Decolonizing Vanillanova

All the snow has melted, and Villanova is whiter than ever.

During my first week at Villanova, a white administrator told me (I should say us) that, roughly, “We are no longer to say ‘Vanillanova’ because it is something the school is working to change.” After two years I think I know what this project has amounted to, namely, the intentional banning of a catchy term that points to the deep, structural racism of our school, and the rather ridiculous attempts to cover over such racism with ‘service days’ and altering our ‘diversity image’ via Villanova’s main home page. The way in which our school as a whole “favors the favored and disfavors the disfavored” (Bourdieu) is basically and at heart neocolonial.

Last semester George Yancy gave a great talk and challenged those of the audience to make the ubiquity of white spaces on campus uncomfortable. I have tried to think of how to do this with little-to-no time for organization or knowledge in this area. But I have recently thought of ‘occupying discursive space’ in a subtle but maybe striking way, and I mention it here only to possibly generate a conversation about its feasibility, and see who might be on board. I am on campus everyday and have chosen the phrase “Challenge Vanillanovan Patriarchy” to write on a chalk or white board in normal sized letters before leaving whatever building I’m in. Since we discussed micro-politics last night, I’m interested in putting out the idea, for those interested, to consider whether or not this in a way occupies (makes uncomfortable, disrupts) the largely racist and sexist structures within which we are working each day. I’m curious as to whether others would be interested in cultivating similar practices of leaving traces on chalk/white boards—traces that teachers and hopefully students then erase but then cannot not think about. I’m interested in suggesting such practices because, in different handwritings/terms but with the same antiracist and antisexist goals, such practices might not require any central organization, and, moreover, requires hardly any time.

This is an inchoate idea, but this would seem to be the class to pitch it to.

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9 Responses to Decolonizing Vanillanova

  1. jschul05 says:

    I’m very interested in talking more about this.

    John

  2. grockhil says:

    I am as well. It might be worth thinking about the specific objectives and various strategies. Let’s talk on Wednesday.

  3. ecetin says:

    Hey! I liked the idea! I would be in! Just lets make sure anything we do doesn’t put people of color and other non-vanilla groups on the spot, make them targets by any means. Not that I really think such minor politics would, but say it gets viral, there is a chance that administration would look for a specific agent behind, and in such case, I think it is important to come out and take responsibility. Well that is I guess to say I’d be interested to talk about as well.

  4. crupert says:

    I’ve been carefully reflecting on this proposal and wanted to say that, while I’m all for pointing out the sword of Damocles to the administration, I think that care should be taken to keep our criticism strictly in our own voice. That is I think it is a more powerful statement when we speak for ourselves and for others. In this case, I was thinking something like, “My education at Villanova is unsatisfactory, because I’m denied access to the opinions of black peers!” Or something like that. The point is, that I want to speak from me. I want to speak to the damage done to my education by this systemic racism. I think it would be disingenuous of a bunch of white people to speak from another point of view. Besides, ingenuousness, this strategy would also have the advantage of building white solidarity with this cause, by characterizing it in the terms of a disservice to them, something they are losing out on. Food for thought.

  5. keborrowman says:

    Also raising my hand for participation.

  6. danielallenwood says:

    Hi all,
    Thank you for the comments, thoughts, and interest. Maybe those interested could meet before or after class this or the next week to brainstorm more about specifics. I think that by coming up with something short and quip-like (either a phrase, e.g., Decolonize Vanillanova, or Challenge Villanova’s structural racism, No to Vanillanovan Patriarchy, etc.) or, as Jared suggested, posing a question, does not speak for others (and does not overtly claim to) but would simply be a statement that points to what the group involved would take as a state of affairs that need not be the case. I don’t think that bringing Villanova’s structural racism to light in this way would be putting words in the mouths of others, nor do I think we should just try to make longer phrases our own. Longer and subjective phrases I think would lighten the force of short and jarring phrases/questions and make the structural issue (i.e., certain admissions mechanisms) into a matter of opinion only. I also think that this would only be a small way of politicizing campus and would likely not be likely to generate reaction at the level of administration. If this does happen, however, that might be a good time to discuss a different form of organization/contestation. Ideally, were that to happen, the politicization of structural racism via chalk/whiteboards would have generated some level of awareness and then we could decide where to take it from there. These are just some thoughts.

    all the best,

    Dan

  7. jmulaj says:

    Hey everyone,

    I agree with Dan. I think a short phrase or question would function better. As far as administration goes, I do not think that they will cause problems. If they do, it will show that our attempts to challenge what Dan is calling Villanovan patriarchy is working. If that does occur, I do not think that anyone has to stand up and take the blame (that might just reinforce authorship over the project). If the administration here actually creates a problem out of this, I would suggest that we then create a problem out of their reaction and push the project even further.

    • ecetin says:

      Hey! Sorry I missed getting into a polemic about this 🙂 Here it is: I think it depends on the reaction of the administration. If it is a general search for author on their side, I agree that there is no need to claim such position, but if they target people of color or whoever they consider as their “usual suspects” (I assume there would be feminist and/or LGBT activists on campus), then I think it is important to take explicit responsibility.

  8. keborrowman says:

    Another thing that I was thinking was about style of writing on the board. To write, not like graffiti, but as if it is a final discussion question from the previous class. I think it implies that there ARE people asking these questions. I also think, and here I give credit to Amanda, that it presses upon the professors in the classroom to start the question (or, as Amanda pointed out, silence it by erasing it).

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