Slavery Symposium helps Xavier learn and heal

By Heather Gast | Managing Editor

Photo courtesy of Instagram
Father Michael Graham, president, and Dr. Kyra Shahid are joined by fellow panelists at a session of the Universities Studying Symposium.

Students, faculty and administrators from more than 50 universities left Norwood last Saturday from the four-day Universities Studying Slavery (USS) Symposium brimming with ideas to further work toward racial reconciliation. The event occurred in Cintas Center and was co-hosted by Xavier and the University of Cincinnati.

USS is a collective of universities from across the nation that publicly acknowledge their legacy within slavery and commit to make amends for said legacy. The USS Symposium serves as an annual gathering for universities within USS to gather and discuss what work is being done to further racial reconciliation on each campus.

Xavier joined USS per the recommendations of a task force called the Working Group that Father Michael Graham, president called for in 2016 after theology professor Dr. Charles Walker-Gollar discovered that Xavier’s founding president, Bishop Edward Fenwick, owned slaves.

Xavier’s take on the convention differed from it’s past iterations and proved powerful to attendees. While past conventions have been heavy on the academic approach to racial reconciliation, Adrian Parker, who helped plan the USS Symposium as the Special Assistant to the Stained Glass Initiative (SGI) which carries out the recommendations of the Working Group, described aspects of the USS Symposium as spiritual.

Session topics included a discussion on race-related stress and trauma, a restorative yoga session and artwork by SGI’s artist-in-residence, Angela Franklin. In particular, Parker referenced panel with collaboration with the local non-profit Jubilee Cincinnati on relationships with churches and historically black Greek organizations that invited local pastors.

Parker also notes that Graham has ensured that Xavier is a leader in this field because of the support that he has put behind the SGI and racial reconciliation initiatives.

While Xavier had initially been looking toward the examples like Georgetown University who made public acknowledgement of their legacy of slavery, or Brown University who has been pro-active in involving the surrounding communities affected by slavery, the intentionality Graham brings to the table and willingness to support the work of the SGI financially, such as organizing the USS Symposium, has allowed the group to flourish.

“We’re putting dollars behind the story, which a lot of other universities in the consortium haven’t done,” Parker said, “Fr. Graham, I think, is an example of where other groups want to go.”

Besides consistently attending events orchestrated by first the Working Group and now the USS Symposium by SGI, Graham has enthusiastically supported projects such as the Diasporic Soul study abroad experience for students affected by the African Diaspora, and the Day of READ, the SGI’s artist-in-resident and specialized hires of faculty of color.

One of the largest goals of Graham is to facilitate conversation across campus around racial reconciliation on campus, which is overshadowed by Fenwick, more specifically, the largest dorm on campus that is named after him.

The administration is still considering renaming the dorm, but is hesitant to erase the memory from campus. Parker explains that this is especially because many students are unaware of Fenwick’s legacy. One video showed at the USS Symposium made by Walker-Gollar’s students showed many students walking through Fenwick hall who were unaware of his history.

“If we are currently having this conversation and students still don’t know, how do we expect to change the names and then expect students to engage in this conversation? How do we keep this momentum going when its hard to keep the momentum going when its right here still in our faces,” Parker said.

Parker assured the conversation around renaming Fenwick Hall will be coming in the future. “For sure it’s on the table because that’s the question that’s happening now… I definitely think it will come forward and it will come to the student body,” Parker said.