Silence sends a message

This editorial was written by Wendy Maxian, Ashley Hinck, Andrew Zolides, and Leslie Rasmussen Faculty, Department of Communication

Silence is a powerful communication strategy.

In interpersonal conversations, it can communicate sympathetic support or encourage guilt and shame.

In classrooms, awkward silences can produce profound insights or can signal misunderstanding.

In civic engagement, silence lets others control the narrative while tacitly supporting what they are saying. Silence is acquiescence.

Opinion columnists and contributors in the Cincinnati Enquirer have repeatedly and directly attacked Xavier undergraduates’ civic engagement while praising the president and senior leadership’s resolve.

President Colleen Hanycz and the Senior Leadership Council have remained silent. They have not refuted the columnists’ claims, letting the broader Cincinnati community believe that Xavier students are extremists, suborning authoritarianism and irrational, failed citizens.

However, we know better.

As faculty, we talk with, listen to and mentor students every day during their four years at Xavier and after they graduate. 

We attend student events on campus, eat with them in the cafeteria, attend their sporting events and hear discussions between students who agree and disagree with one another. 

Overwhelmingly, Xavier students’ viewpoints are well-formed, evidence-driven and considered. 

They do not accept an idea without questioning, researching or challenging it. 

They debate each other and faculty. Given the chance, they would also debate the new “Justice in Residence” Joe Deters. 

Xavier students are not rash, reflexive ideologues. They are deliberative, discerning thinkers.

Our experience with Xavier students stands in stark contrast to the little evidence that columnists have gathered. 

Rather than actually engaging with and challenging the students’ evidenced arguments regarding Deters’ documented history of racist dog whistles, controversial policy positions and victim blaming, these columnists rely on generic, lazy “culture war” talking points.

And for what do they attack students? 

Circulating a petition. Civically engaging. Asking Xavier community leaders to explain themselves. Standing in solidarity with people of color, sexual assault victims and marginalized communities. Working toward justice by objecting to the death penalty. Doing what students came to Xavier to learn about and what they have been repeatedly encouraged to do. Doing what Xavier aspires to be.

Was the students’ ask to rescind the appointment too big? Was senior leadership upset that students questioned their unilateral decision to appoint Deters? Maybe, but Xavier students, staff and faculty will never know without a public explanation. 

By remaining publicly silent and only discussing the Deters appointment in private meetings, Hanycz and leadership have let students, who they directly serve, and Xavier’s brand be repeatedly dragged around the Tri-State all the way to the Ohio Attorney General’s office.

Xavier leadership has accepted the columnists’ applause and ignored the Xavier community. 

It is, in fact, Xavier’s leadership who have not engaged, not listened to alternative viewpoints and have relied on groupthink. 

While telling students to listen and consider alternative viewpoints, Xavier’s leadership themselves have not listened or considered. 

From a strategic communication point of view, silence not only supports a stated viewpoint, but it also lets others control the narrative.

Letting external third parties control the narrative is particularly problematic.

The Enquirer’s narrative about Xavier’s villainous, outspoken students and heroic, domineering leadership is not a good brand narrative.

Of course, people reading and thinking about the columns may arrive at alternative interpretations to the only publicly presented opinion. 

One alternative to the villain-hero narrative is that Xavier leadership ignores students’ legitimate concerns, stifles their expression and patronizes them, which is not a good brand narrative. 

Another is that Xavier does not keep its brand promises, that it does not follow the code of community it promotes or that, as Jason Willams’ April 5 Enquirer column and April 8 lead story noted, it is kicking out its “touchy-feely Jesuit priests.”

Impressively, Williams manages to ignore the fact that Xavier is a Jesuit Catholic institution,  dismiss the core Jesuit value and pillar of the new strategic plan, cura personalis and simultaneously tie Xavier to the Catholic Church’s past sexual abuse scandals. 

Again, none of this is a good brand narrative. 

Leadership’s silence endorses the columnists’ narratives and allows them to take control, warp and damage Xavier’s brand image. 

Silence also leaves Xavier community members to write their own narratives about Deters’ appointment.

Without leadership’s public explanation, members of the Xavier community are left with no choice but to create their own explanations, which are also not good brand narratives. 

Students, staff and faculty have questions about the appointment process, whom we serve and why leadership has ignored community members’ legitimate critiques.    

Since the Xavier community cannot rely on Hanycz and leadership to participate in community discussions, students, staff and faculty must carry on those discussions.

Faculty, staff and students must provide the brand narrative that builds community, belonging and productive civic culture.

We must continue encouraging and supporting each other’s civic engagement on and off campus. 

While recognizing and preserving each other’s human dignity, we must help each other understand multiple viewpoints and discern our own. 

We must listen to, believe and uplift each other, especially our community members of color and other members who feel marginalized by Deters’ appointment and other decisions. 

We must keep living the mission by embracing justice, solidarity, kinship and love.

If Xavier’s leadership will not defend its students or community, we fear they will soon not have students or a community left to defend. 

This editorial has been endorsed by the following Xavier community members, including faculty, staff, students and alumni (in alphabetical order):

  • Nihal Ahmed (‘23), Fine Arts
  • Anonymous (‘17), Communication and Media Studies
  • Anonymous (‘23), Biomedical and Environmental Science
  • Anonymous (‘23), Environmental Science
  • Anonymous (‘23), Fine Arts
  • Anonymous (‘24), Biology
  • Anonymous (‘24), Nursing
  • Anonymous, Alumni
  • Anonymous, Current Student, Political Science
  • Anonymous, Faculty
  • Anonymous, Staff, Director
  • Anonymous, Teaching Professor, College of Professional Sciences
  • Kelly Austin, Senior Teaching Professor, English
  • Laney Bender-Slack, Professor, Education 
  • Jon Bernard (‘23), Biology and Psychology
  • Michelle E. Brady, Chair and Professor, Philosophy
  • Iris Boyer (‘24), PPP and Spanish
  • Tess Brewer (‘23), Psychology 
  • MaryBeth Brown (‘23), Psychology
  • Minerva Catral, Associate Professor, Mathematics
  • Diane Ceo-DiFrancesco, Professor, Classics and Modern Languages
  • Tate Clemons (‘25), Sociology and Musical Theatre
  • Suparna Chatterjee, Associate Professor, History and Williams College of  Business
  • Spencer de Tenley (‘25), Math and Digital Media
  • Blis DeVault, Professor, Communication
  • Alexis Dianda, Assistant Professor,  Philosophy
  • Em, Staff, Biology
  • Kate Ferrell (‘22)
  • Renea Frey, Associate Professor, English
  • Anne Fuller, Assistant Professor, Psychology
  • NG (‘17), Digital Film and Television (formerly Electronic Media)
  • Jeffrey M. Gerding, Associate Professor, English
  • Gabe Gottlieb, Faculty Committee Chair and Associate Professor, Philosophy
  • Jon Gromek, Alumni
  • Kathleen Hart, Professor, Psychology
  • Bethany Henning, Besl Chair for Ethics/Religion and Society, Philosophy
  • Margo J. Heydt, Associate Professor, Social Work
  • Megan Humphry (‘22), Health Services Administration
  • Natalia Jackovkis, Associate Professor, Classics and Modern Languages
  • Hannah Kaiser (‘22), Music
  • Susan Kenford, Associate Professor, Director of Clinical Training,  Psychology
  • Bethany Lam, Teaching Professor, English
  • Julia Lankisch (‘23), Music and Environmental Science
  • Shelagh Larkin, Senior Teaching Professor and Director for Field Education, Social Work
  • John Lavelle (‘05), English, minors in Spanish and Latin American Studies, Norwood business owner
  • Logan (‘23), Social Work
  • Melissa Navarra (‘23), Economics
  • Mich Nyawalo, Associate Professor, Race, Intersectionality, Gender, and Sociology
  • Adolfo Nuñez, Alumni
  • Julia C. O’Hara, Associate Professor, History
  • Niamh J. O’Leary, Associate Professor, English
  • José María Mantero, Professor,  Classics and Modern Languages
  • Gabriela Martinez (‘22), Environmental Science and Peace and Justice Studies
  • Katie Meyer Moroski (‘04)
  • Mike Moroski (‘01, ‘10), 2011 Magis Award Recipient
  • Morrie Mullins, Professor and Chair, School, Psychology
  • Ethan Nichols (‘25), PPP and English
  • Matthew Nichols (‘22), Fine Art and Education
  • Amelia Pisarik, Current Student
  • Kristen Renzi, Chair, Race, Intersectionality, Gender, and Sociology and Associate Professor, English
  • Carol Scheerer, Associate Professor, Program Director and Chair Department,  Occupational Therapy
  • Juan Suárez Ontaneda, Assistant Professor, Classics and Modern Languages
  • Maria Richard (‘25), PPP and International Studies
  • Amelia Riedel, Teaching Professor, Communication 
  • Chris Sutton, alumnus
  • Ben Thomson (‘23), Digital Film and Television
  • Mercedes Torres (‘23), Social Work
  • Jamie H. Trnka, Chair and Professor, Classics and Modern Languages
  • Clare Wangard (‘25), Environmental Science
  • Marita von Weissenberg, Associate Professor, History
  • Amy C. Whipple, Chair and Associate Professor, History
  • Jodi L. Wyett, Chair and Professor, English
  • Stephen Yandell, Associate Professor, English
  • Zach, Staff
  • Margaret Bell Zolides (‘11), History and Secondary Education