"Fact or Fiction: DEI at Villanova," a Reviews & Interviews Special Feature
The mission of Bridges is to promote the work of BIPOC and transnational writers and artists. This mission inspired the Fall 2021 Reviews & Interviews team at Bridges to investigate how the centering of diverse identities can occur throughout Villanova as both a higher education institution and a community.
The following four interviews explore diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) work within different organizations–ranging from academic to social–at Villanova. The first interview with Dr. Mary Mullen, an Associate Professor of English at Villanova, addresses the central concept of DEI initiatives occurring at the institutional level in order to change community culture. The next three interviews cover different aspects of Villanova’s institutional life, including conversations with a member of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Academic Reform Committee; Sarah Park, a Resident Assistant; and Cameron Hall, the Sigma Nu fraternity’s DEI Chair. Each interview is framed at the beginning with a quote from the interview participant that the interviewer found to be particularly emblematic of the conversation.
Overall, the purpose of this project is to create a public space for conversations relevant to the mission of Bridges and critically important to Villanova’s campus culture. We would like to thank all the interviewees for being willing to have a conversation with us about their organization. Enjoy!
Interview with Dr. Mary Mullen (Interviewed by Katie Reed)
“The work of DEI is the work of everyone to change the culture and change the structure. The work is an active process of ongoing learning and failing.”
–Dr. Mary Mullen
Dr. Mary Mullen’s interview sets the foundation for the rest of our interviews in this project, as her class on Institutional Fictions–given rave reviews by my fellow editors–has prompted both herself, the students she teaches, and us as editors of this journal to theorize the impact that institutions have in shaping our experiences in both college and life. Similar to the way a literary journal, such as Bridges, can create and publish works of “fiction,” institutions also have the power to publish and perpetuate various “fictions” of their own. In my interview with Dr. Mullen, she talked about some of these fictions and the implications they have for engaging in meaningful DEI work at Villanova.
One such “fiction” is that changing policy is synonymous with changing behavior or campus culture. In an institution such as Villanova that is predominantly white, the policy changes in relation to DEI tend to be shaped by its culture of whiteness, and thus policy does not always have the effect that it intends to. Another “fiction” is that there are distinct insides and outsides, where Villanova is sometimes presented as being a separate space from the rest of the world, when really it is always being shaped by the outside world and cannot be so easily distinguished from it. It is precisely this reason why we need to be active in creating community spaces on campus where all members of the university can learn from each other.
Dr. Mullen sees the English Student Advisory Council, of which she is the head, as one such community-building space, where both English Department faculty and students are able to learn from each other. From talking with students, Dr. Mullen gains many insights and experiences that she otherwise would not have known about as a faculty member, and she mentioned how important it is to just listen, especially when you are in a place of power in the institution. It is for this reason that Dr. Mullen believes there are many opportunities for DEI on campus, whether through formal policies or just caring for and supporting one another. It is the responsibility of all to create these spaces.
Dr. Mullen is excited at the prospect of teaching Institutional Fictions again; be sure to be on the lookout for this course option!
Dr. Mary Mullen is an Associate Professor of English at Villanova University, with concentrations in 19th century British literature, public humanities, and Irish studies, and she is the head of the Student Advisory Council for the English Department. In past years, she has taught a class called Institutional Fictions, which studies institutions such as universities, specifically Villanova, and the prison system. The class is taught in conversation with her book Novel Institutions: Anachronism, Irish Novels and Nineteenth-Century Realism, which was published in 2019 by Edinburgh University Press and won the Robert Rhodes Prize from the American Conference for Irish Studies.
Interview with a Member of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Academic Reform Committee (Interviewed by Ava Lundell)
“It’s not something we have particularly focused on, but it’s also not something we are ignoring.”
–CLAS Academic Reform Committee Member
To contribute to our project’s study of Villanova DEI initiatives at the institutional level, I interviewed a member of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences (CLAS) Academic Reform Committee (ARC). ARC serves as a liaison between CLAS administration and students. In this capacity, the four different subcommittees of ARC–mentorship, registration and advising, curriculum initiatives, and recruitment–act as voices for the student body to express concerns and hopes for the curriculum and teaching within CLAS. According to the interviewee, ARC is currently not focusing on DEI initiatives due to the small size of the organization. At present, other projects on which it is working, such as the CLAS Majors Mentorship Program, consume all of ARC’s time and resources.
However, despite this current lack of focus, ARC members are considering how DEI work can be integrated into the future initiatives of the organization. For example, ARC envisions integrating DEI proposals into the work of its curriculum initiatives subcommittee during the 2022-2023 academic year by first conducting an initial student survey focused on whether the CLAS curriculum is promoting DEI values. Due to ARC’s close relationship with the CLAS administration, there is real potential for the curriculum initiatives subcommittee to act on the results of this survey. This DEI work remains an important consideration for ARC as it strives to improve student life in the academic setting, and to ensure that CLAS provides a holistic, inclusive education.
The interviewee is a CLAS senior who has been with the Academic Reform Committee for two and a half years. The interviewee has asked to remain anonymous.
Interview with Sarah Park, Resident Assistant (Interviewed by Claire Schroder)
“It’s important to emphasize DEI initiatives because there are so many different communities and people from backgrounds with different stories at Villanova, and all should be embraced, especially when living on campus.”
One of the most important parts of our lives as students on Villanova’s campus, which we may not always think about when it comes to implementing more DEI initiatives, is Residence Life. How do the halls we live in and the people that work there encourage DEI initiatives within the institution of Villanova? Is there more that can be done for residents? I spoke to Sarah Park, a junior at Villanova and a Resident Assistant (RA) in Farley Hall. RAs are meant to be resources for their residents and make sure they are physically and mentally healthy and safe. Sarah says she wants to be accessible–someone her residents can talk to about anything from roommate situations to personal issues. More broadly, RAs help Residence Life to shape Villanova as an institution by providing a welcoming and accessible environment for residents.
Sarah says she tries to bring DEI work into her role as an RA by being transparent with students. As a person of color, she wants to be a resource and a safe space for residents with questions or concerns relating to different communities on campus, and she is willing to share her experience as a person of color at Villanova. According to Sarah, “Because of the racial climate these past few years, whether it’s the Black Lives Matter movement or Asian hate crimes, I think these things need to be discussed/challenged, especially in an institution where we’re all learning. As the younger generation, we should be an example for the future generations and for the world.”
While student RAs are actively promoting a safe, welcoming space for their residents, Residence Life as an aspect of Villanova’s institution that could be doing more to think about DEI work at all levels of operation. According to Sarah, Villanova should listen and respond to the wants and needs of students living on campus. For example, how could Residence Life help first-year students who feel out of place in their new dorm? Sarah says that even though RAs go through DEI training over the summer, there is still a lot more work to be done in implementing DEI initiatives more broadly in Residence Life and in the Villanova community as a whole. She suggests that RAs could do more than use bulletin boards to inform their residents about these issues, such as conducting community building events to promote awareness of diversity.
Sarah Park is a junior Psychology major and Counseling minor who is a Resident Assistant in Farley Hall on Villanova’s West Campus.
Interview with Sigma Nu’s DEI Chair (Interviewed by Patrick Leggett)
“Gaining competency is the most valuable part because it allows for real conversations to be had between white students and students of color on campus. Once competency is gained, integration of student activities between these identities would be more common.”
A large part of any college campus is the social scene and how students interact with each other outside of the classroom. Social life on campuses is arguably where hard conversations should be encouraged, yet oftentimes DEI initiatives are overlooked in this aspect of college life. At Villanova, Greek life is a place that can set an example for social standards, so how have organizations set these standards? How do they plan on implementing better standards as we move forward?
Recently, Sigma Nu became the first Greek life organization at Villanova to implement a DEI Chair as an executive position. Cameron Hall was elected to the position, and I had the opportunity to speak with him and discuss his vision and the goals that he would like to accomplish during his time as DEI Chair. Cameron has been a leader in Sigma Nu’s NOVAdance fundraising efforts, raising money for the B+ Foundation. Outside of Sigma Nu, he is a member of the Civitas program, where he introduces under-served or under-represented rising high school seniors in the greater Philadelphia area to college curriculum and discussions.
One of the key topics during our conversation was Greek life’s separation from multicultural groups and clubs on campus. We discussed some of the ideas he has that could bring these organizations together through his DEI efforts. According to Cameron, “Fundraising events partnered with cultural and identity-based clubs to support local communities, specifically in Philadelphia, may be a starting point to integrate our philanthropy with multicultural organizations. I also believe that it’s important to hold anti-racism conventions and discussions with Greek organizations. For me, education is essential to cultural competence, of which many Greek organizations are devoid.” When asked about why it is important to emphasize DEI work and initiatives in not only Sigma Nu but the campus as a whole, Cameron stressed the importance of how DEI allows for conversations that most white students at Villanova have never had before. He sees these discussions as a way to gain a sense of cultural awareness and understanding, leading to the integration of student activities between white students and students of color on campus.
It’s important to realize as a member of any organization the ripple effect you and your members can have on a community. Sigma Nu, by creating a DEI chair as an executive position, can hopefully influence other Greek organizations within the Villanova community, thus, creating the bridge some organizations on this campus have been lacking in order to build a more understanding community. “Continued practice and utilization of DEI initiatives is pivotal for community change.”
Cameron Hall is a junior Biology major and is the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Chair of the Sigma Nu fraternity.
By looking at several different institutions and leaders across campus, each of our interviews provides the opportunity to gain a better understanding of the current state of diversity, equity, and inclusion at Villanova and where we can–and hope–to go in the future. Dr. Mullen explains that institutions, like Villanova, can publish their own “fictions” that might not reflect the actual climate on campus, and it is through listening to others and theorizing about our own experiences that we can understand the role Villanova’s institutional structures play in shaping our campus climate. In terms of academic institutions on campus, the Academic Reform Committee still has room to grow and initiatives to plan in the future; change does not occur overnight. Moreover, in terms of institutions involved in social life on campus, these interviews underscore that students, such as Resident Assistants and DEI Chairs, are at the forefront of creating change, but that university offices and programs also need to help facilitate this work.
The underlying theme across all the interviews in this feature is that DEI work can always be improved at a personal and institutional level, including on Villanova’s campus. This work is not the job of one person, or even a few people, but rather all of us acting and working together. Judging from these interviews, it is important for individuals and institutions to connect with one another. What better place to start than here, at Bridges?
Once again, we would like to thank all our interviewees for their time, and we appreciate their insight and willingness to work with us.