Xavier teams up with the Ohio Innocence Project

Written by: Chloe Salveson, Staff Writer

In collaboration with the Ohio Innocence Project (OIP), several Xavier programs co-hosted an event about criminal justice reform last Wednesday. Now, Xavier is actively working to start a new chapter of the OIP at the university. 

Co-sponsored by Xavier’s Pre-Law Program, the Pre-Law Society, the Psi/Chi Psychology club, and the Criminal Justice Society, students were joined by exoneree Laurese Glover in a conversation about his own exoneration as a means to examine the current judicial system. Glover, an exoneree who was found guilty of murder due to witness misidentification in 1995, discussed his experiences with wrongful conviction. 

Dr. Sean Rhiney, director of the Eigel Center for Community-Engaged Learning, was instrumental in the event planning.

“I’ve been very interested in bringing this experience to Xavier knowing…Our students embrace concepts like this through their disciplines, through their experiences, through their own lived experiences and knowing what an important conversation this is,” Rhiney said.

Backed by the work and support of first-year psychology major Jared Vornhagen and junior Philosophy, Politics and the Public major Mickey Townsend, the event garnered interest for a new student-led chapter of the OIP at Xavier that will begin next year. 

Pierce Reed, the policy and program director of OIP, noted that there are currently 11 student-led chapters of OIP on college campuses, including at the University of Cincinnati. 

“All of (the chapters) help us educate people on campus about wrongful convictions, why they happen and what impact they have on individuals, families, communities, society and other programs related to those themes,” Reed said. “But I think the other thing that is unique about a school like Xavier is that there is a moral perspective to a lot of wrongful conviction work. It resonates differently with students with faith.”

“I’m hoping that the cause of addressing wrongful convictions can be another way for the Xavier community to come together to create positive change…We’ll be looking to reach out to interested students once the fall semester starts and work from there,” Vornhangen added. 

“A lot of great work and projects have been done through student chapters like these, so (Reed) and I both recognized the importance of having a strong presence from Xavier to bring our voice and efforts to the table with these other universities’ chapters,” he continued.

Xavier junior Mickey Townsend talks to Laurese Glover after last week’s conversation about criminal justice reform.

Rhiney expressed that this event highlighted the importance of community-engaged learning. The conversation with Glover and Reed directly pointed to the connection between students’ work in the classroom and their involvement in the community. 

“I am so honored to be able to do this work, and it really would be a privilege for OIP to be able to work with the Xavier community,” Reed said. “Xavier is a great place for students to learn how to think, and I think the information that our clients share really coincides with Xavier’s mission…The work is about the people we serve.”

Along with elevating the victims of governmental misconduct, OIP aims to conduct informative conversations of healing, advocacy and reform. 

“We like to think of it as helping open people’s minds and also opening their hearts,” Reed commented. “Even though the legislative work we do is important, we recognize that laws can be written then repealed and court decisions can be won but overturned. But when you open someone’s mind and their heart to understanding, that’s powerful and is never going to be taken from that person.”