A transcript of the Town Hall Meeting with Father Peter



Deanna Crusco

On Tuesday, November 17, Rev. Peter M. Donohue, O.S.A., Ph.D and members of the student body gathered in the Connelly Cinema to talk about the recent decision to swear in and arm 19 officers. Below is a transcript of the questions students asked along with Father Peter’s responses.


Student 1: How will matters like underage alcohol use be handled now that Villanova is instituting sworn officers on campus? Will they still be handled internally or could students be facing criminal charges?


Father Peter: I don’t think that anything we do would change all that much. We have a lot of incidences with alcohol. That’s a major concern for a lot of people here on campus and a lot of constituencies off the campus. Excessive drinking is a concern. It is something that affects the health and well-being of not only the individual but the people around them. I’m very concerned about the fact of how people are given the help they need if there is excessive drinking in any way. I think we handle it right now in terms of getting help for that individual, I don’t foresee that any real major change will take place in the way that we handle it now, it goes primarily through student life and how they deal with it in judicial affairs and through counseling, drug and alcohol counseling and what they do with it. I don’t imagine that there will be any great change in how we approach it right now. I think it’s very important that students understand that we need to be concerned about each other and you may have friends or individuals that you know that get into trouble sometimes with it and I don’t want anybody to fear that they’re going to be penalized for it. I’d rather have the help of the community and get them the medical help that they need. I’m not looking to punish people for it as much as to take responsibility or ownership of your actions. Those are part of what is most essential here at an educational institution that we take responsibility for the actions that we commit and that we learn how to deal with those actions. I don’t see this as being any different in terms of suddenly people being treated differently. I had a question by somebody recently that asked would students be arrested for things. If you do something wrong you could be arrested for anything at any place, if you do something really wrong, and that wouldn’t be any different now. We have Radnor Police on campus every day for some reason or another. I don’t think we have that many situations that people are going to be arrested. That’s not really what this is about. It’s really about the ability for this community to be prepared and respond and to make sure that we can say that we had things in place that enabled us to respond to situations that could arise.


S2: Since the on campus police force is accountable to Villanova, what security can you give us that there will be no corruption or concealment of facts from the police?


FP: Well that’s part of why the recommendation came not only from the task force but from this outside agency that there be a body on campus comprised of a number of different people, be they administrators, faculty, staff or students. I’ve had a couple people already volunteer to be on the committee. They raised their hands and said, “I’d like to be apart of this,” but this oversight committee would deal with that in some way or another if anyone reported anything that they felt was information that should be known and how they set policies and the things that are happening on campus that they would be able to give oversight. We also have an anonymous hotline that is available to somebody, which it gets quite a few calls and we investigate each one of them and that’s an investigation process that’s above and beyond public safety but it is a different group of people that look at those hotline calls that we receive. I would hope that we would set up policies, in fact I don’t hope, I know I will set up policies or procedures that will be able to address anything like that. I think the biggest thing for me in terms of the value of such a thing would be that we have the ability to either retain people or to let people go if they’re not complying with the policies and procedures that have been established here at the University.


S3: I was told that officers would not be armed with Taser devices, they’d only have guns and mace, and its been shown that mace is not an effective deterrent against someone who’s really determined. So what’s going to happen if someone who the police aren’t able to detain just with force alone? Are they going to shoot a student who they can’t subdue?


FP: I hope not. I think you have to trust the training that people would get and I think the question of Tasers, I don’t know about the question of Tasers, I really don’t I’ll have to investigate that for you, but I really haven’t heard that actually said to me one way or another. I know that in some of the work that we did with other colleges and campuses in terms of who have various police forces on it was actually a student group that did a whole report for me. They went from ‘no’ to ‘yes’ in terms of the report. You know, they actually changed their minds completely because of the conversations they had with about 56 different campuses and many of them were wrestling with the whole issues of Tasers and whether or not it was a good thing or bad thing so I really don’t know where that stands right now but it’s certainly something we could look at in terms of the policies and procedures but I thank you for the comment. 


S4: Is Villanova a Catholic University or is the term Catholic just a marketing or recruiting label attached to a purely secular operation?


FP: I would say no it is not. It is a Catholic university and we try to develop those Catholic principles in many different ways.


S4: So if Catholic is to be more than a mere label, does it have any relationship to Jesus and what is the nature of that relationship? That’s rhetorical. Is it to be a fan of His, a cheerleader for Jesus, praising Him to the high heavens and ignoring what He taught that the University does not agree with or find inconvenient, or is it to be an institutional festival of Jesus teaching students to obey all that I have commanded you, like love your enemies, put up your swords, love one another as I have loved you. I think there’s a strong scriptural basis for what Jesus preached for radical nonviolence that’s really weird now because in our culture it doesn’t make sense, it doesn’t make sense when you look at the news and other universities but it seems to me that killing is what an armed Villanova police force are prepared and willing to do. Is this in conformity with Jesus and His teaching and if not why will it be a part of a campus that uses His name?


FP: Well I don’t see it as killing being the primary purpose of doing this. It is part of who we are, it’s being prepared.


S4: Father, if I may interrupt you, having a gun versus not having a gun seems to be having lethal force versus not having lethal force…


FP: But we are in a township that has police. We all confront police department’s everyday. Police departments are a regular part…


S4: But for Catholic people hiring the guns. I think that when we have our own decision whether or not to have guns it’s different than when a secular state hires the guns. What I’m saying is that when it is a uniquely Villanovan Christian decision that we’re making does that differ from the logic of the state?


FP: I’m not looking at it as a logic of … I’m looking at it as how do we best secure, support, help the population here, you know. It’s not a matter of security versus non-security. We have a public safety department and they do very good work and it’s not a matter of arming them in order to create violence, I’m not looking to….


S4: I’m saying the idea, though, that we think that we can use violence to stem violence. That’s what the use of the gun implies when you say that you want sworn and armed versus the decision to have sworn but unarmed. That’s a difference right? There’s a difference if someone has a gun versus not having a gun and that gun says we’re committing to violence, which doesn’t solve the problem of violence I think.


FP: I appreciate your comments. I don’t agree with you, but I appreciate your comments.


S5: So you were talking about the campus community factors that the outside group listed as warranting about the sworn and armed police force and risk management, an open campus feel, the fact that public safety is not a police force and that we’re not immune to a campus shooter. I understand the need for a sworn police force but could you talk a little bit more concretely about how these four factors lead to a need for an armed police force?


FP: Well, the factors came into play when they started looking at the issue. It was, what is the best way of, in terms of training, and how do we as, there’s been several incidences on campus where I think some of our public safety officers some of our people have been put into situations that have been dangerous and the situation was how would they best respond to that danger or to that circumstance without really knowing the answer to it. So it was how do we best, if we’re going to move in the direction of a sworn officer, police officer, how would we best equip that officer to do the job that he or she needs to do so that’s really what it came down to.


S6: With the factors that led up to you deciding to go towards the direction of sworn armed police force it seemed to me the only one that pointed toward the need in any way of having an armed police force was the possibility or the small likelihood of an armed shooter on campus, and what I’m wondering is how effective would two armed public safety officers on a shift at any given time be in the case of such a thing happening because I completely understand the need for, you know, public safety officers to become, you know, legal authorities and being the better contact than police forces and have the greater authority, but I don’t really see the point in the armed part.


FP: This would not negate our relationship with the local townships at all. We would still utilize the local townships if we had a situation, God forbid, that would demand that kind of thing. I mean, I’m not saying that two police officers would be it for Villanova and nobody else would. You know, it’s a matter of having somebody immediately be able to respond a little bit faster than waiting for somebody to come from another area or the possibility of investigating something that is that they’re faced with a situation. We had a couple situations recently, we had some burglaries on campus you know they [public safety] walk into a situation that they don’t really know what they’re walking into sometimes or what they’re addressing in one way or another. So it’s not a matter of just for shooters, in fact, but to be somebody who is equipped to handle any kind of circumstance.


S6: Do you see, though, any scenario where the sworn police officers would be using these weapons or do you think that it’s more of a form of deterrence?


FP: I hope it would be the latter. You know I would be very concerned you know that’s a situation where a police officer, any police officer anywhere pulls out a gun, I think if you talk to any police officer most of them would say they would do it with a great deal of apprehension.


S7: Two of the concerns I think I’ve heard most about that I would be interested to hear your response to would be first of all, I’m white. I’m privileged, there’s a lot of people on this campus who don’t have that privilege and based particularly on tensions across the country I definitely think that there is a very huge and legitimate concern for racial profiling that I don’t think has really been addressed. My other concern is how victims and survivors of sexual assault and rape might feel differently about how they can go about reporting or progressing with those situations. Those are two very huge concerns that I think a lot of us would appreciate hearing your response about how those things would be addressed to ensure that our students would be safe and that they can speak on campus.


FP: I feel and I believe and I will work towards everyone being accepted here equally. If I ever hear or ever find that somebody feels that they have been racially profiled by anybody on this campus, that individual that’s doing that will no longer be on this campus so I mean it is a concern that I have and I believe that we can deal with that if that arises. And that we have a better way of putting that into effect. I hope that all of these men and women that are carefully selected will be people that are committed to our culture here at Villanova and committed to our students here at Villanova. I had an interesting conversation with one of the African American public safety officers and he said to me the most people that I deal with are white on a confrontational basis, I don’t deal with that many people who are African American. I deal with mostly white people so I mean it is something that we need to address and I think this is a time for us to be very proactive about making sure we put things in place that can make that happen. In terms of sexual assault, we’ve done a lot. We named a full time Title IX Coordinator. I think we have handled our situations here that are very sensitive. We’ve had some very good people, we have things in place, we have a whole committee and group of people in place that really deal with that and try to help the victims involved and I think we do more than the local township does in terms of addressing the situation and being concerned about that person or persons that are involved. So my desire is that we improve all of those things and not just kind of…I think we’ve had some situations with people who’ve been involved in sexual assault one way or another that have found the outside agencies a little more disbelieving of what happened or apprehensive about pushing it forward and I think we can deal with it very differently here. And we do deal with it differently. There have been situations here in terms of sexual assault or incidences that have happened that we’ve dealt with a person very differently than the state law would deal with them in terms of suspending from school or being released from school one way or another. So there’s a lot that’s going on on college campuses right now and you may be aware that the White House has a big program in place and we are actively trying to accomplish that on campus in various forms. It is a concern.


S7: Thank you, I would also just like to add to that I appreciate the efforts our campus has made, but nevertheless I think that there is definitely a national culture that prevents just simply deciding that we can train our officers to not be racist in situations.


FP: I agree.


S8: Father Peter, I understand that our officers will undergo diversity training, but I’m wondering what’s to make us believe that the training that our officers undergo will be any different, any better than the training that’s received by officers in Baltimore or St. Louis.


FP: I think the biggest difference is that if we don’t feel that a person is the right person or the right fit for us than we can let them go. We don’t have to have a person like that on our campus. Which is very different when we deal with outside police forces, we don’t have the same kind of say over who comes and who doesn’t come. If we discover that somebody was like that, then in a very effective way we can release them.


S8: I’m wondering if that’s something that you feel it would be very easy to detect. I feel like not all of the officers that we see on the news and in situations, like in Ferguson and in other examples that we see basically every month, are necessarily that you could point out that they’re racist. I think that there is a lot of psychological experiments that have been done that show that under circumstances very good people can do very bad things. I’m wondering what’s to make us believe that situations like that on campus won’t be handled in the same way that they would elsewhere.


FP: We deal with a lot of situations on campus right now, a lot of situations. And this isn’t about, I don’t view this as a way of containing our community, as much as it is safeguarding our community. I don’t see it as we’re going to bring people on campus to control who we are rather than to try to alleviate some of the pressures outside. So there are situations that we deal with all of the time here, good situations and difficult situations so I would hope that we would continue to progress down that road.


S9: You spoke of earlier that in the past couple years there have been a couple situations where people with firearms have been on campus, would you mind elaborating on what those situations were?


FP: There was a bank robbery held here on the campus corner right across from the campus, it was Santander. There was a student in one of the buildings who was discovered with an armed weapon who was unfortunately very suicidal and it was dealt with in a very efficient manner and thankfully to somebody who knew the individual who actually reported them with it. We were able to deal with the situation. There was a truck driver recently that was stuck under the bridge at Ithan Avenue and got out of his truck with a pistol in his hand when we went to help him. I don’t know why. There was a local area robbery that there was a lockdown of the South campus a couple of years ago that affected several people in the neighborhoods in the back of south campus.


S9: Did you include those in your email when you told us about public safety being armed?


FP: Well I said that there were incidences. We haven’t gotten into all of them because sometimes we’re not free to talk about them in terms of their active investigations. We’re not allowed to discuss them with everybody. But people knew about the bank and the South campus situation, they were both news stories. The story about the student was a very private thing, you know, and it wasn’t something that we waned to talk about.


S10: I’m a sophomore and I and my fellow sophomores and freshmen share in disappointment about this decision, so in the future going forward with these sworn and armed officers how involved will we be in any decisions made as students?


FP: I take the student voice very, very strongly. I value your opinions, but the student population is constantly changing. Every year, there’s a new group of students that come in, and there is a life to the University that keeps going. Decisions at universities come very, very slow, in terms of many decisions. Nothing happens overnight at any college campus. It’s a long process. This was a known issue in terms of the faculty and staff certainly knew about it and some of the students who were already here knew about it. I did kind of bring it up every time I spoke on campus, that we were still investigating it. I value the student input and I think this is an opportunity moving forward to get more student input so I’m looking forward to it and I do look forward to it.


S11: I would like to call your attention to the recent issue of The Villanovan newspaper, in which eight members of the Sociology and Criminology departments signed a letter in which it was stated “scholarly evidence is clear that there are substantial negative consequences inherent to introducing sworn law enforcement to academic environments.” And so my question is, in the world of data driven policies and scholarly driven policies is this an instance of institutional hypocrisy that the University’s polices act in direct contradiction to the scholarly community?


FP: I appreciate the work of the sociology department and I appreciated their letter and there is all kinds of information available for all kinds of situations, so I did not discount that. Now that came out after the decision was already made, but we did listen to people as they spoke and there were several people informed that brought that up, and there were other people who brought up other incidences as well, and so I value the scholarship of the faculty and I value their input and part of it has been that we hold that as we progress with this or as we move forward we will be able to rectify those issues that create that.


S11: My interpretation of the letter was that it didn’t seem that there was a scholarly debate regarding these issues, but rather a scholarly consensus that these things are not good.


FP: That there was a debate beforehand?


S11: That there was a debate regarding the issues brought about in the letter from the criminology and sociology department, but rather that there was a consensus in the scholarly community.


FP: According to…I’m sorry.


S11: According to the eight members of the criminology and sociology departments.


FP: I understand their scholarship and I’m not discounting it at all. I appreciate their scholarship.


S12: On Sunday at 5:30 mass you presided and as a community we gathered in solidarity with those who were suffering in Paris, Beirut and Baghdad and you spoke some beautiful words that, for my peers who weren’t there, I’d like to paraphrase some of them but I wasn’t able to write them down during the homily. But you talked about how we cannot let fear dictate our lives, you talked about how we can’t change our ways and our values out of fear, you mentioned the Black Lives Matter protest that took place on our campus on Friday and how important it is to love and respect all members of our community, and as an ally, once again I do have to go on a tangent here where I have heard the voices of my fellow peers and professors of color and they feel discriminated on our campus already. In addition, you ended the homily by saying that peace and nonviolence needs to begin here in our community. So for me as a student, this was frustrating because there seems to be a discrepancy between your words in the church and the actions outside through policy on our campus. So my main question is, kind of, where does this message of the good news of the Gospel end and begin? Does it end in the church or does it end out on our campus?


FP: I believe in the words I spoke, and I believe in that message. And this is not being done out of fear of anything. It is being done for a different reason, in order to be responsive to the people on this campus and to be proactive in terms of how we secure the life we have here. There is all kinds of situations that could develop and we need to be prepared for that. I would hate for something to happen on this campus. I would hate for something to happen to anybody on this campus. To have someone turn to me and say, “Could you have done more to stop it, could you have done more to protect, could you have done more to change that?” I want to be able to say we’re doing as much as I can, as much as we can, to make sure that we live in the environment that we want to have. This is not about controlling anyone. This was a very, very difficult decision and I want you to believe that. This was not made without taking to a lot of people and a lot of things into consideration. And I believe that we can live in peace. I don’t intend this to be something that disrupts the peace on campus but rather safeguards the campus. I would feel very concerned if any member of your family or any member of your friends or anyone that knows you well said, “You should’ve done more to stop that situation, or you should’ve done more to protect my son or daughter, you should’ve done more to make sure that Villanova was a place that peace could dwell” and that’s one of the concerns that I have. So it’s not that my words are different or that I’m saying something and doing another thing, that’s not it. I’m looking at how do we protect the peace on campus. And whether it’s two, 19 men and women of different racial backgrounds and different cultural backgrounds who will serve as officers on this campus, I intend them to serve on this campus in a peaceful manner, and if that doesn’t exist then we need to change a lot of other things. I’m doing this not in opposition to what I believe. I want to protect the life and peace here.


S12: I appreciate your concerns for our safety and the long process that you undertook, but still the dialogue that I’m having with a lot of my peers is that the rhetoric that you’re using includes the active shooter. Which, again as a sociology student, I have to go back to my professors’ research which empirical data demonstrates that the chances of that are so slim so…


FP: The chances of what, an active shooter?


S12: Yes, of an active shooter.


FP: There have been 22 of them this year.


S12: Out of how many university campuses though?


FP: Twenty-two shooters is a lot. I’m hoping that every campus does not want such a thing. I spoke to the former President of Virginia Tech and he said, “All you need is one and you will never ever forget it.”


Student shouting from the back: 173 men of color have been shot since January!


FP: I realize that, but I’m not looking at this to shoot people. It’s not about just an active shooter. So I understand and I think we can continue the dialogue. I do and I want to hear what you think and I think that this is really an opportune time to be proactive in terms of how do we set things right, how do we do things right. And so I appreciate your thoughts and your concerns and your research, I appreciate it, I do, and I hope that any time I can listen to it.


S13: On the board behind you it says a three-year recommendation plan was the consideration for our campus. A lot of the responses you’ve given us have been really indirect and it seems like you don’t have a direct plan in regards to responding to the concerns about diversity training. So I just don’t understand why the decision to completely skip over this plan…why are you going against this and having us armed by the fall of 2016?


FP: Well it is a process. There will be a few. You have to establish this before you can put it fully into effect. So it’s going to take some time to do this. This isn’t something that’s going to happen over night…it is going to take time. So it is a process and the people have to be selected, they have to be trained; this is not going to happen overnight. But in order for it to happen you need to have somebody in place by the time it happens, so you need to have the authority to kind of manage all of this. So that’s when 2016 the process will begin.


S14: I’d like to thank everyone who is here right now. This is a big moment in our nation’s history, both for protests, people standing up, asking questions, and also you know, Presidents getting resigned, no pun intended.


FP: Do you want me to resign?


S14: So, I just all want you to think about Villanova and when you think of a Villanovan, right, what do you see. A white student. Now it would be foolish to deny that people of color are getting targeted as dangerous bodies due to the institutionalized racism that exists within our country. But how will the police force that is accountable only to this University and not the criminal justice system of the United States going to guarantee that these bodies of color will not be targeted?


FP: You mean here on campus?


S14: Yeah.


FP: I hope they’re not. I don’t think that they will be targeted—I’m hoping that they won’t be targeted. I can’t answer that question. I intend to put a good system into place and if anybody feels that they are targeted, we will speak out for them. I’m not sure how to respond to that, I’m sorry.


S14: Ok. That speaks a lot. Thank you.


S15: My question is in regard to the funding for this police force. If we’re going to have armed police officers, the average assault rifle that I assume the officers will have access to. I mean if we are going to prevent an active shooter, just a pistol isn’t going to do very much. Most police forces do have shotguns, assault rifles, grenade launchers, all sorts of military hardware. Are we going to have an armory on campus? If so, where is that funding going to come from? Am I going to have to pay for it? Are my teachers going to get paid less? Where is the money for this going to come from?


FP: As I said, we are not divorcing ourselves from our local police forces. They have all kinds of…


S15: But still, lets just say it’s pistols. If we are going to have 40 officers, that’s 40 pistols, $500 each, that’s a couple thousand grand right there.


FP: Well, we’re going to have 19. We’re going to have 19, and we’re going to use funding that we have identified.


S15: Ok, and one other question: what sort of opposition would it take, from who, to change this. Because, as a criminology major, every single one of my professors is universally against this. None of their voices are on the board, and students, so far, seem rather against this whole process. What would it take to reverse this decision, or is it going to happen regardless?


FP: It is happening.


S16: The survey results you presented seemed to focus on sworn police officers as the singular measure of safety to introduce, so I was just wondering if there were any other measures considered, like lockdown drills or putting locks on classroom doors, that may also provide aid to students during events like active shootings, and if they were, why were these measures rejected?


FP: No, no, no. I mentioned, that’s all part of the task force recommendation, and are being looked into. We are looking into…


S16: So there will be further…


FP: Yes. That’s it? Well thank you all very much, I appreciate it.