Villanova Student's Remarks Incite Controversy Over 'Race-Baiting'

By Melanie Arter | July 7, 2008 | 8:03pm EDT

( - The upcoming appearance of National Rifle Association President Charlton Heston at a Catholic university is generating controversy, but not for what you might think. The controversy is over comments made by another conservative who plans to introduce Heston at the event.

Tom Adkins, executive editor of the Common Conservative and frequent contributor to the Philadelphia Inquirer, fired back at a Villanova University student who, in his opinion, insinuated that the editor of a conservative campus newspaper was racist. Adkins, a close personal friend of the editor, in responding to the student's comments, called her a "race-baiter".

Vasavi Reddy, editor-in-chief of the Liberal Forum, a liberal campus newsletter, criticized the Villanova Times, a conservative newspaper, for the December issue which she contends "portrayed all its pictures of African-American students as black blobs wearing white Villanova football t-shirts while drinking beer. Their bodies appeared to be black, disfigured masses with faces that were completely unrecognizable."

Reddy continued, saying, "Such derogatory and humiliating images of African-American students, even though caused by poor photography and not racist intent, continue and increase the image that African-American Villanova students are faceless athletes on athletic scholarships that just sit around and drink beer."

Those pictures, Reddy concluded, "exhibited a lack of concern to portray positive images of African-American Villanova students."

Adkins, in a letter to the editor of the Villanova Times said, "In Reddy's racially paranoid world, simple printing errors are really racism in disguise.

"Not only is Reddy a race-baiter, she is also a racist," said Adkins.

"She is convinced anyone who isn't white is somehow inferior, and cannot possibly survive without her help. What an insult! Are people of color so helpless? And who is Reddy to assume she is their savior? What arrogance! But the 'Chicken Little' effect offers the greatest danger, as vapid attacks such as Reddy's trivialize real racism. Eventually, nobody pays attention and the real racists gain the upper hand," Adkins said.

Adkins continued, "To be sure, there are racists in the world, racists and race-baiters like Reddy should be attacked, smashed and utterly defeated wherever we find them. Reddy's race-baiting is nothing less than racial McCarthyism."

As a result of Adkins' letter, Villanova administrators concluded that his remarks constituted a physical threat.

"That's a kind of sports-like rhetoric to apply to a political situation," explained Wesley Wynne, program director of the Collegiate Network, an organization that helps fund conservative student publications like the Villanova Times around the country.

"But it's very obvious that that's what he was doing, he was speaking metaphorically. And either the Villanova administration doesn't understand that or they're using it as a pretext to disinvite someone that they don't want to attend. But I think the whole issue is just absurd," Wynne said.

"She [Vasavi]'s being trained to think this way by Villanova University," explained Adkins. "So I thought it was a smart move to come to Chris Lilik's defense. Here's a guy who's trying to be inclusive, taking pictures of white, black, Oriental, people all over the campus to put in his newspaper, and she's accusing him of being a racist over it.

"Villanova University has tried to twist this into me being a racist. They're essentially trying to stir up racial tension on campus against me for this event and to try to keep me from speaking at it," Adkins said.

Chris Lilik, editor-in-chief of the Villanova Times, said his event on February 14 is an attempt to bring balance to the campus. Heston is expected to promote his new book, The Courage to be Free at the kickoff of the speaker series, organized by Lilik's newspaper.

Heston's visit to the campus has prompted opposition from some faculty members and students, citing Heston's views as anti-Catholic. But Lilik said, "I think most students on this campus believe that even though they might not agree with Charlton Heston, it's a great opportunity to try to diversify this campus with different opinions."

Lilik said he's concerned about his safety though, because of recent incidents.

"These kids that go around campus, the kids that put out this liberal paper, have been ripping down my signs. I got three viruses in the mail from somebody...The police have been involved. I moved my car to a secure parking lot, close to public safety, because I'm afraid somebody might do something," said Lilik.

Some students, he said, are even buying tickets to his event, just to walk out on Heston. His newspaper, he noted, has received very little support from the university.

"It's sad because the whole reason my newspaper is bringing Charlton Heston to this campus is to try to take a stand for free speech, and it's sad that at the same event, there's a chance Tom Adkins may have his voice censored by the Villanova administration.

"If I wrote an editorial in my paper inferring that Vasavi was a racist, can you imagine the out roar that we'd have. It's just sad that the administration doesn't want to take a stand against race-baiting," said Lilik.

The administration, Lilik believes, is planning to physically bar Adkins from the campus and may be considering a lawsuit against him.

Calls to Villanova Director of Student Development Tom Mogan, Villanova Vice President of Student Life John Stack, and Vasavi Reddy, editor-in-chief of the Liberal Forum, were not returned at press time.

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