Opinions & Editorials

An open letter from AARA

To the Xavier community:

Aspiring Anti-Racist Allies (AARA) is an affinity group of approximately fifty self-identified White staff, faculty and alumni who want to become anti-racist, anti-supremacist allies and examine our own ideas about race and racism. We meet every other week to discuss readings and current events. Our focus is on challenging ourselves and other White people to take responsibility for racist oppression. We welcome opportunities to communicate, collaborate and build relationships with people of color to challenge racism together. As such, we are writing this open letter in response Jeff Coleman and Dave Johnson’s letter to students regarding the recent activities of White supremacist agitators on Xavier’s campus on Labor Day weekend. We applaud the decision to address these actions. However, we have several serious concerns.

Recent events on the Xavier campus have been more than “deeply offensive;” they have been traumatic, and that trauma has physical consequences. Such emotional and epistemological violence is felt disproportionately by communities of color at Xavier and shared by us, a group of aspiring anti-racist allies. We are currently discussing the book, My Grandmother’s Hands by Dr. Resmaa Menakem, which discusses the intergenerational trauma in the bodies of White European descendants and bodies of color. This book provides a context to understand the real, visceral fear that students of color have reported and why they are hesitant to leave their dorm rooms after learning about the messages from a White supremacy group being posted on campus.

The “us” versus “them” dichotomy is a false narrative. The danger is not just from outside. When it comes to protecting and promoting white supremacy, the Xavier community certainly bears significant responsibility. As an institution of higher learning in America, and one with an all-too-often fraught relationship to the surrounding community, we are part of systems of inequity that have not required the actions of a “them” to perpetuate White supremacist views. Evidence of our complicity can be found from the classroom to the dorm room and everywhere in between, and we must be willing to acknowledge this fact and hold ourselves to account if we want to be agents of real change.

Additionally, we want to strongly resist the logic that preventing the recent violations of our campus community would “require that we cultivate a dramatically different campus experience, adopting measures that would shift our campus into a far more guarded, exclusive, and insular space.” On the contrary, any hope at a more just and loving Xavier community rests on our having the courage to take real and decisive action towards community-building rooted in a clear and honest accounting of our complicity in white supremacy and a willingness to recognize trauma daily endured by not only BIPOC members of our community but in us all.

Given the long history of police violence against Black and Indigenous people of color in America, emphasizing a police response has the potential to further unsettle rather than reassure our Xavier community. An over-policing of Black and Brown bodies in our shared histories means that any conversation of increased police scrutiny needs to be weighed and contextualized with the utmost care. We could provide resources on how the intersection of police training and experience and people of color’s experience with the police leading to police not being perceived as protecting. In addition to the book mentioned above, last semester, some of us read social psychologist Dr. Jennifer Eberhardt’s book, Biased: Uncovering the Hidden Prejudice That Shapes What We See, Think and Do, which also describes workshops she has done with members of police forces to help them unpack some of their automatic responses.

The above may feel abstract, so we want to provide a concrete example of how this can go wrong. When we tell students that campus police can do little to protect them, we are also looking to policing to solve issues at the basketball courts. The different reactions to these two episodes are quite striking. With the white supremacist vandalism, we seem to be saying that there is nothing further we can do to protect students because we want an open campus. With the basketball courts, we seem to be saying that we are willing to close off this part of campus to protect students. The racial components of this seem all too stark. We can do nothing to protect students of color and others from a fascist, anti-Semitic group. Still, we can protect students at the basketball courts by taking measures that will likely keep out people of color. We need to look for a solution that is inclusive.

We encourage senior leadership and the Xavier community to think beyond the paradigm of policing as the only solution. We need to engage in community building. A first step could be a conversation on how we come together to tackle vandalism on our campus. Some say such conversations never lead to action, but the attacks by the White supremacist groups are something new, and we need to hear the voices of the students, staff and faculty who are internalizing these attacks. We envision coming together as students (who are already taking the initiative to voice their own concerns, as is evident in the recent Newswire op-ed by Charlie Gstalder), faculty, staff, administration, alumni and community members. We must listen, we must understand, we must learn and we must work together to build on what has already been done and supported by Xavier, including the research about Xavier’s connection to slavery; the renaming of Fenwick Hall; the Truth, Racial Healing and Reconciliation grants offered to campus; as well as the research and expertise of our professors and staff.

Instead of addressing campus incidents one at a time, we think that one component of community building would be leveraging our educational assets in an ongoing, productive dialogue to further our understanding of fascism, anti-Semitism, racism and the tools to resist these hateful ideologies. Many places on campus have a piece of this puzzle; if we can bring all of us together, we can build on our resources and make our actions more effective.

Foundations have been laid, but significant work remains if we want to truly call ourselves an anti-racist institution and embody what we committed ourselves to when we approved the Xavier University President’s Cabinet’s Commitment to Fight against Racism and the Faculty Assembly Commitment to Fight against Racism, Anti-Black Racism, and White Supremacy. We do all this so that we support and encourage the full realization of our community’s potential, but especially in the spirit of solidarity and kinship, cura personalis and the other Jesuit values communicated in Manresa and GOA. By standing alongside and giving special attention to those most vulnerable to a racist system, we enact those values. We must do more to be the people for others that we are called to be.

Admittedly, this is not easy, but we believe that Xavier has the resources to do this work. We are willing to engage with the Xavier community in this critical work. We invite faculty, staff and senior leadership to contact any of the facilitators listed below and to join AARA. We encourage students to contact or join the Xavier Student Aspiring Anti-Racist Allies group by reaching out to Angela Gray-Girton in the Center for Faith and Justice and through her email below. 

In an effort to foster meaningful conversations and build community, we have also shared this letter with Xavier’s senior leadership and multiple groups across campus to support those who have been impacted, particularly BIPOC students, staff and faculty.

Respectfully, 

The faculty, staff, and alumni members of Xavier University Aspiring Anti-Racist Allies


Facilitators and co-authors for AARA are:

  • Tracey DuEst, associate director of institutional diversity and inclusion, duestt@xavier.edu
  • Angela Gray-Girton, assistant director of service and justice in the Center for Faith and Justice, graya3@xavier.edu
  • Wendy Maxian, associate professor and chair of the communication department, maxianw@xavier.edu
  • Thomas Strunk, associate professor/director of classics and modern languages program and director of faculty programs in the Center for Mission and Identity, strunkt@xavier.edu
  • Andrea Wawrzusin, university registrar, wawruzsina@xavier.edu 

Additional Co-Authors

  • James E. Wermers, Xavier alum, Class of 2003 
  • Irene B. Hodgson, emeritus and adjunct Spanish professor 
  • Carol Scheeer, program director, chair and associate professor of the occupational therapy department