Crossing Cultures

The department of history launched a new course last fall that gives sophomore history majors a colloquium experience, enhances the University’s gender and diversity offerings, and satisfies the one-credit diversity requirement of the core curriculum.

The four-credit course, which last fall was called Race and Autobiography, offers students an opportunity to experience comparative history, says department chair John Fairfield. It’s being offered again next spring and could have a different focus each time. But it will always be a team-taught colloquium cross-cultural study.

Race and Autobiography involved a study of racism across different cultures. Robert Jefferson taught the African-American component, Kathleen Smythe focused on Africa, and Julia O’Hara concentrated on Latin America. “They thought that reading autobiographies would be a good way into how people experience racism differently in different cultures,” Fairfield says.

Road to Excellence

David Dodd walks into his office on the seventh floor of Schott Hall, introduces himself and apologizes for being late. Someone, he explains, grabbed him to talk a minute. A lot of people want to talk to Dodd these days. With Xavier in the midst of major leaps in technology, Dodd, the University’s vice president for information resources and chief information officer, is at the epicenter of the action.

 

“In literally 18-20 months from now, Xavier will have technology on a level very likely equal to any university in the nation,” Dodd says. “But it will not be because we’ve spent the most money, it will be because we’ve made the best choices.”

Those choices have been kicked around for a while, but they reached critical mass about a year ago when Xavier found itself in a bad competitive situation—it was virtually the only university in the region without comprehensive wireless capabilities. Only a limited number of buildings were wireless, with some bleed-over from those buildings to areas of the academic mall—a situation that persists, but only for the moment.

“More and more, students are making technology a primary decision point for where they go to school, and that’s a simple reality,” Dodd says. “If we don’t have it, they’ll go somewhere that does.”

This summer, the University took a giant step toward righting the situation when it began transforming the entire campus—inside and out—into a wireless environment. That means students will be able to use hand-held computers and wireless-compatible laptops anytime, anyplace on campus.

It’s all part of the major initiative to significantly strengthen the University’s competitive position across the country—a charge directly from Xavier President Michael J. Graham, S.J.

“The University’s vision is to be the leading comprehensive Jesuit university in the nation,” Dodd says. “We want to make sure that the technology is there to support that vision. And specifically what we want to do is make sure that we have the technology to support Jesuit education for the 21st century.” Not that Xavier has been standing still in the technology race—two years ago, the University completed installation of a new, $7-million enterprise-planning resource system that covers all administrative and student information systems. But from a competitive standpoint, as viewed by potential students, the University’s technological advances were either invisible or barely relevant.

That began to change in a very major way last January when the University unveiled its accepted student portal, Roadto.Xavier.edu. “It took us from far back in the pack to being among the leading institutions in the country with regards to that kind of portal,” Dodd says. “In terms of operational efficiency, in terms of strategic competitive advantage going after students, in terms of really quantum leaps forward in our internal technical capabilities, this was a major accomplishment.”

And the interactive site uses technology that may soon surface in other ways. The goal, Dodd says, is to create a sustainable sense of community where people can stay connected to each other. “Once we have the technology that allows us to form these virtual communities and allow these things to happen, we can take that same technology and apply it to different areas,” he says. “That level of knowledge and experience and technical capability we can take and apply to different areas, which is a tremendous strategic advantage for us.”

One thing is certain: Much of the future is based on technology. And the University continues growing in this arena. On the immediate horizon, next year the University is installing a new network operating system, using what Dodd calls the best products in the industry, giving Xavier online collaborative capabilities equal to any competing institutions.

“In the use of technology, we are on the road to excellence,” Dodd says. “One of our greatest challenges is stay on top of those developments in new and emerging technologies. For us, it’s anticipating where technology is going to be and making sure that we are agile and adaptable enough to be there.”

Wheels of Success

Eric Keller had a problem that was keeping him up nights. It was fall semester 2000, and he needed $100,000 over the next four years to pay for his education. One sleepless night, the freshman decided to do what he knew best—buy and sell cars, something he’d done in high school. So Keller bought a used BMW, fixed a few things and sold it for a profit. The wheels were in motion. Four years and about 120 cars later, Keller graduated with majors in entrepreneurial studies and marketing and launched Car Locators, a Cincinnati company specializing in hard-to-find luxury cars for discriminating buyers.

Most Car Locators’ customers are career professionals who may not have the time—about 20 hours—to find a particular car. “We are only interested in dealing with the top 5 to 10 percent of quality cars that you’ll find on the open market,” Keller says. “I only buy cars I would drive personally.”

Further refining the niche, Keller makes it a point to stock limited-production models whenever possible. And he’ll go just about anywhere—most recently the Netherlands—to get what he’s looking for. This spring, Keller’s brother Evan joined the company after graduating from the University. Thus far, the company has grossed about $2.7 million, often via their web site,www.CarLocatorsInc.com. And, yes, Keller sleeps much better these days.

The Play

When Xavier sophomore Richard Kase walked into the Marshall University stadium in Huntington, W. Va., in 1971, an eerie feeling overtook him. Inside were numerous memorials commemorating the plane crash that killed 75 members of Marshall’s football team months earlier, and this game marked the first for Marshall since the crash. The school recruited walk-ons, transfers—nearly anyone who could wear a uniform—and they quickly earned the nickname the Young Thundering Herd. So, it came as quite a surprise when Marshall defeated Xavier, 15-13, in the game’s final seconds.

 

“They marched down to inside our five-yard-line and it was an unusual play that won the game for them,” says Kase, a linebacker who was pulled at the last second only to watch his team lose from the sidelines. Despite his disappointment, Kase now has a new perspective on the game.

“I look at it as that was supposed to happen,” he says. “Once again, fate was in their hands. They won, and it turned their program around. It showed they could come back from such a horrible tragedy, and it instilled in them that the program can survive.”

That historic game is now an integral part of the movie, “We Are Marshall,” due to open in December. The movie’s producers called Xavier for help with matching uniforms and other details from that era, and even interviewed former Xavier players for the bonus features of the DVD.

The Face of Success

Yolanda Webb struggled every morning when it came time to put on her makeup. The former model was living overseas, and the department stores didn’t offer makeup for women of color. “I couldn’t find things to match my skin, and just being unhappy made me mix and match things myself,” she says.

 

After returning to the U.S., she connected with a pharmaceutical/cosmoceutical company in Los Angeles and began E’LON Cosmetics, a full line of makeup for women of color. She opened a store in Cincinnati in 2003, and it wasn’t long before Macy’s took notice and approached her about doing business together. “That wasn’t in my original business plan because the model was set up as a stand-alone store,” Webb says. “We were talking distribution channels, so I knew I needed a different business model as we got further into talks.”

Webb got in touch with Sherrie Human, Castellini chair for Xavier’s entrepreneurial center, who turned Webb’s business struggles into a class project. Students visited the store, tested products, researched the competition and made financial predictions.

“I was honored, excited about the opportunity, but also very cautious because I know the competition and the market, and I didn’t want to get so far over my head that I couldn’t handle it,” Webb says. “A part of the plan the students showed me was how I could have controlled growth.”

After two successful trunk shows at Macy’s, Webb closed her store and now operates exclusively through the company’s makeup counters. More important, she expects to turn a profit in the next couple of years.

The Art of X

If you’ve ever wanted to sneak a peek at the University’s art collection—or if you weren’t aware one existed—here’s your chance to be impressed.

 

In honor of Xavier’s 175th anniversary, the University art gallery is hosting a special exhibition of about 50 pieces from the Xavier collection from Oct. 3-27. Gallery director Kitty Uetz says the exhibition features about 50 works, a mix of paintings and sculpture.

And though the final lineup is still being set, Uetz says it will likely include such works as Paul Chidlaw’s painting, “A Civilized Statement” and John Stobart’s maritime scene, “The Dashing Waltz Entering the Golden Gate” and a John Ruthven wildlife print, “Sand Hill Crane.”

Uetz says it’s unusual for so many of the pieces in the collection to be shown together.

A special reception is planned for Academic Day, Oct. 3. “I think it’s a great way to celebrate the 175th anniversary,” Uetz says. Gallery hours for the exhibition are 10:00 a.m.-4:00 p.m., Monday-Friday.

Steak Fry

The triple-digit heat may have kept some away, but 150 alumni still made it out to the Cincinnati chapter’s first alumni steak fry, which took place on campus in July.

 

The weather forced the event, originally scheduled to take place on the residential mall, into the student dining hall. But it didn’t wilt any of the fun.

While alumni enjoyed their steak or chicken dinners, they listened to head basketball coaches Sean Miller and Kevin McGuff talk about their respective upcoming seasons and field questions about their recent recruiting efforts. Basketball standout and recent graduate Brian Thornton also made an appearance in which he confided to the crowd that his Xavier education was his insurance policy if basketball didn’t work out.

Scene of the Crime

A dark, windowless room holds the only evidence found at the crime scene: strands of hair firmly clutched in a dead man’s hand. Workers in white lab coats and floor-length aprons analyze every fragment, comparing the strands with hair samples from five suspects. They hurry to solve the crime, taking careful notes. After all, their final grade hinges on what they find.

 

The crime scene is actually Xavier’s new criminalistics lab, which was erected last year in the basement of the Cohen Center next to a classroom to form an interactive lab/lecture arrangement. Run by husband-and-wife professors Jack and Marilyn Richardson, the lab is the scene where the criminalistics courses come to life.

“The area of criminalistics, where a collection of evidence can legally and scientifically lead to prosecution, has been a hot topic since the O.J. Simpson trial,” Jack says. That increased the popularity of the courses—class sizes reach 40 or more with lengthy waiting lists—and spurred construction of the lab. The lab can be arranged to accommodate different types of evidence—blood spatter, fingerprints, hair fibers. “In a lot of ways, forensic science is more important than autopsy, because it begins at the crime scene,” Richardson says. “In our labs, students have a lot of fun while learning about how real crimes are committed and how criminalistics can solve them.”

So who killed the man with the hair in his hand? Can’t say, Richardson says. All we know is, the butler didn’t do it.

Saving the Station

Jesus and the other Biblical figures in the historic artwork needed a little help. Twenty-five years ago, the parishes of Saint Boniface and Saint James in Ludlow, Ky., merged, bringing together the German Catholic and Irish Catholic congregations of the small river city across from downtown Cincinnati. At the time, the plaster relief Stations of the Cross taken from Saint James, which were crafted in 1905, were simply stored in a cellar. Last year, though, the church began a major renovation and wanted to hang the Stations. When church officials dug them out of the cellar, though, they made a sad discovery: the art fell into disrepair during its years in storage.

Given the parish’s size—Saints Boniface and James counts maybe 400 members—funds were at a premium. Members were doing most of the work to the church to save money, but the old Stations of the Cross needed professional restoration, something beyond its parishioners’ skills. So Mary Beth Muntel, a 1971 Edgecliff graduate and the church’s director of religious education, called Xavier’s art department and found Kelly Phelps, a sculptor and an assistant professor of art. He and his twin brother Kyle, a professor at the University of Dayton, offered to fix the broken sculptures.

“Kelly was so nice and so interested in these old Stations,” Muntel says. The Phelps brothers work on several pieces at a time, then return them to the church where members repaint them. The plan, according to Muntel, is to have all the work completed for the church’s anniversary celebration in October.

Better yet, from the parish’s point of view, the brothers donated their efforts. “It is just a wonderful thing that Kelly’s doing,” she says. “Without him, they wouldn’t have been done.”

A Woman’s World

Women students are now the majority at Xavier, and the University is adjusting to meet their needs

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The door to the first-floor women’s restroom in Alter Hall flings open and Patty LaGrange barges in. She walks over to the flimsy couch in the front room and settles in, waiting for her fellow freshman classmates, Mary Ellen Harkins and Jean Klingenberg. They’re meeting her here, like they do every day—before going to class, before going to the Grille, before going anywhere on the Xavier campus. It’s an odd place, estranged from the rest of campus, but it’s their refuge from the world outside.

It’s winter of 1966, and the trio are the only freshman women attending day classes among the 3,000-member, otherwise all-male student body. Here in the bathroom—with the pink cement block walls and convenient shelf to hold their makeup—they gather for safety, community and support. Here they study together before class and share stories of their experiences on campus, where they are always the lone females in classes of men. They’re here because there isn’t any other place at Xavier for women day students to go.

The University won’t officially admit women as day students for another three years, but a few—the early integrators—are allowed to attend day classes as commuter students, some because their parents are Xavier employees. For LaGrange, it just made sense to come to Xavier. While her sisters and friends took off for more traditional all-women colleges, she chose Xavier because of the free tuition. Her father, Glen LaGrange, is a psychology professor, and she’s one of seven children. So saving money is a priority. But she didn’t realize until she arrived on campus just how difficult it would be. And this day would be no different.

Smoothing the neat, wool pantsuit she’s wearing to guard against the chilly winter day, she says goodbye to her friends and heads out of the lounge and off to class. As she weaves her way through the crowded lobby, a Jesuit priest calls her out. She stops cold and goes rigid as he chastises her for violating the dress code, which specifies only skirts and dresses for women. No pants.

After the scolding, she goes on her way, embarrassed and unsure, feeling ever more an outsider in a foreign world.

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That was 40 years ago. Though LaGrange and her colleagues suffered other embarrassing moments navigating the new role they found themselves thrust into, their efforts paved the way for a new Xavier where today, women are free to dress comfortably in shorts, slacks, sleeveless shirts and sandals without fear of reprimand from authoritative father figures. They’re also free to choose any course of study, run for student government, form a club, try out for a sport and compete for scholarships.

Xavier today is a different place. It’s come a long way from those difficult days of transition paved by LaGrange and her colleagues, who were viewed by some as intruders in a sanctuary of men. It has become in many ways a woman’s world. And so has nearly every college in the U.S. In LaGrange’s freshman year, 2.5 million women attended college, compared to four million men. Gender-segregated colleges were common, particularly in Catholic higher education. By 2004, however, nine million women were in college compared to seven million men, with 57 percent of those earning bachelor’s degrees and 58 percent of those earning master’s degrees being women.

It’s the same at Xavier. Women students now outnumber men, nearly half the full-time faculty are women and women make up more than half the full-time staff.

The University, as a result, has been forced to change, and it’s done so by placing women’s issues at the forefront in various ways—confronting issues such as sexual harassment and gender discrimination; adding and expanding services for women at the health center; addressing academically the unique pressures and challenges confronting professional women today, including the addition of a gender and diversity studies program. And just last year, the University hired Cheryl Nunez to fill the newly created position of Vice Provost for Diversity, which addresses gender issues as well as race.

But the University is doing even more. This year a Women’s Initiative is beginning to cultivate women alumnae to be leaders, benefactors and active participants—a direct result of the number of women alumnae gaining on men. And this fall, it’s opening a women’s center on campus where all of these issues—and more—can be brought together and discussed. In doing so, it’s correcting what many women say was a big mistake made 26 years ago that set the University back decades in terms of its recognition and support for the advancement of women.

The University had a women’s center, known as Breen Lodge, from 1972 until 1980, when it was abruptly closed. For eight years, the lodge was a popular gathering place for talks, seminars and the Free University, which offered courses on different topics of the day. It taught auto mechanics to women in the basement and operated a weekly radio talk show that explored women’s issues.

After it was closed, many petitions circulated calling for its revival. In 2005, with such calls from students and faculty reaching a peak, University administrators agreed it was time.

The new center has three primary functions: to provide a residential safe space for women who’ve been assaulted; to offer confidential counseling and advocacy for women; and to serve as a clearinghouse for and sponsor of programs, organizations and resources that explore and promote issues particular to women.

“It is not because we are amid some crisis for women at Xavier,” says Nunez, the new vice provost for diversity. “And it’s not an indication Xavier is a hostile atmosphere for women. It’s just the opposite. It’s because we’ve made such wonderful strides to address women’s presence, issues and interests. But with all those accretions comes the need for some coherence and coordination. We see the center as a place to coordinate and give coherence philosophically to and make more visible this massive initiative we’re so proud of and to put it to use in ways that are not feasible without a coordinating structure.”

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Going to college isn’t all that easy for anyone. For women, it was and still can be extra challenging.

“It was not impossible to succeed, but you had to be really sure of yourself and confident in your abilities,” says Kandi Stinson, associate vice president for academic affairs. “You were not going to get a lot of external validation of yourself and being told that you’re capable and bright. It’s hard to integrate a place. The burden of proof is on you. You have to be better than average when you’re in the minority. The early integrators have that burden on them. They are a test, and if they fail, it’s harder for others to follow.”

Stinson faced similar challenges when she was hired with a cohort group of 10 women in 1987 as a tenure track professor of political science. She not only had to prove she was as good as her male colleagues, she had to excel in order to get positive notice, and do it in a virtual vacuum as the handful of women professors were scattered across campus.

It’s better for women today, she says, but they still face many challenges that men don’t. Women are more likely than men to experience poverty and violent crime. More women are raising children alone. And women still lag behind men in educational attainment, employment, income and professional status.

Such pressures take their toll physically, too, leading to a greater need for women’s health services. In addition to offering more gynecological services to women, the McGrath Health and Counseling Center is handling its share of women students suffering from eating disorders such as anorexia. Many women struggle with body image issues, and McGrath has seen an increase in women students with eating disorders in the last few years. There were six in the first half of last year alone, says Dr. James Konerman, medical director at McGrath.

Women students also deal with increasing incidents of sexual harassment and assault—as do most colleges campuses in the U.S. The University is responding with updated discipline policies, an emergency hotline, round-the-clock advocacy assistance, and student orientation sessions about dating and sexual power issues.

But Xavier still has few women in administrative positions, and though it strives to create a family-friendly environment, there is no day care program on campus.

“Despite the real progress, there still remain a number of obstacles women face,”  Stinson says. But she notes the focus on women is expanding. For example, the faculty is proposing to increase the number of gender and diversity studies credits within the required core curriculum.

The women’s center will address all these issues. It will also reach out to men.

“It’s a women’s center, but it’s going to serve all students, including male students,” says Luther Smith, dean of students and assistant vice president for student  life. “There will be educational opportunities for young men to learn what their responsibility is in making a safer, more accepting environment and what they can do to stop issues like rape and advocate more on women’s issues.”

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In February, LaGrange returned to the University to give a presentation for a gender and diversity forum about her early days on campus. She talked about how hard it was at first—the ugly, “You don’t belong here,” comments from guys and the professors who would invite her to leave the classroom because they were preparing to discuss a sensitive topic. Once she was asked to leave an English class because they were viewing etchings that contained partial nudity. She declined. Another time, when she questioned a grade as her male classmates had done, the professor asked her to stop by his office to discuss the grade in private, an invitation he had not offered the men. She declined that, too.

“I had a professor whose simple line was that women didn’t belong in the university but at home pregnant and barefoot in the kitchen making meatloaf. I could never tell how much he was kidding and looking for debate or how much was serious, but he certainly and consistently put down women,” LaGrange says.

There were great moments, too, such as when a group of guys came and sat with her and her girlfriends at a football game to stop nasty comments by two male freshmen sitting a few rows above. To the University’s credit, she says, much of the harassment stopped after her first year. In fact, as events like Martin Luther King’s and President Kennedy’s assassinations, the Vietnam War and the Kent State killings took place, the presence of women became less of an issue. Everyone was focusing on the outside world. “Being a woman didn’t matter anymore,” she says.

By the time she graduated in 1970, the dress code was gone, she was living in a women’s dorm, and women were pouring in to take their place on campus. By 1980, women students outnumbered men, and have ever since. This year is no different. The new freshman class is 55 percent women and 45 percent men—something LaGrange could never have fathomed in 1966 when she was one of three.

“I don’t think I ever realized fully what I was getting into,” she says. “I just wanted to be a student. I didn’t feel like an integrator at all. We just hid in the ladies room and went to class and tried to make it work for us.”