By Kendra Davis
Unlike many other prospective students, Napoleon Andrews, Class of 1974, didn’t make a visit to campus a year, half a year, or even a couple of months before enrolling.
His first time on campus was his first day of freshman year, when he jumped off the train and knew right away that the environment he was about to enter for the next four years was much different from his hometown of Colombia, Md. The University was brought under Andrews’ radar by his high school adviser, who thought it would be a good fit given the episcopal high school he attended and his high academic standards.
He liked it because it was far enough away to “spread his wings and declare his independence,” but close enough that if his family desperately needed him, he could hop in a car and zoom down Interstate-95 to the bedroom community situated halfway between Baltimore and Washington, D.C.
Beyond what his adviser had told him and what he had looked up in his high school’s library books, though, Andrews knew nothing of what lie at 800 East Lancaster Avenue in Radnor Township, Pa.
“You didn’t have a lot of time, money or help for college visits—that wasn’t done 40 years ago,” he says. “You picked one or two and hoped like hell that one would let you in.”
His first reaction was awe—awe at the physical environment, the people and the prospect of a new chapter in his narrative. He took a liking to history and decided to make that his course of study. Soon thereafter, Andrews recognized what he considered to be the greatest conundrum he would face during his time here: balancing his academics and his “blackness.”
“How do you interact and progress through this white society but still maintain your blackness?” he asks rhetorically. For him, part of the answer to that question was joining the Black Students League, now called the Black Cultural Society.
An active member for his first two years, Andrews became the vice president of the student organization his junior year and the president his senior year.
“That was the beginning of an important leadership role,” he says. “It was the first time I had ever been elected the head of something. I came in as Napoleon Andrews: single student and became a part of a group that was bigger than me because of the various connections and people involved in it. People had given me the opportunity to represent them. That should never be taken lightly.”
Filling that role with the utmost passion, professionalism and diligence to the mission came with a set of challenges for Andrews. He echoes the sentiments of Gene Arthur, who was featured last week.
“You had to be able to navigate the ‘Other’ culture,” he says. “It’s white culture, it’s a college culture, it’s a Catholic culture. The white students didn’t have shared experiences with us, so they couldn’t understand sometimes how we thought.”
But Andrews had no intention of simply complying with the dominant culture or keeping interracial interactions as minimal as possible. To him, part of the maturation as a student leader of color was being able to work with the white students on a genuine basis. The time period itself—the late 1960s and early 1970s—helped to facilitate that daunting task.
“It was a revolutionary time—people were protesting things that just hadn’t made sense but had been traditional for years, and to be in those times helped me mature,” he says. “That freedom to become who you wanted to become without the shackles of tradition allowed me to grow up from my freshman year to my senior year.”
One of Andrews’ bigger battles happened during his senior year, when he helped lead 1,200 students in occupying the main administration building to protest the rule of parietals, which said that, if a man and a woman were to be in the same room at the same time, whether it was a dorm room or classroom, they could never be within six inches of one another.
“Parietals were archaic even then,” he says. “It was totally hypocritical. If you tell me that the reason I got into Villanova is because I am special, then don’t tell me once I get there that I can’t be trusted with normal human relationships. There’s a contradiction in that.”
He refers to the scenario and what it represented as a blatant discrepancy between Catholic morality and Catholic reality.
“Catholic morality said we should be here; Catholic reality said some of them didn’t want us here,” he says. “Your acceptance to Villanova implied that you had high academic standards as well as high moral standards, but once you got here they hung the umbrella of sin over you.”
Whether or not Andrews’ inclinations were accurate, he still came to the University, along with the 50 or so other black students who were enrolled at the time, and that was what made the oral history project worth doing.
“When I went to Villanova, I had no point of reference, I had no one I could ask,” he says, mentioning that he was the first in his immediate family to go to college. “These guys were pioneers. For so many of us that went to Villanova, we might as well have been going to the University of Timbuktu, but what came out of that were some amazing, extra-special people.”
The stories of two more of those “amazing, extra-special people” will be told next week with the continuation of this series.