College students allege racism, get president's commitment

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Students protesting over allegations of campus racism at a Catholic college said Tuesday night they'd gotten the college's president to sign an agreement promising to create a more inclusive environment.

About 50 Providence College students had occupied the Rev. Brian Shanley's office in their protest. They said that after 13 hours Shanley signed an agreement of commitment Tuesday night.

"I, Brian J. Shanley, commit myself to continuous action working with the students, faculty, and staff of Providence College to create an environment that is more equitable, diverse, and inclusive," said the agreement, photos of which the students posted online.

The students, primarily black, said Shanley had committed to issuing a comprehensive plan to address their concerns. They said he promised to help name members of a campus diversity committee and to meet with faculty members to discuss curriculum reform.

College Associate Vice President Steven Maurano didn't immediately respond to a phone call seeking comment Tuesday night. He earlier said college officials thought there was an issue and were making an attempt to fix it.

About 100 Providence College students in November called on Shanley to address racism on campus. The college's Class of 2019 has about 1,000 students; 16 percent are of black, Hispanic, Asian or Native American descent.

The protesting students said they had planned to stay in Shanley's office until he signed the agreement of commitment. A handful of students left Shanley's office early, but most stayed into the night. They said they were told police wouldn't come as long as their protest remained peaceful.

Earlier this month, five Providence College women of color said they were denied entry to an off-campus weekend party at which people yelled racial slurs and threw bottles at them. The women demanded action from the college and held a rally at which supporters said similar incidents were commonplace at the college, which was founded in 1917 by the Dominican Friars to provide a Catholic education in the arts and sciences. Shanley said at the time that college and city police were investigating.

The Providence NAACP's chairwoman of youth, high school and college chapters in Rhode Island, Pilar McCloud, said Shanley was in Florida at the time of the incident and should have returned early. She called Shanley's response then an "open-handed slap in the face."