If you’re a Catholic online you’ve probably read the work of Providence College’s Anthony Esolen. His clear thinking and merciful take on all issues have been helpful to many.
Right now, Professor Esolen is under attack at Providence by a group of protesting students and faculty members who seem intent on twisting the meaning of his words and condemning him for the crime of being Catholic. Yes, we’ve got a witch hunt at Providence. All in the name of diversity.
This seems such a shame in that it wasn’t that long ago that Providence College was considered a faithful Catholic college.
Esolen recently wrote two pieces for which he’s coming under fire and seem prescient in hindsight. The first one for Crisis was titled “My College Succumbed to the Totalitarian Diversity Cult.” The other asked “What will you do when the Persecution Comes?”
Well, check both those boxes. The first thing that happened is that the Totalitarian Diversity Cult grew outraged and began demanding Esolen be fired…you know, because they want diversity and inclusivity. And then the persecution came.
So, a few days ago, about 60 students marched around, shouting into a bullhorn “What do we want? Inclusion! When do we want it? Now!” which makes me think Providence should begin a remedial course in protesting because that’s some weak chanting. But also, that Providence should teach what the word “inclusion” actually means.
The students marched around a while and then landed in the college president’s office. Then the president released a statement pretty much disavowing Esolen entirely.
When one of our professors writes an article accusing Providence College of having “Succumbed to the Totalitarian Diversity Cult,” he is protected by academic freedom and freedom of speech. But it must be understood that he speaks only for himself. He certainly does not speak for me, my administration, and for many others at Providence College who understand and value diversity in a very different sense from him.
Universities are places where ideas are supposed to be brought into conflict and questioned, so let us robustly debate the meaning of “diversity.” But we must also remember that words have an impact on those who hear or read them. When a professor questions the value of diversity, the impact on many students, faculty, and staff of color is to feel that their presence is not valued and that they are not welcome at Providence College. I have heard from many students about the pain that this causes. When student activists are described as “narcissists,” they understandably feel demeaned and dismissed. We need to be able to disagree with each other’s ideas without attaching labels to them or imputing motives that we cannot know.
At the same time that we value freedom in the pursuit of truth, let us value even more our fundamental imperative on a Catholic campus: to be charitable to one another. We may deeply disagree on any number of topics, but we should do so in such a way that respects those with whom we disagree.
Our Catholic mission at Providence College calls us to embrace people from diverse backgrounds and cultures as a mirror of the universal Church and to seek the unity of that Body in the universal love of Christ. Pope Francis has likened this communion to the weaving of a blanket, “woven with patience and perseverance, one which gradually draws together stitches to make a more extensive and rich cover.” He reminds us as well that what we seek is not “unanimity, but true unity in the richness of diversity.” Finally, Francis reminds us that “plurality of thought and individuality reflect the manifold wisdom of God when we draw nearer to truth with intellectual honesty and rigor, when we draw near to goodness, when we draw near to beauty, in such a way that everyone can be a gift for the benefit of others.” Amen.
I love when there’s an “Amen” at the end of a personal attack, don’t you?
Then there was a faculty meeting in which a bunch of faculty got themselves all riled up and yelling about Esolen. Now, the faculty are circulating a petition, putting their reviling of all things Esolen in writing.
I don’t know how this ends up. But it doesn’t seem headed anywhere good. Keep Esolen in your prayers.