13 Percent Responds to GOP Debate Held on Campus


Courtesy of Maria Andraos/Villanovan Photography

13 Percent, an organization dedicated to creating a safe space for Black student-athletes at Villanova, offered a resolution to the Student Government Association (SGA).

Sarah Wisniewski and Sarah Sweeney

On Feb. 9, 13 Percent, an organization dedicated to creating a safe space for Black student-athletes at Villanova, offered a resolution to the Student Government Association (SGA). The resolution, sponsored by Senator Tiane Parris and 13 Percent Co-Presidents Sanaa Barnes and Qadir Ismail, calls for the University to “address the discrepancy” between a letter from University President Rev. Peter M. Donohue, O.S.A., Ph.D. responding to 13 Percent’s request to post a video on the University’s social media in response to George Floyd’s murder and the University’s decision to host the PA Republican Senate Debate.

In addition to responding to the murder of George Floyd and other victims of police brutality, the video affirmed that Black Lives Matter and shared the experience of being a Black student athlete at Villanova. The video also sought to educate viewers on ways to support the Black community. 13 Percent’s request to post the video was denied on the grounds that “a University website is designed to be a platform for providing different constituents with information regarding the institution and its community” and that “it should not be used as a platform for discussions, commentary, political viewpoints or private messages.”

The resolution calls for Father Peter to “clarify the difference between civic engagement in relation to Black Lives Matter and civic engagement in relation to student attendance at a political debate.”

“If the decision to host the political debate is a move towards allowing the University platform to be used for political viewpoints, that precedent should be set, especially when it comes to uplifting the voices of Villanova’s marginalized student population,” the resolution stated.

“A lot of people might think the issue is that it is a Republican debate, but that’s not the issue,” said Laruen Amoo, SGA Speaker of the House and 13 Percent Member. “The issue is that back in 2020, 13 Percent was told it could not use the University’s platform for political statements…and now Villanova is hosting a political debate.”

While the University did release a message affirming Black Lives Matter, 13 Percent Vice-President Joia McKinney explained that “it definitely didn’t touch on the severity of the situation.” 

“Just because you said [Black Lives Matter] doesn’t mean you didn’t take away our voices in another way,” Barnes said, touching on the fact that the video shared the experience of Black student athletes at Villanova. “It was another way to silence us.”

“As athletes, we make a lot of money for this school, and for the school to just ignore the plight of what a lot of its athletes are going through on a national stage is ridiculous,” McKinney said.

While 13 Percent did not call for the debate to be canceled, the organization is looking to the University for acknowledgement.

“The school needs to stop looking to us to resolve the problem,” McKinney said. “You messed up, you hand me a resolution. Stop looking to Black students and people of color to fix your problems. I’m not being paid to fix what you mess up. We are students. We are student-athletes. That’s all we should be expected to do, but we end up with all this other baggage because of political issues [the University] doesn’t know how to fix.”

McKinney explained that in the future, she wants Villanova to put its Black and marginalized students first. 

In response, the University offered the following statement:  

“We strongly support and encourage members of the Villanova community to express their views in the furtherance of education and understanding. All student organizations, including students from The 13 Percent, are welcomed to offer events on campus that promote their views. Student organizations should work with Student Life to schedule such events when they involve inviting external speakers to campus.

“In 2020, The 13 Percent requested to use the Villanova.edu website and the official Villanova University social media accounts to share a personal video message. As these are official communication channels from the institution to the broader community, Villanova does not share personal viewpoints or political messages on them. Allowing one group would mean opening the door to any group wishing to use the University’s channels to voice their message. The 13 Percent were encouraged to share their video on other social media channels.”

“The primary debate on Feb. 21 was open to those who decided to attend and learn more about our election process and candidates seeking office; it was not a University event. Villanova has a long history of allowing events that educate our students on the political process and the candidates seeking those offices. The University does not endorse political viewpoints, parties or candidates. Consistent with longstanding University policy, and how the request of The 13 Percent was handled in 2020, those participating in the debate were not allowed to share specific messages or viewpoints on the Villanova.edu website or the Villanova University Twitter, Instagram or Facebook accounts.

“To be clear, a facility on Villanova’s campus being the site for a primary debate event to educate those who choose to attend about the candidates and our political process is starkly different than the University sending out a specific message on behalf of a particular group on its official communications channels.”