Fenwick Hall to be renamed

Submissions open for name recommendations from community

Four years after it was discovered that Bishop Edward Fenwick had owned enslaved people, the residence hall that houses the Hoff Dining Commons will be renamed. Members of the Xavier community can submit name recommendations until Aug. 31. Submissions will be presented on Sept. 15
written By Heather Gast

Bishop Edward Fenwick Hall will be renamed four years after it was discovered that Fenwick, the first president of Xavier University, had owned enslaved people.

Students, faculty, staff and alumni are able to submit recommendations for a new name on the Stained Glass Initiative’s (SGI) page on Xavier’s website. Submissions will be shared with the community at the Day of R.E.A.D. event as part of the Spirit Celebration on Monday, Sept. 15.

Dr. Charles Walker-Gollar of the theology department presented his research revealing the university’s connection to slavery in 2016. His presentation was shortly before a string of racial bias incidents rocked campus in a year that was fraught by the killing of unarmed Black citizens by police and tension over the presidential election. 

Walker-Gollar’s later research showed that early attendees of Xavier were from wealthy families in Louisiana that maintained their wealth through the labor of enslaved people.

Father Michael Graham, president, called for an association of staff, faculty and students called the Working Group to form in 2017. This group was created to evaluate how the university could move toward racial reconciliation. The following year, the Working Group recommended that the resident hall be renamed. 

The members of the community did not agree on this unilaterally. There was concern that removing the name would erase the university’s history. 

“It was Father Graham who said from the beginning that he wanted this to be about more than a name change. It was an opportunity for us to learn a little bit more about who we are and how our Jesuit values ought to compel us to participate in racial healing and restoration in a way that’s more authentic,” Dr. Kyra Shahid, Director of the Center for Diversity and Inclusion and Chair of the SGI, said. 

Just as the changing of Fenwick’s name is not meant to erase Xavier’s past, it is not meant to be an end to Xavier’s work on racial healing.

As a scholar on anti-Black racism and a Black woman, Shahid is keenly aware of the effects that slavery holds over America and institutions of higher learning specifically. “My approach to this work has been about making sure that we don’t put a period where there should be a comma,” she said.

The conversations around Fenwick’s past have come alongside processing the events of racial injustice since 2016. 

As an administrator and professor, Shahid is adamant about addressing both past horrors and today’s injustices in tandem.

 “It’s not like slavery happened and it was over. There are some pieces of slavery that are still in place right now. What we do in September (during the Spirit Day) is going to be about helping people to see the commas more clearly.” 

“Race and racism impacts all areas of human activity right so whether we knew it or not, all of our lives were already being impacted I think now more people are consciously aware of that impact and do a collective desire to do something better,” Shahid said.

Since the Working Group’s recommendations, the SGI was created and has hosted and maintained opportunities such as Day of R.E.A.D. and Diasporic Soul for students of African descent. Such spaces serve as opportunities for students to grapple with the meaning of racial reconciliation and restitution as students at a university that profited off of slavery and as individuals. 

Shahid recognizes that this multi-year process has taught her a lot about Xavier.

“One of the things I’ve learned is that Xavier is fertile ground; there is room to grow and change and evolve,” she said, speaking to the generous support she and her team have gotten over the past four years from staff. 

It’s not only staff’s contributions she values, “This year we really want to hear from students… I want to make sure that there are more student voices involved with SGI specifically… We can create a space for you to exercise that passion.”

Students interested can fill out the contact form on SGI’s page on the Xavier website.