Editorial & Opinion

Haig and Marzullo: There’s a culture of silence at Providence College

“In America that “Culture of Silence” is so pervasive, insidious, and institutionalized as well as seductive in its state of consciousness that it always goes unnoticed. Yet, it is the driving force behind our institutional divisiveness…”
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Published on May 11, 2022
By Theodore Josiha Haig and Vincent Marzullo

Once again, the cry for “structural change” emerges on the campus of Providence College (PC). This time it was by a professor in PC’s Elementary and Special Education Department, as he “faced harassment and retaliation by members of his Department and the Administration,” because he spoke out about discriminatory treatment of students of color in his Department. A familiar cry as he and others rallied on behalf of Lieutenant John Dunbar, a Public Safety Administrator, at the college, who was recently protesting harassment and racial profiling within his Division. 

Let us weigh these “assertions” against a history of Providence College students and staff and coalition activists against “multiple serious racial profiling incidents since 2013. Black students called for an end to racial profiling when they occupied the President’s office in 2016, and this demand was again made in 2020 when profiling was not stopped,” claims the group. 

In between all of this, George Floyd’s death (e.g., policeman’s knee on his neck) captured on “BODY CAM” not only galvanized America but became a symbol of liberation for Black and Brown Americans by contradicting the notion, “They cannot see what they should have been able to see all along.” 

In defense of the college, a spokesperson said in response to Dunbar’s and Rodriguez’s assertions, “The college does have a clear and formal process for complaints of any nature, and we continue to encourage employees to utilize this resource. “We take any assertions made seriously and are reviewing them at this time. PC is committed to a culture of “continuous improvement.” 

Last we heard the overwhelming majority of the Providence College community, Board of Trustees, staff, boosters and students don’t look like the students and staff that continue to suffer the pain of being not only the ‘silent minority on campus’ but more importantly they continue to suffer from the shortsightedness of the innovations PC has put in place over the years because the “magnitude of the innovation” just doesn’t match the order of change required. And if leadership’s techniques do not match the order of change of the INNOVATION, the INNOVATION will probably FAIL regardless of its merits. Arriving at this conclusion was not difficult. Just look at the pain Black students and staff on campus continue to experience graduating class after graduating class, Black and Brown student after Black and Brown student and among Black and Brown staff. 

Case in point. PC has a great Black basketball coach one that we are immensely proud of and one that we know whose presence is in the best interest of the program and ALL PC students. But this “innovation” is simply not enough. The majority students come from all over the nation, and they represent “the oppressor” to Black and Brown students, no different then the institution that serves them. And the overwhelming majority have not been liberated. And there is no “BODY CAM” to expose it nor to validate the pain Black and Brown students and staff keep experiencing – because they can see what others cannot or claim that they cannot see. You know, that “Culture of Silence.” 

The great Brazilian educator and philosopher Paulo Regius Nevers Freire would say they lack ‘consciousness development’. It is a process the oppressor and the oppressed must go through in rethinking their way of life “constantly” and examining their role in oppression if true liberation is to occur.

Freire advocated “education should allow the oppressed to regain their sense of humanity, in turn overcoming their condition. Nevertheless, he acknowledges that for this to occur, the oppressed individual must play a role in their liberation.” Likewise, he says, “The oppressors must be willing to rethink their way of life and to examine their own role in the oppression if true liberation is to occur. Those who authentically commit themselves to the people must re-examine themselves constantly.” 

If we recall correctly, he uses a powerful metaphor where the oppressed and the oppressor are both liberated when the oppressor shakes the hand of the oppressed but allows the oppressed to do the pulling towards him, metaphorically, as opposed to the other way around. Symbolically, it is the oppressor that regains his sense of humanity when he allows the oppressed to educate him, as opposed to the oppressor educating (pulling) the oppressed. Otherwise, it will go unnoticed. 

The point being, there is a process the oppressor must go through to rethink his/her way of life if they are to be liberated as the oppressor. We believe it is the ‘veil that has to be pierced’ institutionally by promoting a culture of education on PC’s campus. On behalf of PC … it is the “magnitude of the innovation,” despite PC’s efforts that fails. The cries call for “structural changes” in a system that has built institutions where the oppressor (the institution) and the oppressed, Black, and Brown students and staff, both must be liberated in the conversation. That is, willing to rethink their way of life and to examine their own roles in the oppression. 

In America that “Culture of Silence” is so pervasive, insidious, and institutionalized as well as seductive in its state of consciousness that it always goes unnoticed. Yet, it is the driving force behind our institutional divisiveness. There is no excuse for PC’s shortsightedness and its failure to act decisively over the years. It is the “magnitude of the innovation” that must be scrutinize. “The hard valuable work,” as Professor Rodriguez says, “is to change the culture here, to challenge the status quo, and to hold someone accountable for what they have done.” 

Theodore Josiha Haig, PC ’70 – a former superintendent of schools in both Hartford, Ct. and East Orange, New Jersey, and currently functioning as an international educational consultant. Ted lived in the state of Qatar, the Middle East, for eleven years and holds both a doctorate from Boston College and a law degree from the University of Florida, College of Law. A native New Yorker and former PC basketball player, Ted served as the first president of the Afro-American Society at PC and the college’s first director of the Martin Luther King Scholarship program. Among all his accomplishments Ted is a five-time published mystery-suspense novelist, and currently publishing a 6th novel, “Baldwin Village.” 

Vincent Marzullo, PC 70 – for 31 years he served as a federal civil rights and social justice Director in RI for the Corporation for National & Community Service. He is a previous Chair of the RI Federal Executive Council and a President Emeritus of AARP RI. Vin currently volunteers at Hasbro Childrens Hospital, serves on the Boards of NAACP Providence Branch and the Senior Agenda Coalition of RI. He served three Rhode Island Governors and is the Founder of USA Compassion Corps.

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