League, the umbrella organization for Villanova’s cultural societies, holds meetings in Bartley every other Friday and hosts multicultural events, notably Multicultural Week, which began on March 15. These groups serve the multicultural students who already attend, though they may be few. The overall diversity ratio here is slow to change.

The seniors, while developing their plan, sought these multicultural students’ opinions and formed two focus groups: one multicultural and one white. When members of the white group were questioned about their involvement with multicultural students, they agreed that, though they make efforts to engage with students of different races on campus, a feeling of clique-ness among the races gets in the way. “There may not be many multicultural students on campus, but they stick together,” Ottaviani said when explaining the opinions she encountered in her interviews. When questioned about their observations, the members of the multicultural focus group pointed to the inaccurate depiction of diversity in University publications as well as a lack of multicultural professors. They agreed that though one of their reasons for attending Villanova was the excellent academic reputation, they feel that a greater education to be gained through exposure to students of diverse races is unattainable on campus.

This has not always been the case. At one time, Villanova was viewed as a university with a diversity initiative. In 1950, the first black male student graduated from Villanova. Fifteen years later, in 1965, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. spoke on campus. In the 1970s, the Black Cultural Society was founded. Something happened, however, between then and now to create a University climate which many students feel is predominately white upper-class.

The seniors noted that Villanova’s current PR plan sells the university as a mid-sized Catholic university with excellent academics. In order to appeal to more diverse students, the seniors suggest that Villanova should express itself as a Christian university because many multicultural students are Christian but not necessarily Catholic. Though Villanova currently regards itself as a Christian environment rooted in the Augustinian faith, it is more widely known as a “Catholic school.” By shifting its PR focus toward describing Villanova as “Christian,” the campus may feel more welcoming to students of non-Catholic religions. Additionally, the current PR plan inaccurately depicts Villanova’s diversity in the view book. It is true that students from 49 states, the Virgin Islands and several countries attend Villanova. The view book’s pictures, however, portray a denser diversity than is actually present. Also, these pictures are outdated; many of the students in the pictures have graduated.

The uneven diversity ratios can be repaired within the Office of Admissions. Walidah Justice is an admissions counselor who focuses on increasing campus diversity. She is only one woman, however, and she needs an energetic multicultural recruitment team. This team would consist of many students of different races, each with a common goal: reaching out to those multicultural students interested in Villanova. This group would train its focus on target areas of the country, especially non-white areas, to increase public knowledge about Villanova and would participate in personalized recruitment by corresponding directly with multicultural students who are interested in Villanova.

Coupled with the success of this special admissions team, the multicultural students on campus would benefit from a mentoring program similar to Kutztown’s. There, multicultural professors are paired with incoming multicultural students, and the professor maintains his or her role as mentor and counselor throughout the student’s time at Kutztown. This successful program has proven that multicultural students feel more comfortable and do better academically in a diverse environment.

For Villanova to implement this program and achieve Kutztown’s level of success, a more diverse faculty is necessary. This change would strengthen the University by exposing Villanovans to the various points of view held by a diverse faculty. Certaintly, a zero-tolerance policy against racism must be upheld. Dr. Collymore, executive director of Multicultural Affairs, explained, “Last year there was a group of high school students touring campus and students in the Quad were yelling derogatory comments at them. This is not acceptable.”

The seniors’ diversification plan is viable. If Villanova wants to become more diverse, it needs to start with revising the view book, diversifying the teaching staff, implementing a mentoring program and maintaining a unified mission statement as a Christian university that is accepting of all races and religions.