Providence protesters unhappy with huge concessions, demand more

Despite gaining a concession from their university’s president to implement mandatory sensitivity training, spend $1 million on a multi-cultural center, and revise the curriculum to emphasize diversity issues, student protesters at Providence College say they are not satisfied with Fr. Brian Shanley’s action plan.

Last year, a group of students anointing themselves the “Coalition Against Racism at Providence” presented Shanley with a ten-page ultimatum demanding various actions intended to promote diversity on campus.

Shanley initially balked, pointing out that the reforms envisioned by students would require complex administrative action, but the students responded by holding a 13-hour sit-in at his office in February, leaving only after Shanley signed a commitment agreeing to take action on their demands, but noting that they would hold him to a strict deadline of March 7 for submitting his final plan.

[RELATED: 13-hour Providence College sit-in ends with president signing list of demands]

Shanley met the deadline, though just barely, releasing an action plan acceding to nearly all the students’ demands a few minutes before 4:00 Monday afternoon.

“Some of the anger and frustration on our campus is caused by a perceived lack of substantive progress on the student demands and recommendations that were first brought to the administration and the faculty in November,” Fr. Brian Shanley observes in the introduction to his statement. “I promised the student coalition that I would address their written concerns with a written response. The following report provides an explicit response about actions that have been taken, and that will be taken, to address community concerns.”

The first, and by far the most comprehensive, section deals with “Inclusive Curriculum” proposals, starting with a requirement that all faculty and staff participate in a “Cross-Cultural Competency Training” workshop before the end of the summer. Shanley also promises to expand staff in the Race, Ethnic, Cultural, and Women’s Studies programs while dedicating $50,000 toward hiring additional faculty of color, but his most striking curricular promise involves the Department of Western Civilization (DWC), where he plans to require increased emphasis on non-Western perspectives.

“It is important to remember, going forward, that the DWC Program does not have a fixed curriculum, but rather Core Objectives that are to be met by each individual team syllabus,” he explains. “While there is an emphasis on the wide and varied Western tradition, it is not exclusive, nor can it be. Further, respect for the expertise and academic freedom of our eighty-plus faculty teaching in the Program makes it imperative that we maintain flexibility in these Core Objectives.”

Shanley does not identify any specific reforms to the DWC curriculum, but notes that administrators will seek input from faculty, staff, and students on how best to promote an “inclusive pedagogy” through workshops and focus groups.

Next, Shanley comes closer to rejecting one of the demands than at any other point in the document, saying that he will not be hiring a Vice President for Inclusion and Diversity because he thinks the position would be duplicative and unnecessary. Instead, he promises to elevate the current Chief Diversity Officer to a more prominent role, and to form a Diversity and Inclusion Committee tasked with issuing recommendations concerning the Office of Inclusion and Diversity.

On the other hand, he does “acknowledge the need for more centralized reporting of bias incidents” in addition to the Bias Response Team he has already created, and tasks the Implementation Committee with finding an appropriate candidate to serve as Title VI Coordinator to manage the response to such “bias incidents.”

In addition, Shanley expressed support for the creation of two new centers on campus for students of color. The first, a Center for the Study of the Black Diaspora, will be left in the hands of an Inclusion Implementation Committee being convened to manage the diversity initiatives, but Shanley has already authorized up to $1 million for the other, a “multi-cultural center” to be constructed within an existing academic building.

Nonetheless, The Providence Journal reports that after reviewing the document, the Coalition Against Racism released a formal statement declaring Shanley’s response unsatisfactory.

“It is disappointing because when we left his office after our 13 hours sit-in, we had the understanding that he would produce a 'substantive plan' towards each of the demands, but what we received was a largely repetitive response in the sense that these are answers that we have heard from him before,” they complain. “After reading and rereading the response we are left with many questions regarding his plans to deliver progress with all deliberate speed and to create a system of accountability.”

The students focused particular attention on one line at the end of a long line detailing plans for “diversification of the Student Affairs staff,” in which Shanley mentions a meeting between student groups and the administration to “review … protocols for campus protests and demonstrations.”

The Coalition inferred that he was “suggesting that there has to be protocol to 'protect' the community from our efforts”—in other words, speech restrictions.

Shanley himself seemed to give credence to those suspicions, telling The Providence Journal that while “our students have the right to demonstrate for causes they believe in … the challenge is to balance that right over the rest of the community.”

Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @FrickePete