Rev. Justin West joins the CFJ, bringing knowledge and a positive outlook
By Tess Brewer, Staff Writer
Reverend Justin West has joined the Center for Faith and Justice (CFJ) as the new Protestant chaplain, as well as the new Faith and Race Program Director.
He has embraced involvement on campus and is eager to start conversations with students about “faith, race, life — and the intersection of all three.”
Before coming to Xavier, West was involved in the Chicago area as a youth minister in a local church and also directed nonprofit youth programs. While he has had experience working as a student leader in the past, working with students at a college campus is a new environment in which he is eager to take part.
“This is new ground. This is new territory… I feel passionate about education and learning, and I see that as a component to this position,” West said.
He was drawn to Xavier for the open position not only for the pastoral role, also for the opportunity to bridge two aspects of his service: race and faith.
He described himself as “passionate” about these issues, adding that he looks forward to “being able to support the African American student population and journey with them.” He is also excited by the initiatives and programs offered in the CFJ.
“The values that the (CFJ) is committed to holding and the work that they are committed to doing was… even more exciting,” West said.
In his short time on campus, he has felt welcomed by both staff and students.
In talking with members of the Xavier community, West says he has gained a better idea of the need for his position; the change in Xavier’s leadership, the pandemic and a vast array of societal divisions present unique challenges.
“There are challenges, but there are also opportunities to imagine: to imagine new programming, to imagine new work with students and with co-workers,” West said.
He said he can feel a great sense of potential present in the support that he has received, with “the ability to envision and not have to fit a specific mold.”
West currently leads Common Ground, a non-denominational protestant worship service offered every Sunday. He discussed some of his goals for this program and his involvement in general.
“I want students to feel supported, cared for and to have a sense of freedom to explore the issues that concern them,” he added. “To feel like empowered faith leaders who can partner with each other to bring about a transformation at Xavier, in their lives and in the wider Cincinnati community.”
West takes pride in participating in these intense conversations with students. A highlight of his recent ministerial experiences included an opportunity to host students from the Fred Shuttlesworth Leadership Team, a group that facilitates faith and social justice-based discussions and events for students of color.
He was able to welcome those students into his home, which “was a dream I had; that I want to be able to not only offer support as a staff member but invite students into my life too.”
Outside of his work at Xavier, he is also a PhD student in African American Preaching and Sacred Rhetoric. He strives to teach in higher education, whether at Xavier or somewhere beyond.
As a new staff member, West believes his perspective allows him to relate to first-year students uniquely. He shared a senior student reflection he had heard at Common Ground that moved him.
“The wisdom that (the senior) shared to first-years… to keep an open mind, allowing yourself room to change and grow and evolve… I think that’s important for students to know,” he said. “If students are searching for a community to do that, there are groups and staff members across campus that want to ensure that holistic wellbeing and to support that evolution.”
Rev. West will lead a nondenominational Common Ground service this Sunday at 8 p.m. in Clock Tower Lounge.