A More Inclusive Nova Nation
Diversity, equity and inclusion are not new concepts at Villanova—building a truly inclusive community in which all can thrive is a central tenet of the University’s Augustinian Catholic mission.
In a way it never has before, the University has renewed its commitment to these principles and collectively mobilized its efforts to unite our community.
The University’s foundational mission and new Strategic Plan, Rooted. Restless., launched in 2019, hinge on a strong commitment to promoting equity and justice, activating meaningful change and promoting dialogue across different perspectives.
But Villanova President the Rev. Peter M. Donohue, OSA, PhD, ’75 acknowledges that the importance and urgency of this moment in our nation’s history requires more immediate action.
“I promise that Villanova can and will do better,” Father Peter says. “Our Augustinian Catholic university was built on the premise of inclusivity, and I believe it is critically important, now more than ever, that we remain true to this foundation.”
Teresa A. Nance, PhD, Villanova’s chief diversity officer and newly appointed vice president for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion.
Issues of racial inequality and a call for recognition and justice for Black and minoritized people have taken center stage in cities and towns across the nation and within Villanova’s community.
“As an institution, we were called upon to respond—and we did,” says Teresa A. Nance, PhD, Villanova’s chief diversity officer and newly appointed vice president for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. “We heard the cries of the nation, and we recognized that our own people were crying as well, and we took action.”
For more than two decades, changemakers in the Villanova community—students, alumni, faculty and staff—have painstakingly laid the groundwork for a more inclusive Nova Nation and, in two short months, their persistent and tireless work gained renewed support and recognition as an institutional priority with greater visibility.
In recent months, the University has established Aequitas: The Presidential Task Force on Race; launched new programs to promote dialogue, understanding and cultural competence; and continued to build and support diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives in every college and department across campus.
Agents of Change for Good
Led by Dr. Nance, who has more than four decades of experience advancing the work of DEI at the University and has won national recognition for her visionary leadership in this area, the Aequitas (Latin for “equity”) Task Force is charged with assessing the racial climate on campus, identifying areas for improvement, and developing a framework to be more aware of other people’s cultures and experiences.
The task force is composed of a cross-section of Villanova students, faculty, staff and alumni.
“There is a very clear, ongoing commitment to review curriculum, campus climate and resources,” says Alex Iannucci, EdD, executive director of Strategic Initiatives for the University’s Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion and Task Force Steering Committee member. The task force meets twice a month, working to achieve goals that include developing anti-racism education, diversity course experiences and ways to grow the numbers of Black and minoritized students, faculty and staff on campus.
“The work has been there, but the level of visibility has shifted,” says Dr. Iannucci. “As advocates, our role is to center issues of equity and inclusion—it’s so important that we align equity and inclusion to Augustinian values.”
—The Rev. Peter M. Donohue, OSA, PhD, Villanova President
More Than Words
In conjunction with ODEI, Villanova's six colleges are establishing DEI hubs, each responsible for tracking progress toward self-defined goals. Guided by the strategic plan and led by the deans, each college is taking steps to ensure that DEI practices are prioritized and executed.
“It’s not just talking about what we’re going to deliver to the students, but how the faculty and administrators are going to change themselves—that’s the way in which we make systemic change,” says Dr. Nance.
For example, in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, Dean Adele Lindenmeyr, PhD, has announced several DEI-focused action projects, including raising the profile and impact of the Africana Studies Program, enriching the CLAS curriculum with new courses addressing racism, and strengthening the recruitment and advancement of Black and minoritized faculty and staff.
And in the Villanova School of Business, Joyce E. A. Russell, PhD, the Helen and William O’Toole Dean, has established a new Office of DEI.
The office will implement a five-year plan to develop training in DEI best practices for faculty and staff, ensure consistent classroom experiences for VSB students, and increase representation of underrepresented racial, ethnic, gender, religious, spiritual and other social identities, backgrounds and cultures.
“At VSB our mission is to develop business leaders for a better world, and that means a world that is diverse, equitable and inclusive,” says Dean Russell. “We all need to contribute to this.”
The colleges’ DEI hubs will take concrete steps to create a more inclusive academic community, and those steps begin with open dialogue. Mark C. Alexander, JD, the Arthur J. Kania Dean and Professor of Law, Charles Widger School of Law, held a virtual conversation with law students this summer to discuss recent protests for social justice and action going forward.
In a follow-up message, he wrote, “It is up to us, your professors, to help you on your way, in our corner of the world, to be the change agents. … I will do what I can to make it a better place for us to address these systemic issues.”
In the Classroom and on the Court
On his podcast "Talking Villanova Basketball with Jay Wright", the Villanova Men's Basketball Head Coach welcomed three Villanova student-athletes, Danielle Burns, Sanaa Barnes, and Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree.
“Actions are greater than words, and together we will act.” This call to advocacy was delivered by Mark Jackson, vice president and director of Athletics, in a video promoting the Athletic Department’s UNITAS DEI initiative in August.
Established in September 2017 as a framework to build a welcoming and supportive athletic department, the UNITAS leadership committee has been broadened to include administrators, coaches, student-athletes and campus DEI experts, and to offer more robust educational programming and enhance social and civic engagement.
Among the steps taken in recent months include increased involvement in the University's Let’s Vote Nova voter registration campaign, working to create a Black alumni mentoring program, a partnership with the Ross Initiative in Sports for Equality (RISE), and collaborating with Villanova’s Black student-athlete group The 13% in their efforts to create a safe space for productive dialogue and to make lasting change.
“It is very important to recognize downfalls and shortcomings in regard to social justice and inclusivity, which Villanova has done and needs to continue to do,” says Sam Rosette, a Women’s Soccer student-athlete on the UNITAS leadership team. “But it is even more important to put action behind correcting those shortcomings and ensuring that this campus and athletic department truly provide all its members what they need to feel welcomed and safe and to succeed—both on and off the field.”
The Path to Meaningful Change
For more than a decade, the University’s Intergroup Relations program has guided students in learning communication skills related to careful listening and productive dialogue among people from different social, economic, racial and ethnic groups.
The University’s plans to develop and implement a new diversity curriculum with IGR at its center got a major boost in the form of a $5 million gift from the Lorenzini Family Foundation.
The gift will establish a new Intergroup Dialogue Center, which will be dedicated to building communication and understanding in order to bridge differences and prepare students to thrive in a diverse world. The center will also focus on curricular transformation and faculty training.
“We believe that the willingness and ability to participate in thoughtful, open discussions with a goal of understanding, rather than conquering, is fundamentally critical to forming healthy human relationships,” says the Lorenzini family. “Our wish is that the whole Nova Nation is armed with this critical skill set as they move through the world, so they can be the champions of real, lasting change.”
A part of Orientation since 2002, the Touch of Diversity skit is based on actual Villanova students' experiences and challenges prejudices and encourages uncomfortable conversations.
A Positive Way to Move Forward
Although inclusive teaching, intergroup dialogue and multicultural and intercultural workshops are not new to Villanova, a new level of commitment and coordination is critical in this moment.
Over the summer, ODEI launched the Living Race—Transforming Community campaign. Hundreds of Villanova faculty, staff and students participated via Zoom in University-wide trainings, engaging discussions and examinations of policies and programs—all with the goal of ensuring that Black and minoritized students, faculty and staff can succeed and thrive at Villanova. The response to the campaign proved that the community is resolved to do more in an organized and collaborative way, says Ariella Robbins, associate director of Education and Training for ODEI.
“As a community, we take action to promote and implement changes,” Robbins says. “Our office is being approached in different ways—not only are we being asked by departments for pieces of training but also for help thinking about how they might be contributing to this problem, and what they can do now to rectify the situation.”
As an Augustinian Catholic institution of higher education, Villanova strives to develop a diverse community of scholars who appreciate the rich opportunities created in a learning environment where diversity in all of its forms—personal, ideological, cultural—are recognized and valued. All of these pivotal changes bring Villanova closer to that goal.
“As a University, we are called upon to acknowledge that we got some things wrong, and we’re working to make them better. In the spirit of St. Augustine, we are becoming what we are not yet,” Dr. Nance says. “We’re going to be working closely with all segments of our community and find out how we can do better. Never has the work been more important, and never have the chances to make a difference been more real.”
“There is work to be done—this is a mission-critical responsibility,” says Father Peter. “Villanova must be a place where all feel welcomed, included and valued.”
Anti-Poverty Fellow Stephanie Sena ’03 MA
New Initiative Aims to Get at the Root Causes of Poverty and Inequality
A new interdisciplinary initiative housed within Villanova’s Charles Widger School of Law will examine and address poverty and inequality and the interconnection between the two. Its creation was spurred by a $1 million gift from Paul A. Tufano, Esq., ’83, ’86 JD and Christine Tufano ’84, ’86 MA, who wanted to support enhanced thought leadership and research across the University to tackle poverty and inequality.
“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,” says Paul Tufano, chairman and chief executive officer of AmeriHealth Caritas.
That work has already begun. Through the initiative, the University has created a fellowship position and selected Stephanie Sena ’03 MA, a dedicated social justice advocate who has taught part-time in Villanova’s History Department and Center for Peace and Justice, as the inaugural fellow. In this role, she will engage in research, writing and teaching on these topics, as well as planning a new annual symposium.