Continuity and Change
Michael J. Graham, S.J.
Depperschmidt and Wackenfuss. VanAusdell and Metzell. Schaeffer, Sackenheim and Sauerbeck. Glancing down some of my early class lists when I first came to Xavier led more or less naturally to the good-natured observation, “You know you’re in Cincinnati when...”
Not so, nowadays. As our board of trustees sat down with a good-sized group of students the night before their February board meeting, and names like Benevides, Ibemere and Wayua jumped off the roster, to say nothing of Ofori and Gonzalez-Reyes. (Oh sure. There was also a Hessdoerfer and Ramstetter. Here at Xavier, we call this “continuity and change.”)
But these names are just the tip of the iceberg. A serious commitment to diversity—anchored by the decision in 1969 to admit women as full-time undergraduate students—has marked the University for some years now. From 1999 to 2005, for example, we increased the percentage of students of color in the freshman class from 10.3 percent to 17.5 percent, nearly doubling the number of African-American students from 6.2 percent of the class to 11.4 percent. Similar observations regarding gender and ethnicity could be made with respect to our faculty. From 2001 to 2005 better than one third of our new faculty hires have contributed to diversity among the faculty.
Xavier’s increased emphasis upon taking diversity seriously is, in one way, a response to repeated calls from our faculty, our students, our alumni, our trustees and the business community in which our graduates will find employment. Our world today is a diverse place, and we will do our students a distinct disservice if we do not prepare them to manage, lead and serve within that world.
But Xavier’s commitment to diversity springs from deeper sources as well. As a University, Xavier believes that diversity and inclusion are central virtues because they guarantee a multiplicity of opinions and perspectives that enrich the intellectual environment of the campus community. As a Catholic university, Xavier proudly affirms that all human beings are made in the image and likeness of God, and that, therefore, we must do all we can to better embody the equity and inclusiveness of the kingdom of God itself. As a Jesuit, Catholic university, Xavier strives to ensure that the promotion of a faith that does justice is a constitutive element of what we do here, and, therefore, we believe that the voices of the poor and the marginalized have a special claim upon us. And finally, as a Jesuit, Catholic university in Cincinnati, diversity and inclusion are vital to our work of teaching our students important lessons of engaged citizenship and effective collaboration with the citizens and communities of Greater Cincinnati by our actions as well as our words.
In some ways, this heightened emphasis on diversity and inclusion at Xavier today is something new, something for which we are still very much finding our way. And yet, at a deeper level, it is really not so very new to the work of Xavier University or any one of its many Jesuit sister schools. For the great majority of us were founded by immigrant communities seeking to make their own way in a world that overlooked marginalized or excluded them. These schools were mighty engines for the advancement of the sons and daughters of those immigrant communities into the cultural mainstream. That work must continue today, or we risk losing a vital element of our very souls. In recent freshman classes, 20 percent to 25 percent of our students have been first-generation college-goers. More than any other statistic, that’s the one that tells me that we are continuing to do our job.
I suppose you might put it this way: The mission remains the same; it’s only the names that have changed. Continuity and change indeed.