Ceremony celebrates Justice Hall

Four justice-seekers announced as namesakes of the building’s towers

By Alex Budzynski and Trevor Tiemeyer, Editor-in-Chief and Guest Writer

The Xavier community congregated on Tuesday to recognize the renaming of Justice Hall and to announce the first four individuals who will be the namesakes of the building’s four towers. 

To conclude the annual Spirit Celebration, attendees migrated from Bellarmine Chapel to the doors of Justice Hall and the Hoff Dining Commons, assembling below the Student Commitment banner. 

Dr. Julia O’Hara, co-chair of the Fenwick Place Renaming Committee, shared that Justice Hall’s towers will be named after Henrietta Wood, John Lewis, Antonio Johnson and Dr. Janice Walker. 

The first tower will be named after Henrietta Wood, a freed woman living in Cincinnati who was kidnapped and sold back into slavery in 1853. After the Civil War, she sued her owner for reparations and won. 

“Henrietta Wood’s story reminds us that we live in a society where slavery once existed, and its legacies continue to exist. By commemorating her, we signal our refusal to erase this history from public view,” O’Hara explained. 

The second tower will be dedicated to former Senator John Lewis, a civil rights activist who participated in the march from Selma and served as a congressman for Georgia for more than 30 years. 

Newswire photo by Alex Budzynski
To conclude this year’s Spirit Celebration, students, faculty and staff  gathered outside Justice Hall to bless and dedicate the newly renamed building. Photographed above, Dr. Colleen Hanycz, president, gives her remarks on the significance of renaming the building.

“Our commemoration of him reminds us that the work left to be done in our own community and beyond to ensure that the blessings of American liberty and justice are shared by all,” O’Hara explained. 

Antonio Johnson will be the namesake of the third tower. He was a former Xavier student who was a student leader and activist, serving as president of the Afro-American Students Association, now called the Black Student Association. 

“He passed away at the age of 22. The Xavier community remembers him as a compassionate, committed, and persuasive advocate for social justice,” O’Hara said. “Our commemoration of him affirms that Xavier students can and do change the world for the better.”

Finally, Dr. Janice Walker, a notable professor of mathematics and the former Vice President of Institutional Diversity and Inclusion, will be commemorated in the fourth tower. 

“Dr Janice Walker has been a path-breaking leader at Xavier,” O’Hara said. “Our commemoration of her recognizes the power of Xavier’s faculty, staff and administrators to make an enduring impact on our community.”

The decision to commemorate four justice-seekers was announced last winter in the renaming committee’s recommendation letter to former president Fr. Michael Graham.

“We recommended that Fenwick Place be renamed Justice Hall and that each of its four towers be named for individuals whom we wish to honor for their service to the cause of justice,” the letter read. “In the spirit of continuing the process of dialogue, we also recommended that the towers be renamed periodically through a collaborative process.” 

After it was discovered that Xavier’s founder, Bishop Edward Fenwick, owned enslaved individuals, a working group was tasked with assessing how the university could respond. 

The resulting renaming committee chose Justice Hall to remember the injustices of the past while recognizing the continual need to work towards justice. Members of the committee were aided by the Stained Glass Initiative, a group dedicated to addressing Xavier’s historical connection to slavery.

The building was officially renamed on July 1, when Physical Plant staff replaced the lettering on the side of the building and on campus maps. This marked the end of a four-year process started by former president Graham in 2017.

Dr. Colleen Hanycz, president, was among those in attendance who addressed the significance of renaming the building. 

Student Government Association President Mickey Townsend also spoke, blessing the hall. 

“Please allow Justice Hall to be the cornerstone of Xavier University’s mission, helping us be more inclusive and loving,” Townsend stated. “As we remember the past of this building and the past of our university, open our hearts to understand the pain and hurt.”

The ceremony ended with the traditional closing of the Spirit Celebration: blessings from faith leaders across campus who represent various denominations and religions.