Caroline Foley

On Monday, August 22, a parent of a student ripped the words “Black Lives Matter” off of a bulletin board in Sullivan Hall. If you visit the ground floor of the residence hall now, you will find a board entitled “Create a Community of Respect.”

Kerlyn Rodriguez ’18 (Nursing), the Resident Assistant responsible for the creation of the “Black Lives Matter” bulletin board, knew the piece presented students with a contentious issue and admitted her board wasn’t typical of most first-week-of-school bulletin boards in residence halls. When students move-in, they are typically welcomed with a bulletin board that displays residents’ birthdays, fun facts or calendar events. “I didn’t expect it to be torn down,” Rodriguez told The Villanovan. “But I expected people to knock on my door to start a dialogue. That is what it was for . . . A lot of my friends are African American, and I support them. I feel like [Minorities] are unjustly being targeted in America for the color of our skin, so I wanted to provoke a dialogue with my residents.”

“RAs are paid to make kids feel at home, and a political message undermines a community feeling and seems more like a publicity stunt.”

Below the title of the board, Rodriguez handwrote a number of facts on blue pieces of paper about the Black lives matter ment and systematic oppression such as “Black Lives Matter is working for a world where Black lives are no longer systematically targeted for demise. ‘Black Lives Matter is trying to highlight that there is demonstrable evidence that black lives matter less than white lives to the criminal justice system. This evidence includes a study by the University of California that states the probability of being black, unarmed and shot by police is about 3.49 times the probability of being white, unarmed and shot by police.’”

Black Lives Matter demonstrations on campus in the past have received mixed responses from the University community –from students yelling, “Michael Brown was guilty!” at demonstrators to students joining hands with the protestors. Needless to say, the debate of “Black Lives Matter,” “All Lives Matter” and “Blue Lives Matter” persists on campus as a controversial topic. “When we say ‘Black Lives Matter,’ that just means that black lives haven’t mattered,” Rodriguez said. “We matter too. We matter as well. The way America was built was to systematically oppress black people and other minorities. It’s going to take years and years for things to change, but it all starts with a conversation. At the diversity skit this line stuck with me: ‘At the end of the day, a police officer can take off his uniform. He made the choice of becoming a police officer. At the end of the day, a black man cannot take off his race. He was born black; he didn’t have a choice.”

“The Villanova Administration has been very supportive. [Residence Life] didn’t want me to be upset,” she explained.  “Some residents, of all races, stopped by my room to console me.”

As the word spread about the vandalized Black Lives Matter board, students reacted in different ways. “As we do annually, ACT produced the Diversity Performance during New Student Orientation,” Senior Kinjal Dave said. “We heard about an incident of a parent taking down an RA’s Black Lives Matter bulletin board on the first day of performances. By the second day, we incorporated into our show. . . One of our scenes portrayed a Black Lives Matter and Blue Lives Matter disagreement, and one of our white male plants spoke as if it was his police officer father who removed the display. I think it was a particularly powerful moment to have represented, because hopefully it made first year students think about questions like, ‘how would I feel if my parent did that? If I disagreed, would I have intervened?’ I really try to get first year students to think about what it means to leave home and form one’s own opinions at university.”

Another senior expressed disappointment in Residence Life and the Administration. “I mean I obviously wouldn’t tear it down, but seeing my parents stressed out at school, it’s hard enough dropping your kids off during move-in,” the anonymous senior explained. “I think [Black Lives Matter movement] has a place on college campus, but I don’t think it’s appropriate for an RA to take advantage of their position to make a political statement about race in a hallway. The University doesn’t know when to draw a line when it comes to race issues, rightfully so.” The senior admits racial issues are important to tackle and understands the core message of the Black Lives Matter Movement. However, Residence Life’s support of the RA concerns the senior. He worries that the University concerns itself more with public image over the comfort of the student body. “Policies get relaxed for fear of someone accusing Villanova of being racist,” he claims. “RAs are paid to make kids feel at home, and a political message undermines a community feeling and seems more like a publicity stunt.”

Rev. John P. Stack, O.S.A, Vice President for Student Life had the opportunity to speak with both Rodriguez and the parent. “Certainly this year with the presidential election, I would be surprised if we didn’t have some RAs who wanted to have a conversation about immigration, Black Lives Matter, guns, NRA,” he admitted. “There’s a lot of learning that happens outside the classroom, and having a conversation about this topic outside of the classroom is good.”

Since the vandalism, Residence Life created a new board which lists six statements about community respect such as, “GROUND FLOOR SULLIVAN works to create a welcoming community where the DIGNITY of each person is VALUED and RESPECTED” and “GROUND FLOOR SULLIVAN affirms VILLANOVA UNIVERSITY’S CATHOLIC and AUGUSTINIAN IDENTITY by integrating these ideals into our DAILY LIVES.” Rodriguez insists the new board was created out of the kindness of Residence Life’s understanding and received warm support from faculty, friends and even her new residents. “The Villanova Administration has been very supportive. [Residence Life] didn’t want me to be upset,” she explained.  “Some residents, of all races, stopped by my room to console me.”

While her board was only up for three days, Rodriguez hopes the Black Lives Matter board will return to the ground hall of Sullivan next month.

“The fact that the parent only ripped out the ‘Black Lives Matter’ and not the other facts on the board?” Rodriguez questioned. “My conclusion is that people must not be reading the board.”