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Xavier Magazine

The Civil Rights Legacy at Xavier

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.

BLACKWELL_YBBLACKWELL_YBThe 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.”

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Xavier Magazine

Civil Rights at Xavier Today

An African-American student recently told history professor Christine Anderson about an incident when a white girl in her residence hall spelled out the “n” word on a Facebook posting asking people to describe Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech. Though the offending student apologized, the fact it happened illustrates that even though Xavier has come a long way from the early 1960s, it still has a long way to go in the area of race relations and, more generally, human relations.

“The 1960s students showed us it was possible to commit themselves to something, to put ethical Xavier teaching into practice, and to change things,” Anderson says. “But race in America remains the one main political problem.”

Case in point: the protests that exploded in August in Ferguson, Mo., following the shooting death of a black teenager by a white police officer. It took the efforts of a handful of brave students to make everyone aware of America’s struggle with the principle of equality for all, including at Xavier. Now 50 years later, Xavier continues to make civil rights and equality a priority for its students and everyone touched by the University.

students

Race relations

• The Black Student Association advocates for the needs of African-American students at Xavier and provides scholarships to high-achieving black students.
• Africana Studies is offered as a minor to students interested in studying the history and culture of the African continent and the African diaspora.
• E Pluribus Unum is a one-credit hour course in cultural diversity that is required of all Xavier undergraduate students.

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Women and gender

• Gender and Diversity Studies is a newer major allowing students to concentrate on women and gender issues or on race and ethnicity.
• The Xavier Alliance, the first advocacy group for gay students at Xavier, has been welcoming gay students to campus and educating everyone else about gender issues since 2001.

Multicultural

• The Multicultural, Gender and Women’s Center replaced the Office of Multicultural Affairs as the University’s commitment to equality issues faced by diverse student populations.
• Xavier’s Multicultural scholarships such as Miguel Pro and Francis Weninger help cover tuition for minority students.
• Xavier created the Office of Diversity and Equity in 2005 to advance issues of diversity and inclusion.

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