The disaffected Left of Villanova

Timothy Lawson

The left at Villanova. Perhaps you’ve heard about this rare breed, but you’re probably thinking to yourself, ‘Wow, do I really know any liberals at this school?’ Or maybe you do, but they’ve been inclined to keep their mouths shut in the face of the sea of apathy and animosity that surrounds them in this wonderful little institution of ours. But yes, they exist, scraping out a meager ideological living in an environment averse to their values and political leanings. I myself am counted as a member of these proud few, but I never truly noticed the dearth of my kind here until this semester. Despite my awareness of the very right-wing atmosphere here, my hard-to-the-left close friend and roommate always served as a counterweight that distorted my impression of the overall climate here. Unfortunately, he left to go abroad for the semester, which, in effect, left me a void that drove the point home that this school’s student body is disturbingly skewed to the side of the Republicans.

I decided to go out among the student body and find what other left-leaning people at Villanova had to say about their situation here. The leftist students I interviewed all had similar reasons for the political leanings: equal opportunity, school issues, more even distribution of resources and other progressive ideals. All of these are pretty much in line with the Catholic Church’s mission of social justice. So why so few liberals here?

David Martorano, a senior and self-confessed right-winger, put his idea pretty bluntly, saying that the Villanova student body is generally characterized as “all white, rich and from upper-class families … who like to keep the status quo. People don’t really care about change, especially with minorities,” and that they “have no reason to be [liberal], with no concerns except being privileged.”

Others were less harsh in their criticism, but the general consensus was that the Catholic, middle to upper-class background was the main culprit for the conservative atmosphere here. However, this assertion is not without its faults. After all, I have met plenty of left-wingers hailing from a more privileged background, and some of the more liberal people I have encountered in my lifetime have been Jesuit priests.

A good point was raised by junior Matt Belfiore, who stated that although “apathy comes in with affluence … we care, but as students, it’s more not doing anything … there’s no protests, and things seemingly don’t affect us,” even though “this is the best time to be active.”

This is especially lamentable given the divisive times that we’ve been living in with this controversial administration. While a friend of mine at Vassar College laughingly described to me how practically his entire school went to a protest in New York City at the onset of the Iraq invasion, the debates we had in a few of my classes were generally characterized by general blind support based on Bush’s speeches and general ignorance.

It’s no secret that Villanova is not known for its diversity. All you have to do is look around campus to notice this. Although Villanova takes the feeble, standard steps in trying to bring in more diversity (in the form of minorities), such as recruiting in Puerto Rico and offering scholarships for minority students, neither are too effective in changing the face of the student population. But bringing in more racial diversity is still inadequate; what we really need in this school is more economic diversity. Having everyone from the same background makes nearly everyone think the same, and that hurts the school as a whole. Diversity is always a good thing, as it teaches us to think outside of the box and recognize other perspectives. Without a good mix of students, the more classes suffer. A philosophy professor confessed that in his class discussions, “…when I try and challenge students with an issue, students tend to agree with each other, which forces me to play the devil’s advocate. My opinions are more easily dismissed since I am different, while if there was real diversity among their peers, there would be real debates.”

So I ask this of the administration: Why do you stay complacent with an overall white, conservative and upper-class student body? [Note: In no way am I implying that I’m one of those people who whine about the people in this school. On the contrary, I’ve found Villanova students as a whole to be some of the friendliest and accepting people I’ve ever met.]. Why not offer more financial aid, or be more aggressive in recruiting people of differing economic backgrounds? Why not start in the actual city of Philadelphia? It’s a city of 1.5 million people only minutes away from Villanova, yet we have a disappointingly low amount of people in this school hailing from within its city limits. In general, I have met a few people who hail from cities (myself being one of the relative few) compared to the large number of suburbanites enrolled here. Considering Villanova’s dismal ratings in the Princeton Review and U.S. News rankings for financial aid/debt, it’s fairly apparent that more grants, in addition to better promotion within less affluent areas, would probably be a good start to get more diversity within our student population.

In the face of this unreceptive environment and little prospects for any change in the near future, how do Villanova liberals react to their sometimes-unfriendly surroundings when it comes to ideology? Do they fall prey to complacency or rescind on some of their beliefs? All those who I interviewed were defiant and mentioned that it had caused them to embrace left-wing ideology more than they had before. Surprisingly, the most conciliatory voice was a foreign one, hailing from a liberal welfare state in Northern Europe. Freshman Henriette Christensen, a Danish international student, decries the left-right two-party system we have here in America. Talking up the merits of being centrist, she explained, “You take the best from each camp, which is definitely the best way to get things done. If you have middle parties, people fight for both sides.”

This contrasts with the fact that in America, “there’s too sharp a distinction and you can’t choose as easily.” Strange what a top-notch education system, a more diverse political scene, and an accepting society as found in Denmark will do for promoting pragmatism in getting things accomplished in order to have everyone’s basic needs taken care of while running an efficient society at the same time. Unfortunately, this progressive way of thinking is a continent away and far off both here and in the realm of American politics.

Right now, our country is becoming increasingly polarized, and the upcoming election looks to be one of the most heated and divisive in recent memory. This is regrettable, and both sides need to see the merits of the other side and be drawn toward the center. I have already recognized the strengths of the right, but yet few here can truly understand how being liberal makes a lot of sense because they haven’t been in a setting where they are among a wide array of different people. Because of this, seeking more diversity in this school would prepare Villanovans for the real world, instilling in us more centrist tendencies, which are instrumental in creating a more effective government and a cohesive society.