Xavier came a long way in the decade that began with the Civil Rights Movement. But then, it had a long way to go. The University had been admitting black students since the 1940s. But in 1965 it discovered it was doing so in violation of its original mission statement of 1840 that limited the University to the “education of white youth.”
The wording was amended, but Xavier still did not formally count the number of black students until 1969, when the census recorded 30 black undergraduate students—almost twice the 17 who were enrolled when students like Ken Blackwell arrived in 1966. Blackwell joined an informal support group for black students on campus and helped turn it into a formal student organization, renaming it the African American Student Association. Right away, the group began working for serious change at Xavier.
The club demanded the University hire more black faculty and recruit black students, offer scholarships and mentors for black students, and integrate African American history into the coursework. And it did.
“Like Lincoln said, we’re not a perfect union, and Xavier was imperfect, but it was perfectable, and we were able to make it a better place,” says Blackwell, who earned a master’s at Xavier and went on to a career in government service including as Ohio Treasurer and Secretary of State.
Xavier today looks a lot different than it did in the early 1960s. Minority students now make up nearly 20 percent of undergraduate enrollment. About 12 percent of faculty are non-white. Students can major in Gender and Diversity Studies, all students study cultural diversity and the Black Student Association has a long history of representing black students on campus.
The University owes a lot to those activists of the 1960s, students who took great risks to change the inequality they saw around them, says history professor Christine Anderson. She and others have brought events to campus commemorating the Freedom Riders, the Underground Railroad and the lunch counter sit-ins, so students today don’t forget.
“Students at Xavier in the 1960s were willing to question the system they saw around them,” she says. “They educated themselves and committed themselves to change that system. And they made changes.”