Villanova University has announced an interdisciplinary initiative aimed at examining the intersection of poverty and inequality.

The initiative was spurred by a $1 million gift from Paul A. Tufano and Christine Tufano, both alumni of Villanova post-graduate programs, for enhanced thought leadership and research.

Paul Tufano, a former chair of Villanova’s Board of Trustees, is chairman and chief executive officer of the AmeriHealth Caritas Family of Companies, a leading Medicaid-managed care organization, headquartered in Philadelphia.

“Paul and Christine personify the very best of Villanova — people who have achieved extraordinary personal and professional success, and have used that success to serve others,” said the Augustinian Peter M. Donohue, university president.

“While the nation’s eyes rightly now are more keenly focused on poverty and inequality, Paul and Christine’s focus was there all along. The Tufanos’ gift is fueling Villanova’s longstanding commitment to these issues — derived from our patron saint, St. Thomas of Villanova, known for his great charity to the poor and marginalized — to ignite meaningful, positive change.”

“This multi-faceted initiative,” said Paul Tufano, “has been in development for some time and the events of 2020 have only underscored the need to address longstanding inequities that continue to plague our nation. From a public health crisis with economic ripple effects that have disproportionately impacted the working poor, to an overdue national reckoning on racism and racial disparities, we need public policy solutions and we need them now. This is a pivotal time in our nation’s history. Christine and I want to raise the public consciousness and, working with Villanova, help to identify and create momentum for innovative solutions.”

Tufano urges others to consider supporting the initiative as an effective way to drive meaningful change in poverty and inequality at this time.

“The millions of people living in poverty in America did not choose to be poor, nor did Black Americans, communities of color, and people with disabilities and differences choose to face discrimination and systemic disparities,” Tufano said. “Our Constitution says, ‘We the People,’ but we know we have more work to do to ensure that ‘We the People’ includes everyone, with no asterisk and no one left out or left behind.

“Everyone deserves the opportunity to live their own version of the American Dream and this large-scale, university-wide effort will study and innovate at the root causes that have kept that dream out of reach for too many Americans and for too long.”

As a result of the Tufanos’ gift, Villanova has already created a fellowship position and named Stephanie Sena as the inaugural fellow.

A long-time adjunct professor at the university, Sena is also the founder and executive director of the Student-Run Emergency Housing Unit of Philadelphia (SREHUP), a non-profit anti-poverty initiative involving college students who help to provide shelter, food, housing and community to individuals experiencing homelessness in Philadelphia.

Sena has taught as an adjunct professor in the Department of History and the Center for Peace and Justice Education at Villanova for 17 years, including a course titled the History of Homelessness.

Housed within the Villanova University Charles Widger School of Law, the new interdisciplinary initiative will support programmatic efforts to generate concrete ideas and policy solutions to address the systemic issues of inequality, which in many cases intersect with, exacerbate or lead to poverty.

It will approach the causes and effects of these issues with an interdisciplinary, evidence-based method that prioritizes efforts that will yield concrete results and maximum advancement toward eliminating the structures of inequality that contribute to poverty.

In addition to planning the annual symposium on poverty and inequality, Sena will engage in research and writing on the issues and will teach courses in poverty law and policy and other related topics. She will also work to generate proposals to fund interdisciplinary empirical research that will support data-driven analysis of public policy challenges related to poverty and inequality.

“When we discuss poverty, inequality must be part of the conversation,” said Mark C. Alexander, the Arthur J. Kania Dean of the Charles Widger School of Law. “Villanova students, faculty and alumni continue to show a passion for the many issues surrounding poverty and inequality, so I can think of no better place to further examine this important topic than at Villanova.”

The Villanova campus has long been a place where issues of poverty and inequality are examined. The university’s Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion is continuing to develop programs addressing issues of inequality, including a new initiative called, Living Race — Transforming Community, providing opportunities for workshops and campus dialogue.

Faculty and students regularly examine the issues of poverty and inequality through coursework — from “Global Poverty & Justice” and “History of Homelessness” to “Epidemiological Approaches to Health Care and Health Disparities.”

The university is also a longtime partner of Habitat for Humanity, with students, faculty and staff helping build houses for those in need. Additionally, Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week originated at Villanova in 1975 under the guidance of the late Augustinian Father Ray Jackson, and in the years since has expanded to more than 500 campuses and communities nationwide.