Faculty Panel Ponders the Puerto Rico Predicament

Greg Welsh

More than 100 students packed into the reading corner of Falvey Memorial Library this past Thursday to attend a faculty panel on the Crisis in Puerto Rico in honor of Spanish Heritage Month. 

The crowd was even larger than anticipated, and some students were forced to sit in the library’s first floor study area adjacent to the reading corner because the seats intended for the events audience had filled. The large turnout occurred in spite of the event’s 6 p.m. start time, which conflicts with when many students eat dinner. 

Lowell Gustafson, a professor in political science department, and one of the event’s four panelists, was impressed by the student body’s attendance. 

“That they are willing to come to anything at six o’clock indicates they want to learn,” Gustafson said. “I think it speaks to Villanova’s model. Students want to find out the facts, that’s Veritas, and they really care about the issue, that’s Caritas.” 

The event, co-sponsored by the Department of Romance Languages, Falvey Memorial library, the Hispanic Society and Spanish Honor Society, comes nearly a month after the devastating hurricane Maria made land fall on the island that is officially an “unincorporated territory” of the U.S. 

The faculty panelists came from a variety of departments to offer their different perspectives. Christine Palus Ph.D., an associate professor of Public Administration, was joined by Michael Moreland, a professor at the law school, Derek Arnold, from the department of Communication, and Gustafson. 

“I really enjoy these kinds of panels,” Gustafson said. “It’s nice to get together to see how different disciplines talk about an issue.”

Students remained engaged throughout the hour long event, applauding each panelist after their introductory speeches and asking powerful questions during the question and answer session that followed. At several points, the audience broke in to laughter, one such instance being when Gustafson displayed an image of president Donald Trump with the word “pendejo,” meaning “idiot.” With notebooks out and pens in hand, many of the attendees jotted notes down throughout the event. 

Some students from Puerto Rico were particularly invested in the topic and stuck around at the event’s conclusion for additional discussion with the panelists. One such student, Jose Green, a senior economics major from Puerto Rico’s capital, San Juan, was particularly vocal about the effects of Maria on his homeland. Green recognized the devastation Maria has caused but was optimistic about the chance the disaster provided to rebuild the economy from the ground up and the attention the disaster has brought to the mainland’s treatment of the island. 

The panel’s moderator, Adriano Duque Ph.D., of the department of Romance Languages and Literature, expressed his desire for this event to spring people into action regarding the devastation to Puerto Rico. This was a goal that all of the panelists took to heart, particularly Arnold, who gave students tangible ways in which they themselves could make an impact. 

“You guys can take over by using social media,” Arnold said. “Make posts, remind people this is not over.”