The end to “Vanillanova” will come from campus culture changes

Adam Vincent

Whether we like it or not, we’ve inherited the legacy of Vanillanova – the idea that our community is white, homogenous and bland. Even though the past decade has seen a steady increase in the number of multicultural students and faculty on campus, we can’t seem to escape the nickname. To me, its persistence means we have to do more than just diversify our campus body – we also have to diversify our campus culture. Ultimately, student leaders have to head this charge, and IGR can help.

The culture of Villanova may not be completely purposeful, but it’s not entirely accidental either. Take race, for example. Villanova, as an institution with a professed commitment to diversity, isn’t trying to create a majority-white campus. Regardless, last fall, 75.9 percent of full-time undergraduates identified as white. Without anyone explicitly trying to create a campus that is three-quarters white, we somehow continually achieve it. It’s not purposeful, but neither is it accidental.

So if we take seriously our commitment to our diversity, and if we wish to honor the value of unitas emblazoned on our seal, we should be looking at this culture and asking how it achieves the results it does. No one person has all the answers, or all the solutions. A full understanding of our culture can only come about through dialogue.

Leaders on campus: we can’t wait for this dialogue to come to us. We need to pursue it actively. We need to create it. This is our responsibility: to understand how our individual and collective actions create a culture on campus and to realize how this culture affects every member of our community.

This responsibility falls to every group on campus. The Big Four – Orientation, Blue Key, Ambassadors and Special Olympics – get a lot of flack for creating a narrow vision of what it means to be a Villanovan. But in reality, every major group – including Greek Life, club teams, learning communities and even service break trips – plays a role in creating the culture we experience. 

The sort of conversations that lead to these realizations, however, don’t happen by themselves. If you are a current or aspiring leader on campus, it is your duty to make time for them to happen. One way to do so is incredibly easy: take IGR. 

IGR stands for Intergroup Relations, a collection of one-credit courses that is specifically designed to encourage the sort of dialogue that I feel is so necessary on campus. Each course is limited to 12 students, drawn from across the University, and centers on a topic like race, religion, socioeconomic status, gender or sexual orientation. The goal is to learn how the topic of your course plays a role in other people’s lives and to reflect upon it affects you.

Additionally, each class is balanced so that there is no majority group in the room. In the IGR on race, there will be just as many white students as students of color; in the IGR on gender, there’ll be as many men as women. In other words, IGR classes are specifically designed not to be the sort of bubble that Villanova can sometimes be.

Despite its benefits, however, IGR can never be mandated. Its value comes from the attitudes of its participants, especially their openness and honesty. Establishing IGR as some sort of requirement would take away from the spirit that makes it so effective. I agree that no one should have to take IGR – but as student leaders, we should want to.

If you need an incentive, think back to the Diversity Skit, consistently the highest-rated segment of Orientation programming. Think back to the pain and frustration the Skit portrayed, and remember that all of its examples happened on campus within the past year. The culture that led to the scenes in the Diversity Skit is the same culture that we perpetuate by choosing not to talk about it. 

Look around your organization. If you’re not seeing much diversity, ask yourself why. What parts of your organization might be (however inadvertently) creating an unwelcoming environment? It’s entirely possible you may not even know you’re creating one – but that’s the sort of thing that IGR helped me realize.

And after you’ve taken one IGR, encourage others to follow your lead. Change can start with one person, but it has to be continued by others. One way is to give preference to leaders or applicants within your organization who have taken IGR. For example, the Service and Justice Experience (formerly Service Break Experience) applications now ask about IGR experience as a way to formally encourage it.

It’s not too late to sign up for an IGR – to register, all you need to do is fill out a (brief) application on IGR’s website, Classes meet from 6p.m. to 8p.m. on Tuesday evenings for the first half of the semester, so it’s a relatively easy commitment – especially considering the importance of the benefits it can bring. 

We’re not the Vanillanova that we used to be, but we’re also not the Villanova that we can be. As student leaders, it’s up to us to change our campus culture – and if we take that charge seriously, then we need to start taking IGR.