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Villanova University Announces Interdisciplinary Initiative on Poverty and Inequality

Initiative spurred by $1 Million Gift from Alumni Paul and Christine Tufano

This initiative adds to the University’s long-standing commitment to examining and addressing issues of poverty and inequality through academics and service
This new poverty and inequality initiative adds to the University’s long-standing commitment to examining and addressing these issues through academics and service, including a partnership with Habitat for Humanity.

VILLANOVA, Pa. – Villanova University has announced an interdisciplinary initiative aimed at examining the issues of poverty and inequality and their intersection. The initiative was spurred by a $1 million gift from Paul A. Tufano, Esq., ’83 VSB, ’86 CWSL and Christine Tufano ’84 CLAS, ’86 MA, for enhanced thought leadership and research across the University to address poverty and inequality. Paul Tufano, a former Chair of Villanova’s Board of Trustees, is Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of the AmeriHealth Caritas Family of Companies—one of the nation’s leading Medicaid managed care organizations, headquartered in Philadelphia.

“Paul and Christine personify the very best of Villanova—people who have achieved extraordinary personal and professional success, and have used that success to serve others,” said the Rev. Peter M. Donohue, OSA, PhD, Villanova University President. “While the nation’s eyes rightly now are more keenly focused on poverty and inequality, Paul and Christine’s focus was there all along. The Tufanos’ gift is fueling Villanova’s longstanding commitment to these issues – derived from our patron saint, St. Thomas of Villanova, known for his great charity to the poor and marginalized – to ignite meaningful, positive change.”

Said Paul Tufano: “This multi-faceted initiative has been in development for some time and the events of 2020 have only underscored the need to address longstanding inequities that continue to plague our nation. From a public health crisis with economic ripple effects that have disproportionately impacted the working poor, to an overdue national reckoning on racism and racial disparities, we need public policy solutions and we need them now. This is a pivotal time in our nation’s history. Christine and I want to raise the public consciousness and, working with Villanova, help to identify and create momentum for innovative solutions.”

Tufano has urged others to consider supporting the initiative, as an effective way to drive meaningful change in poverty and inequality at this important hour.

“The millions of people living in poverty in America did not choose to be poor, nor did Black Americans, communities of color, and people with disabilities and differences choose to face discrimination and systemic disparities. Our Constitution says, ‘We the People,’ but we know we have more work to do to ensure that ‘We the People’ includes everyone, with no asterisk and no one left out or left behind,” added Mr. Tufano. “Everyone deserves the opportunity to live their own version of the American Dream and this large-scale, university-wide effort will study and innovate at the root causes that have kept that dream out of reach for too many Americans and for too long.”

As a result of the Tufanos’ gift, Villanova has already created a fellowship position and named Stephanie Sena as the inaugural fellow. A long-time adjunct professor at the University, Sena is also the founder and executive director of the Student-Run Emergency Housing Unit of Philadelphia (SREHUP), a non-profit anti-poverty initiative involving college students, who help to provide shelter, food, housing, and community to individuals experiencing homelessness in Philadelphia. Sena has taught as an adjunct professor in the Department of History and the Center for Peace and Justice Education at Villanova for 17 years, including a course on the History of Homelessness.

Housed within the Villanova University Charles Widger School of Law, this interdisciplinary initiative will support programmatic efforts to generate concrete ideas and policy solutions to address the systemic issues of inequality, which in many cases intersect with, exacerbate or lead to poverty. It will approach the causes and effects of these issues with an interdisciplinary, evidence-based method that prioritizes efforts that will yield concrete results and maximum advancement toward eliminating the structures of inequality that contribute to poverty. The initiative will also include an annual symposium – convening thought leaders to explore the issues of poverty and inequality – focused on identifying the most promising approaches to eradicating poverty and eliminating disparities associated with race, disability and difference.

In addition to planning the annual symposium, Sena will engage in research and writing on issues of poverty and inequality and will teach courses in poverty law and policy and other related topics. She will also work to generate proposals to fund interdisciplinary empirical research that will support data-driven analysis of public policy challenges related to poverty and inequality.

“When we discuss poverty, inequality must be part of the conversation,” said Mark C. Alexander, JD, the Arthur J. Kania Dean of the Villanova University Charles Widger School of Law. “Villanova students, faculty and alumni continue to show a passion for the many issues surrounding poverty and inequality, so I can think of no better place to further examine this important topic than at Villanova. I would like to thank Paul and Christine for this important gift, which will build upon the many great programs already in place at the University to address these issues.”

This initiative adds to the University’s commitment to examining and addressing issues of poverty and inequality through academics and service. At the Charles Widger School of Law, clinics such as the Federal Tax Clinic and Farmworker Legal Aid Clinic provide legal services to people who cannot afford them. Several members of the faculty have focused areas of scholarship on issues of poverty law, and Villanova Law has a number of courses that address the legal structures, which support or dismantle inequality.

The Villanova campus has long been a place where issues of poverty and inequality are examined. The University’s Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion is continuing to develop programs addressing issues of inequality, including a new initiative called, Living Race—Transforming Community, providing opportunities for workshops and campus dialogue. Faculty and students regularly examine the issues of poverty and inequality through coursework—from “Global Poverty & Justice” and “History of Homelessness” to “Epidemiological Approaches to Health Care and Health Disparities.” The University is also a longtime partner of Habitat for Humanity, with students, faculty and staff helping build houses for those in need. Additionally, Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week originated at Villanova in 1975 under the guidance of the late Father Ray Jackson, OSA, and in the years since has expanded to more than 500 campuses and communities nationwide.

Mr. Tufano was a member of the University’s Board of Trustees for 11 years and was its Chair from 2015-2017. He has also served as President of the Villanova University Alumni Association and as a member of Villanova’s Campaign Executive Committee and the Board of Consulters for the University’s Charles Widger School of Law. He received the St. Thomas of Villanova Medal in 2001—the highest honor bestowed by the Villanova University Alumni Association.

“We are extremely grateful to Paul and Christine for their generosity and continued commitment to Villanova University,” said Michael J. O’Neill, Senior Vice President for University Advancement. “The University’s dedication to examining and addressing the many issues surrounding inequality and poverty are well documented and this initiative will further those efforts in a profound way.”

About Villanova University: Since 1842, Villanova University’s Augustinian Catholic intellectual tradition has been the cornerstone of an academic community in which students learn to think critically, act compassionately and succeed while serving others. There are more than 10,000 undergraduate, graduate and law students in the University's six colleges—the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, the Villanova School of Business, the College of Engineering, the M. Louise Fitzpatrick College of Nursing, the College of Professional Studies and the Villanova University Charles Widger School of Law. Ranked among the nation’s top universities, Villanova supports its students’ intellectual growth and prepares them to become ethical leaders who create positive change everywhere life takes them. For more, visit