Anthony Esolen Faces the P.C. Onslaught

A ‘diversity’ battle at a Catholic college

Last month, 60 students at Providence College, along with some faculty and staff members, marched across campus to the college president’s office, demanding action against English professor Anthony Esolen and shouting, “What do we want? Inclusion! When do we want it? Now!” The reason for the uproar? Esolen, who has taught at Providence for over 25 years, dared to speak out against the “totalitarian diversity cult” to which he believes his college has succumbed.

The recent outrage follows on the heels of two articles Esolen wrote for Crisis magazine, both of which critiqued the diversity activism that has consumed Providence’s campus since February. He called upon the college to set aside divisive identity politics and instead unite the campus community around a holistic, Catholic view of the human person. In the more recent of his two pieces — the September article “My College Succumbed to the Totalitarian Diversity Cult,” which served as the immediate provocation for the demonstration — Esolen outlined a view of diversity as perfected by the Catholic conception of the perfect unity of all humanity in God.

In response to students’ demands, college president Father Brian Shanley wrote an open letter to the campus community, affirming Esolen’s right to academic freedom, but, in essence, publicly shaming him for the content of his articles. “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,” Shanley wrote. The letter continued:

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.

A subsequent faculty statement referred implicitly to Esolen’s articles as involving “racist, xenophobic, misogynist, homophobic, and religiously chauvinist statements.” It went on to claim that “some professors have openly, publicly, and unabashedly articulated a disdain for racial, ethnic, gender, sexual, and religious inclusion.” In an open letter, the chairman of Providence’s Diversity Initiative Implementation Committee, Father Kenneth Sicard, described the articles as having an “offensive and implicitly racist” tone.

From a close reading of the articles in question, it is clear that the recent outrage is inappropriate and, in some cases, even malicious. In fact, Esolen’s pieces — and his subsequent attempts to communicate personally with the affected students — reveal that he sincerely values the unique contributions of each individual, including minority students, to the Providence community. Consider this, for example, from his Crisis article of last February titled “The Narcissism of Campus Diversity Activists”:

A youth from Nigeria or Morocco should be welcomed with genuine friendship and openness to what he has experienced of the world beyond our American horizons. . . . I’m grateful for students to whom I can ask, “How do you say ‘Our Father, who art in heaven’ in Tagalog?” and “What’s it like to live in Lagos?” Meanwhile, I have three millennia of poetry, art, philosophy, theology, and history to teach, and if you are willing to learn, I’m gladly at your service.

In his September piece, Esolen expounded upon Providence’s responsibility, as a Catholic school, to educate students in this true diversity, rather than succumbing to calls for a modern vision of diversity, which he called “a surrender of the Church to a political movement which is, for all its talk, a push for homogeneity, so that all the world will look not like the many-cultured Church, but rather like the monotone non-culture of Western cities that have lost their faith in the transcendent and unifying God.”

As Esolen put it, the Catholic vision of diversity is rooted in our creation by God as wholly unique individuals in His image and likeness, meant to be made one in Him. In contrast, the modern demand for uniform acceptance of certain types of cultural, racial, and sexual diversity “pretends to be ‘multicultural,’” but is actually anti-cultural and “is characterized by all the totalitarian impulses to use the massive power of government to bring to heel those who decline to go along.”

Shortly after the September article was published, a member of Esolen’s colloquium class informed him that students in the African-American Society had condemned Esolen for the piece. Esolen told the student that he had not intended to comment on identity politics per se, but rather that his concern was for the college’s Catholic character. He also offered to meet with any concerned students to discuss his articles, as well as the experience of being a member of minority communities at Providence.

Despite this and several similar overtures on Esolen’s part, only one other student reached out to discuss the article with him. In fact, inexplicably, word began to circulate around the college that Esolen had “brushed off” students’ concerns. After meeting with Shanley to discuss the situation, Esolen was under the impression that he would be permitted to send a short letter to the entire campus community — as Shanley had done earlier — to reiterate his offer to meet with any concerned students. The e-mail was never passed along to students and faculty as Esolen believed it would be.

#related#Steven Maurano, the spokesman for the college, tells National Review in an e-mail that “if Dr. Esolen were willing to provide a message to Fr. Shanley that might promote healing among our campus community, then Fr. Shanley would consider forwarding that message.” However, Maurano maintained that Esolen’s subsequent message reiterated what he had already published in a letter to the student newspaper. “Given that this message had already been delivered, Fr. Shanley saw no need for a second communication. Instead, he and other members of the Administration are working with Dr. Esolen to come up with an appropriate forum that will allow for dialogue and clarification between Dr. Esolen and concerned members of our campus community,” Maurano concluded.

Is Providence College the latest in a line of Catholic universities to demean authentically Catholic speech in favor of modernity’s divisive vision of diversity? Perhaps Esolen’s own case is the best evidence of the veracity of his claims.


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