Is Viterbo doing better for its diverse communities?

Calum Sullivan, Assistant Editor

Last year, students returned for the spring 2021 semester to find posters hanging in university living spaces advertising a new club called the Maccabees, which promised members the chance to use “the power of the rosary and other holy prayers” to “protest against the LGBT group.”  Following these posters, a series of alleged hate crimes occurred on Viterbo’s campus targeted at BIPOC and LGBTQ+ students, making these students feel as though they did not belong.  

In response, Viterbo administrators held a series of listening sessions to attempt to figure out how to create a better environment for diverse students on its campus.  This week, the Lumen sat down with students from Viterbo’s Pride and Breaking Barriers Diversity Clubs to check in with how Viterbo was doing, almost seven months from the end of the spring 2021 semester.   

“I felt fear, frustration, anger, anything you can feel in this situation,” Olvia Abernathy, executive member of Breaking Barriers Diversity Club said.  “Students were furious. You could literally see how tense hearing about the hate crimes made people. When we had our open mic talks with the president, the students spoke and they spoke with all they had,” Abernathy added when asked how the events impacted the Viterbo community. “Being the victim of a hate crime is not something that you forget after a while. That trauma is still held in that person and the community that was targeted,” said Paige Buske, president of Pride Club.   

The Lumen was interested in how members of the clubs felt about Viterbo’s progress towards making Viterbo a safer campus for diverse students. Students mentioned several significant steps Viterbo had taken.  Increased campus security was a common mention for students. Breaking Barriers Executive board member Alexis Oestreich said, “implementing more security procedures like installing more security cameras and hiring more security staff has been important, especially in deterring potential crimes.” Students also stressed the importance of Viterbo’s new Social Justice and Equity commission, a student-led group whose focus is to communicate directly with administration about what diverse students on Viterbo’s campus need.  Abernathy spoke from personal experience with this group saying that they “have already begun looking at incorporating more inclusivity and diversity in areas such as curriculum, resident life, etc.”   

Students were also open to admitting Viterbo still had steps to take towards improving the environment on campus. Common items on this list included a more inclusive core curriculum, more inclusive living spaces and stricter enforcement of diversity education for students regardless of major.   

Many students in listening sessions last year stressed the need for change to happen immediately.  Members of the clubs asked students to be patient with Viterbo.  Abernathy added to this point. “The three biggest things that are holding us back from that significant change are time, finances, and support. There is not enough time in the day to make changes, but if we start little by little a chain reaction of good can happen. Some of the changes come with costs. With a limited number of budgets, grants, etc. it is hard to make those bigger change… Lastly, support has been severely lacking on campus. You don’t need to commit all of your day to showing support, but why not try by going to a Pride Club or Breaking Barriers Diversity Club Meeting. Educating yourself is a form of support, why not try it?”  Other executive members stressed the need for support across campus.   

Oesterich mentioned several ways to show support on our campus. “I would say making friends and talking to people we don’t normally associate with is important for that learning process. Attending workshops, speakers, and meetings are great places to learn. BBDC and other clubs and organizations provide opportunities like this all the time.  BBDC hosted Ebone Bell a few weeks ago to discuss allyship and this past week PRIDE club hosted many events to learn more about the perspective of Transgender folks.”   

Buske also chimed in on this point.  “With students on this campus constantly calling out injustices and fighting for changes that we all need; we can start to undo the harm that the hate crimes and past trauma has left for our community,” Buske said.   

If Viterbo students want to know more about what Viterbo is doing to make life better for its diverse student population, they can find the information by searching Viterbo’s website for social justice and equity, and looking under progress.