President O’Donnell Addresses the Capitol Storming, Students Call for Action

by, Kyla Guilfoil, Asst. News Editor

The country watched in horror on Jan. 6 as rioters broke into the Capitol Building in Washington, D.C. Since then, reactions have flooded social media and news outlets as Americans acknowledge the domestic terroism incited by our former president, Donald Trump.

Brennan O’Donnell, Ph.D., president of Manhattan College, addressed the community via email following the attacks, expressing great disappointment. 

“The spectacle of our fellow citizens perpetrating violence intended to strike fear into the hearts of members of Congress conducting a process central to our democracy was as ugly and shameful as it was illegal,” wrote President O’Donnell. “These actions deserve the condemnation of everyone who cherishes human dignity, equal rights, social justice, the rule of law, and the democratic values that hold this great and wonderfully diverse country together.  Equally shameful are those who incited these actions through their words.”

President O’Donnell mentions Manhattan College alumni Rudolph Guiliani in this email. “Sadly, one of the loudest voices fueling the anger, hatred, and violence that spilled out yesterday is a graduate of our College, Rudolph Giuliani. His conduct as a leader of the campaign to delegitimize the election and disenfranchise millions of voters— has been and continues to be a repudiation of the deepest values of his alma mater.”

It came as a surprise to many community members that President O’Donnell called out Rudy Guiliani in his email. President O’Donnell shared that he felt this step was essential considering Guiliani’s prominent role in events leading up to the insurrection. However, he does not wish to condemn Guiliani so much as Guiliani’s behaviors. 

“This was not a personal or political attack on Mr. Guiliani, it was not an attack,” O’Donnell said. “If you look at the statement, the main core of the statement is ‘upholding our values.’ In this instance, it’s a critique of behavior, not of a person. Which is one of the things that we need to recognize in our civil discourse more, is that you can disagree with the actions of a person without coming to the conclusion that that person is thoroughly outside the pale of any goodness.” 

“It’s not an attack on the person,” O’Donnell continues. “It’s a reaffirmation of our values, and a recognition, made with no joy, that someone, educated in our tradition, was doing something that those of us who value the things in our tradition, I think would legitimately stand up and say, that’s not us.”

Despite the president’s uneasiness in condemning Guilani publicly, Sydney Waitt, a junior at Manhattan College, agreed that it was essential for the President to make the distinction that what Guiliani did does not represent Manhattan College’s values, no matter how influential of an alumni he is. 

“I think it’s [still] really important that [the administration] take responsibility for the fact that part of this came from an education system that is embedded in us,” Waitt said. “Especially as a Lasallian college, where we really build our pillars on being a community and being accepting, I think it’s really important to address that and actually say we’re accepting and that although Rudy Guiliani is probably one of our most important alumni, that doesn’t mean that his behavior is in any way reputable of Manhattan College.”

O’Donnell writes of an ever-important need for education and commitment to our Lasallian values and to our mission statement, which in part calls “‘for lives of personal development, professional success, civic engagement, and service to their fellow human beings.’”

President O’Donnell shared with The Quadrangle that he felt the email was necessary to both uphold our Lasallian values and to promote the next generation of civic leaders. 

“What we witnessed on January 6 was a breakdown of some of our most cherished values as a democracy, including the peaceful transfer of power,” said O’Donnell.  “I thought that we had an obligation, as an educational community, to decry that breakdown and clearly state our commitment to do our part to repair the damage. All educators should be asking themselves, what can we do to address the causes of this breakdown and how can we promote peaceful, respectful, constructive dialogue in pursuit of the common good of our society? As a Lasallian institution, we need to take the opportunity to stand up for the responsible pursuit of truth and knowledge as the foundation of our political discourse and argument.”

Jordan Greene, a senior communications major at MC, shares some disappointment with the college’s response to the capitol storming. 

“I call it a politician’s answer, you know, you fluff it up a little bit to make it sound good, it’s always like that, when an incident like this happens with the school or anywhere where you go where they’re not really pro-Black, in the sense that they’re not really showing a helping hand until now that you see these events,” Greene said. “I can see that they’re trying to help, and I appreciate that very much, but I feel as though there is more that can be done. When they say teaching the students and trying to learn, how are we going to do that? You can say a lot, but how are we actually going to do it?”

Waitt, a junior peace and justice studies and political science major, also shared weariness of the college’s seeming lack of action. 

“I am someone that thinks that actions speak louder than words, so sending an email was a really good step for Manhattan College, but they haven’t made any steps to change, for example, the name of Kelly [Student Commons]. Raymond Kelly was a big participant in the ‘Stop and Frisk’ movement in New York and that obviously ties into all the issues that we saw in the Trump presidency about race, and racial profiling. I think that the email was more of a front, or an obligation than an actual ‘This really upsets us for reasons A, B and C.’”

Waitt believes that the last four years have been an eye-opening experience for many people recognizing important issues of social justice. She hopes that Manhattan College leaders not only act following the events of the insurrection, but that they also act upon the issues MC students have had with certain faculty regarding race, sexuality and gender. 

In terms of bringing change to Manhattan College, Waitt and Greene both encouraged the implementation of school-wide social justice and diversity courses. 

“If [administration] really wants to address it, then maybe they will focus more on a core curriculum that focuses on [social and political literacy],” Waitt said. “I am a peace and justice major and political science major, so I take a lot of classes that focus a lot on issues that we’ve seen in the last four years. Not everyone has the capability or the access to take classes about that stuff.”

While Waitt has learned so much about understanding these issues and how to approach them, she recognizes that she is of a minority of students who go through these courses and gain that knowledge. 

“An engineering curriculum does not address society’s social issues or current events” Waitt added. “I think that if Manhattan College really wanted to shift their education in a way that really makes it applicable to today, then they would start with core curriculum classes that allow for us to do that.”

Greene referenced the college’s religious studies requirements that expose all majors at MC to learn about religion in some capacity while getting their degree. 

“If Manhattan College is able to incorporate religion all the time into our classes, into our courses, I think that it’s possible to all take classes around the history of people of color or diversity,” Greene said. “Like, I would not have personally taken a religious studies class on my own, but the fact that Manhattan College made me do it, it opened my eyes and opened my mind.”

Through these diversity classes, Greene hopes that students can ask questions and engage with other students to better understand different experiences and environments. Through doing this, students can challenge and break stereotypes that we have been raised to accept. 

“You can’t be afraid to meet someone that’s not like you,” Greene said. 

President O’Donnell believes that the core liberal arts curriculum at Manhattan College allows students to develop skills like critical thinking that equips them to face these issues in our society. However, O’Donnell acknowledges that to stay valuable, the curriculum needs ro be adjusted to accommodate the times. 

“I think that these issues need to be in the curriculum, that’s the heart and soul of the institution. I do know that there a number of faculty members who are working in conjunction with their deans and with the provost, in order to raise questions about what we need to potentially reass at this current moment in terms of the obviously deep divides and tensions in our society, what might we be doing in the core,” O’Donnell said. 

The President elaborates that the form in which issues of social justice and diversity are approached is decided by the faculty, not the administration. 

In terms of addressing concerns such as with the possible re-naming of Kelly Commons, President O’Donnell points to the Diversity Council.

“The Diversity Council has the full support of the administration in raising a whole host of questions about how we’re doing,” O’Donnell said. “What I would say is, any specific critique, question, particular point of concern, needs to be talked about in context of that full, inclusive discussion, that the Diversity Council is charged with.”

Dr. O’Donnell defines the Diversity Council as being “a varied and diverse cross section of the campus [formed] in order to ask the question of ‘how can we be better as an inclusive community?’. And particularly, ‘how can we be better in raising our awareness of the damage that systemic racism does in the world, and in our institution?”

O’Donnell hopes that students will take their ideas and concerns to the Diversity, especially amid our current political and social climate.