MEMPHIS 5.30.2020

Protestors peacefully gathered in Memphis, Tennessee on Sunday, May 30.

The deaths of Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd have reignited a conversation about race, bigotry, and violence in cities across America. Many have turned to demonstrations to voice their opinions, have posted on social media to raise awareness and have donated to funds that contribute to causes, such as Black Lives Matter or organizations that help people post bail who cannot afford to do so.

Since the video of Arbery’s murder went viral, as well as the video of Derek Chauvin kneeling on the neck of Floyd, students at the University have started to speak out against racial injustice. Many shared how they have contributed to the nationwide conversation and movement.

Students acknowledged professors and classes they have taken in their time at the University that have shed light on the black experience in America. 

“I took IGR Dialogue: Race, and I have to say it was one of the most profoundly educational courses Villanova has,” recent graduate Caroline Challenger said. “More students should take it because I got to familiarize myself with other understandings of how people experience not only the world but also Villanova’s campus. Additionally, Criminal Justice & Society, taught by Lance Hennon, is a phenomenal course that educated me on the correctional facility system and the statistics that surround that.”

Another recent graduate, Gwen Saccocia, shared how her academic experience at the University has educated her about different racial experiences.

“Out of my eight semesters of college, I had only one black professor,” Saccocia said. “The course was titled ‘Do Black Lives Matter to God?’ This was my upper level THL course, and it forced me to view traditional Christian views through the lens of the black race, which has been suffering incessantly in America for hundreds of years...I’ve been thinking a lot about Villanova, a predominantly white community and the lack of diversity in our faculty.”

“I took a few African American history courses at Villanova,” Victoria Nolan ’21 said. “Dr. Williams is the best.”

Other students have written to community leadership, signed petitions and donated to funds, such as the Philly Bail Fund and Minnesota Freedom Fund. 

“I have written to leadership in Minnesota, written to my congressperson in my state, and signed all petitions,” rising senior Maddy Sullivan said. “I also donated to phillybailfund.org, as anyone who attends tailgates at Wells Fargo should.”

Rising junior Isabel Langas said she has “signed as many petitions as I can in support of Black Lives Matter.” 

Some students have participated in the current, national conversation by first educating themselves on issues of race and the black experience in America.

“I have had conversations with my friends and family, as well as donating to Black Lives Matter,” said rising senior Alison Day. 

Taylor Campbell ’21 echoed Day’s statement. “I have donated and educated myself on the white privilege I have and what I can do to do better,” Campbell said. 

Recent graduate Saachi Bedi shared how she has spoken out and educated herself. “I’ve reached out to a couple people to have a conversation, even those that don’t share the same views,” she said. “I have found them to be productive and insightful. I have also been reading. I started “The New Jim Crow” and have a few more up next on my list.” Bedi also said she has donated to the Minnesota Freedom Fund as well. 

Some students at the University have also participated in local protests. Large demonstrations have taken place across America for the past week. These protests have not only been in metropolitan areas, like New York City and Miami, but also smaller cities, like Tulsa, Cincinnati, and Santa Monica. 

Recent graduate and organizer of TedxVillanova Marilyn Jenkins peacefully protested in her hometown of Memphis, Tennessee. 

“I’ve been participating in the Black Lives Matter marches in Memphis,” Jenkins said. “It’s been an incredible experience, and we’re very lucky because Memphis demonstrators continue to remain peaceful. Last night, there was some division between the activists about which method of protesting is most effective, and then the two groups split, but it is very important to note that everyone [in Memphis] is peaceful.”

Jenkins continued to reflect on her experience protesting on Sunday, May 31.

“Yesterday, we marched to the bridge to block it off the old bridge is not even the main one into the city,” she said. “But, the cops intercepted us and deployed the National Guard. It’s all on video from various live streams, but we peacefully tried to move forward one step at a time, and the police reacted aggressively. They threw tear gas into the crowd and chased after people to make arrests. I left when things took a turn for the worse, but I can confidently say all demonstrations were peaceful, even when intended to cause a larger disruption, like blocking the bridge. The police incited violence, and that’s when any kind of rioting started.”

Jenkins added that she believes the best way for others to help is to donate bail money through local Black Lives Matter chapters. 

University students of all ages have also attended protests in their hometowns. 

“I have been peacefully attending local protests and donating to funds that have been reviewed by third parties,” Girard Sweeney ’21 said. 

Rising sophomore Nicole Gromadski said she co-organized a local protest to raise awareness. 

“I have donated to organizations and will be assembling in my city (New Orleans) to join in the protests,” Caroline MacLaren ’23 said. 

Many students have also taken to social media to raise awareness, as Instagram, Twitter and Facebook are easily accessible platforms for students to use and share opinions. 

Rachelle Joy Potente, recent graduate and incoming Master of Science graduate student at the University, has shared videos and images of police brutality, signed petitions, and sent an email to the University to voice her concerns.

“If there is one thing I learned during my time at Villanova, it’s that racism is still real,” Potente shared on Instagram. “I can’t imagine what you have gone through because of the color of your skin, but you all deserve to be heard. You all deserve to breathe. You all deserve to be loved by the country and the people around you. Your lives matter.”

Incoming freshman Lydia McFarlane has used a blog to educate others and provide resources.

“I have a blog account on Instagram, where I’ve been making posts, sharing my story as a young black girl, urging my white friends to use their privilege to stand up for the movement and providing resources for people to go to educate themselves on the situation and learn about what they can do to get involved and help,” McFarlane said. 

Panhellenic sororities have also posted statements on Instagram to bring light to the discussion of race and bigotry. All eight Panhellenic chapters have released statements in the past few days, and these can be accessed via Instagram. The Zeta Tau chapter of Alpha Chi Omega at the University released a new initiative on June 1 to bring awareness to the Black Visions Collective and the Philadelphia Bail Fund. Numerous multicultural sororities and fraternities have also issued statements of solidarity.

Other student groups have also posted statements of solidarity, denouncing acts of bigotry and violence. The Women’s Club Ice Hockey team, Villanova Student Musical Theater and the Villanova Student Bar Association are only a few of the numerous student organizations that have released statements condemning acts of hatred, violence, racism and injustice in the United States.