After Georgetown University acknowledged its historical connections to slavery, President Michael Graham, S.J. of Xavier University wondered if Xavier had any connections. Dr. Gollar of the Theology Department reported that Xavier’s newest dorm, Bishop Edward Fenwick Place (pictured below) was named for a man who had owned slaves.
Fr. Graham encouraged Dr. Gollar to investigate the matter and stimulate a university-wide conversation. Dr. Gollar shared preliminary research in spring 2017. Through summer 2017 the "Fenwick Fellows" expanded this research. Fr. Graham meanwhile charged a working group to offer some recommendations. Many persons have contributed to this conversation which continues through 2019.
Miles Tiemeyer, Cormac Cashner, Kara Petit, Veronica Lawrence, and Sean James, Xavier students who expressed interest in the Fenwick project and who, with the support of Fr. Graham and with the guidance of Dr. Gollar, invested about 1000 hours of research through the summer of 2017 studying Fenwick and the broader experience of Xavier with slavery. Their research is especially reflected under “Who were the early Xavier students?”
The summer of 2018 Adrian Perez researched the early students who attended the Athenaeum, what Xavier was called from 1831 to 1840. His research is reflected under "Who were the first Xavier students, 1831-1840."
To explore primary sources from Xavier’s history on the topic, contact Anne Ryckbost, University Archivist and Special Collections Librarian, Xavier University Archives at firstname.lastname@example.org or 513-745-4821.
The research on Fenwick and Xavier's early history has generated many discussions, including with the Student Government Association, the Black Student Association, and in various classrooms. Some of the classroom conversations are reflected under "What are people saying?"
The working group on "Xavier's Connection to Slaveholding," co-chaired by Professor Kathleen Smythe (History Professor) and Kyra Shahid (Associate Director Center for Diversity and Inclusion), was charged in May to prepare a report for Fr. Graham to offer advice and recommendations on how the University should acknowledge and respond to its historical connection to slavery.
The working group includes:
Amit Sen, Economics Professor
Angela Gray, Assistant Director Dorothy Day Center for Faith and Justice
Chris Barbour, Assistant Director Student Athlete Academic Support
Lori Lambert, Senior Director for Student Affairs
Randy Browne, History Assistant Professor (consultant)
Rhandi Wallace, Undergraduate Student
Sean James, Undergraduate Student
Shelagh Larkin, Social Work Clinical Faculty
Timothy Hsu, Graduate Student
Over the summer 2017, members reviewed responses of other universities to similar situations and other examples of restorative justice models (See "What have other Jesuit schools done?"). In fall 2017 the group met with Dr. Gollar and some of his students who shared their research on Fenwick and Xavier's early history.
The Working Group then hosted a series of open conversations for all to learn, listen and reflect on possible ways to respond to Xavier’s early reliance on slavery.
September 17, 2018
This full day of programming included a four-part series of interactions with one of the national thought leaders on university responses to racial injustices from a historical perspective. The series included an intimate setting with students, a conversation with the Working Group on Xavier's Historical Connection to Slavery, a faculty lunch dialogue, and a campus-wide community dialogue. The campus-wide dialogue provided a space for open and honest discussions concerning the history of race and racism at Xavier and the impact of that history on the surrounding communities. Community members, students, staff, and faculty attended the program.
"I am very grateful to Walker Gollar and his students for continuing to push this important project forward. Their research and the subsequent, ongoing conversation is shining light on a topic that needs to be addressed not only on the Xavier campus, but throughout our country.”
Many scholars have contributed to this project. Historians at Xavier and from across the country have been especially helpful. For example, local historian Bill Noll helped Dr. Gollar better understand Fenwick’s experience in Somerset, Ohio.
The editor of the Fenwick Papers, Fr. Luke Tancrell, O.P. (pictured here), who resides at the St. Rose friary Fenwick built in Springfield, Kentucky, similarly offered incredibly insightful counsel, as well as lent to Dr. Gollar his extensive Fenwick collection, including much unpublished archival material.
See William Luke Tancrell, editor, Edward Dominic Fenwick Papers, 1803-1832, Founding American Dominican Friar and Bishop (Washington, D.C.: Dominicana Publications), 2005.