Previewing the USS Symposium

“The Academy’s Original Sin” investigates slavery’s role in higher education

By Heather Gast | Managing Editor

Thanks to efforts from faculty in the Center for Diversity and Inclusion (CDI), Xavier will be co-hosting the national Universities Studying Slavery (USS) Symposium alongside the University of Cincinnati today through Sunday after a year of planning and three years of anticipation. The symposium, which will have events each day, will be addressing the topic of “The Academy’s Original Sin.”

The USS Symposium is an opportunity for universities across the nation devoted to researching the histories and impact of slavery in higher education to join together to discuss their findings and continual efforts toward racial reconciliation on campuses. There are more than 50 universities that are members of USS, including two other Jesuit institutions, Georgetown University and Saint Louis University.

After the Xavier community learned of university founder Bishop Edward Fenwick’s connection to slavery in the fall of 2016, Father Michael Graham, president, called together a task force called the Working Group on Xavier’s Connection with Slavery.

The Working Group was tasked to evaluate how the university should reconcile Xavier’s origins with the university’s values.

In a year already packed with tension from a number of bias incidents on campus and the polarized national climate of the presidential election, the primary question on campus’ mind was whether the newest dorm, Bishop Edward Fenwick Place, would be renamed.

Since then, the administration has not confirmed whether the dorm will be renamed, though they continue to pursue other initiatives toward racial reconciliation on campus.

The Working Group, comprised of professors, students and administrators, issued a proposal for racial reconciliation projects in spring of 2018 including the Diasporic Soul study abroad trip for students impacted by the African diaspora, joining the USS, and creating the Stained Glass Initiative to continue research and projects pursuing racial reconciliation on campus and in the wider Cincinnati community.

Dr. Kyra Shahid, a member of the Working Group, chair of the Stained Glass Initiative and director of the CDI attended the USS Symposium last fall and alongside professor Holly McGee of the University of Cincinnati, who is currently investigating the university’s connection to slavery. Together, the two professors approached the USS board interested in sponsoring the event and hosting the Symposium in the Queen City.

While hosting the USS Symposium presents the opportunity to further dialogue around slavery in higher education with students, faculty and administrators from across the nation, the CDI hopes that it will especially engage Xavier students and Cincinnati citizens to continue the work toward racial reconciliation for the university and community.

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