Villanova community gathers for conversation and vigil



Maria McGeary

Over 750 students, faculty, staff and alumni packed the Villanova Room on Thursday evening for a post-election Community Conversation. In light of recent events on campus, including allegations of a racially motivated assault in the Septa tunnel on West Campus that is currently under investigation, the conversation was scheduled to facilitate discussion amongst community members.

The event began with an introduction from Dr. Terry Nance, Associate Vice Provost for Diversity and Inclusion, and a brief address from University President Rev. Peter M. Donohue, O.S.A., Ph.D.

“I deeply care about this community,” Donohue said. “I urge all of you to speak your truth, speak it well and speak with clarity of conviction.”

Chairs were placed in small clusters around the room, designed to provoke small group discussion and larger group dialogue. Attendees were encouraged to talk to the person next to them, answer question prompts like “How, if at all, have you been affected since the election?” and “How, if at all, has your life on campus changed since the election?” Discussions addressed various topics and concerns, including identity, politics and celebrating differences. Facilitators included J.J. Brown, Director of Student Involvement, DeVon Jackson, Assistant Director of Leadership Programs, Brighid Dwyer, Ph.D., Director of Intergroup Relations, and several other faculty and students. Due to Community Guidelines, The Villanovan was unable to obtain direct quotes from speakers.

“750 people came tonight, and I think what that speaks to is the willingness of Villanova to engage,” Dr. Terry Nance, Associate Vice Provost for Diversity and Inclusion, said after the event. “We may not all have gotten our point of view out loud, but I think everybody at least got the chance to talk to somebody and be connected to somebody and that’s the best outcome we could have heard.”

“From my perspective, this event was a great success,” Bobby Roenitz, SGA president, said. “I had some great follow-up conversations with students, faculty, and staff after the event regarding where we will go from here. One concrete thing we will do is bring together our Mission & Social Justice committee with the students and groups involved with planning this event. By doing this we can work to make systematic changes to create a more inclusive campus, improve our political climate, and ensure everyone is safe and a valued member of the community.”

Using a polling app that gathers anonymous information through text messages, students and faculty answered a series of questions at the beginning of the program. When asked to determine political leanings outside of the 2016 Election, 48% answered Liberal and 11% answered Conservative. 23% identified as Moderate, 13% as Progressive, and less than 1% were Alt-Right. The final 4% chose “Not Reflected.”

When asked whom they voted for, 78% of the crowd answered Clinton, while 11% answered Trump. For many this was indicative of a flaw in the attendance demographic.

“It was largely just a liberal turnout, so I’d liked to have seen more Trump supporters,” senior Business major Noelle Edwards said.  “I do think it’s gotten people encouraged to speak out and speak out more but I do think both sides need to come together to make any sort of change.”

Dr. Jean Lutes and Professor Alan Drew, both associate professors in the English Department, echoed these sentiments as they left the event.

“It’s good the place was packed,” Drew said. “It’s good having everyone talk to each other. It makes people feel better, I think. But it would have been better if there were more opposing views, I think.”

Despite the unequal representation of political party Lutes said she learned something.

“Among other things I learned that I should spent more time trying to understand why people voted for Trump instead of condemning them for doing it,” she said.

One such Trump supporter, a female senior, said the event was not what she’d hoped it would be.

“I came because I heard that people are really afraid for themselves and I came to get a better understanding of why they felt that way,” she said. “When I tried to explain to a professor why my family voted for Trump, he seemed disgusted with me. I felt really mad, because the whole point of this was to have an open discussion. I felt like this was the one place I could admit who I voted for and I was still judged.”

Students in VU Pride were displeased with the scheduling of the event, which overlapped with a speech by Transgender Comedian Alison Grillo in the Connelly Cinema.

 “The community conversation, which I do support, to be clear, is about, you know, talking about minority voices on campus and those at risk,” Matt Zarenkiewicz, Co-Chair of VU Pride, said. “Both events draw from the same types of communities so I’m not frustrated by people making a choice for something that is incredibly important on this campus in terms of race relations and violence on this campus. But I’m frustrated by the administration and the way they chose to schedule this. Especially people I consider allies on this campus.”

Many students walked the short distance to the Corr Chapel steps for a Vigil directly following the conversation. The group, illuminated only by the candles they held, stood silently, listening to testimonies, prayers and speeches from students and faculty members. As he left the vigil, senior Political Science major Jonathan Pryor was inspired to think about vulnerability.

“I think there are many faces at this vigil and at the community conversations tonight that weren’t there, that I was expecting to see, and others that I would’ve really hoped would’ve stood up and said something, and I think it says a lot about how really guarded we are,” Pryor said. “I really do think we have a lot of hard work to do. And just in ourselves and our own spirits, not really with anyone else, not really in conversation with anyone else. Just thinking about how vulnerable you are, how vulnerable you allow yourself to be. If you’re really comfortable with having those conversations. Because many of us say that we are. But very few of us act in that way.”