Villanova’s Social Justice And Inclusivity Communitas

Isabella Balian, Staff Writer

As a way to improve and cultivate unity within the first year freshman experience, Villanova Residence Life offers the opportunity of living with a learning community, or a Communitas. The learning community is “an engaging and unique opportunity for first-year students to thrive through intentional conversation inside and outside the classroom. Villanovans in communitas embrace new friendships and unique academic endeavors while navigating the college experience together.” 

Specifically, the Social Justice and Inclusivity Communitas explores definitions of social justice, igniting change on and off-campus and marginalized identities and experiences. For its final project, the Social Justice Communitas was asked, “ If there was one thing about Villanova that you could change from a social justice and inclusivity lens, what would it be, why would you change it, and how would you go about making that change?” 

Four groups of students came together and came up with four separate ideas and suggestions for making Villanova a more inclusive campus that embraces people of all identities and backgrounds. These ideas included better support for students of color, abolishing legacy admissions, diversifying orientation groups and creating a specific building for diversity, equity and inclusion purposes. 

Students in the first group came up with a wide range of ideas which could help students of color feel more comfortable at Villanova. They noted that, “Even though there has been a change from Fall 2017 to Fall 2021 with student demographics, we believe that Villanova still has a long way to go, in terms of making the campus diverse.”

Some of these ideas include diversifying orientation counselors, giving more time and attention to the diversity skit and giving students more time and opportunities to digest the culture of a predominantly white institution. Other ideas include expanding the CASA space, expanding the dining hall service office and developing new programs to include Halal certified food. The students reported that the dining hall has a lack of options for food from different cultures. They feel that the dining hall services should be more inclusive when curating menus and serve a variety of options from different cultures. 

Students in the second group supported the concept of abolishing legacy admissions here at Villanova. Legacy admissions provide a predetermined advantage to prospective students due to their parents’ attendance to the University. Legacy admissions can be harmful because they mostly benefit rich white students, creating a lack of diversity and an unfair advantage. Critics say that legacy admissions tend to give white or wealthier students an unfair advantage, ultimately entrenching racial and socioeconomic inequities. Well-known colleges like MIT, John Hopkins University and Amherst College have abolished legacy admissions, and Villanova could be next. Getting rid of legacy admissions could increase diversity at Villanova, which would benefit the University in a variety of ways. 

The third group of students focused on orientation groups and the way in which a student’s experience at orientation can affect their time at Villanova. Villanova’s New Student Orientation staff aim to hold an orientation week that is welcoming to all students and cultivates academic, spiritual and social growth. However, students noticed a lack of diversity within college orientation groups, creating the feeling of isolation for students of color, along with a lack of diverse orientation counselors. 

“Everyone else was bonding, and I was constantly left out,” one student said. 

Solutions to this lack of diversity within orientation groups include promoting and encouraging the participation of people of color as orientation counselors, dedicating an entire day of training to DEI and ensuring that each new student feels heard and understood. Students of color and varying identities should feel understood and comfortable no matter who is in their group.  

The fourth group of students advocated for repurposing Vasey Hall into a DEI center. Students noticed the lack of resources for international students, lack of staff that hold marginalized identities, climate concerns on campus and lack of mental health counselors. The DEI building would be a place for increased counseling services with more diverse therapists, spaces for students to practice diverse religions, a race and culture department, a sexual orientation and gender department along with international translators/mentors. By suggesting a specific building for DEI purposes, Vasey would be the Multi-Member Diversity Building, where classrooms will be repurposed into lounges and department offices. 

Villanova’s Social Justice Communitas advocates for meaningful change that can transform Villanova into a more diverse and inclusive campus.

“Throughout the course of the semester, I was always really impressed with the freshmen’s enthusiasm to apply what they were learning to the Villanova campus,” student facilitator Katie Canning said. “This project was a worthwhile way of putting their thoughts into action. I’m really proud of the initiative they are taking in making positive change here at Villanova.”