Racial Strife: Yesterday. Today. Tomorrow?
By Kenneth B. Durgans
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., in his 1958 book Stride Toward Freedom, posed a number of questions during the Montgomery boycott that apply to the racial dilemmas facing Cincinnati, where the April killing of an unarmed black fugitive by a white police officer sparked three days of rioting.
“Since the problems here are merely symptomatic of the larger national problem, where do we go from here?” King wrote. “What are these forces that have brought the crisis about? What will be the conclusion? Are we caught in a social and political impasse, or do we have at our disposal the creative resources to achieve the ideals of brotherhood and harmonious living?”
If Cincinnati is to move down the road marked solutions, it must take a hard look at itself. Cincinnati must be less concerned about its image than in developing a viable process to address its problems surrounding race relations. The denial factor so common throughout this city—that there are no major problems here—looms as a critical impediment to achieving positive cross-cultural communication. It is clear that people in Cincinnati march to different beats, one black and one white, often not listening to each other.
School is still out on whether city officials will take appropriate measures to enhance race relations and provide a better climate of inclusiveness and true cultural respect. These concerns remain in the wake of the city’s quick decision to fund a crusade to restore Cincinnati’s great image, which was illusionary in the first place. More pressing is the fact that time is moving forward, the players haven’t changed and problems continue to fester, all while melancholy wails reverberate throughout the city proclaiming that the status quo can no longer prevail. The future health of the entire city will be substantially influenced by the actions taken, or not taken, in the next few months. The widespread success of whatever initiatives are established depends on the active involvement of everyone in Cincinnati.
Realizing our role as citizens of this city, I am pleased to say that Xavier is engaging in a proactive process of introspection around issues of race. The first step in this process was a call to action issued to the entire campus community. Shortly after the city’s civil unrest unfolded in April, a committee was assembled to plan a campuswide forum. The event took place with the full support of our president, Michael J. Graham, S.J., who wanted to address and listen to the concerns of the campus community.
With invitations sent out only 24 hours before the event, committee members nervously wondered aloud how many people would choose to attend. We tried to downplay attendance expectations to ease any possible disappointment. As it turned out, attendance exceeded our greatest expectations. An overflow crowd of more than 250 administrators, students, staff and faculty attended what proved to be an absolutely insightful and cathartic event. Countless people of varying hues stood and shared their thoughts, experiences and concerns about race relations. I believe those in attendance would agree that the dialogue was positive and well-received.
To advance the process begun that night, a committee was chartered by Father Graham and charged with the task of designing a plan to further address issues of race. This committee continues to meet regularly. In addition, several focused initiatives have been established. A campus multicultural committee comprising students, faculty and administrators now exists. The office of multicultural affairs is sponsoring a variety of new diversity awareness programs. We are also in the process of developing additional strategies to expand diversity on campus. These efforts include plans to increase the number of minorities at Xavier, students and faculty.
No single strategy can be regarded as a panacea for exposing the campus community to the increasing impact of race in our world. Therefore, it becomes incumbent upon all of us to continuously engage in the creation of strategies to eradicate social inequality. On campus and, most notably, in Greater Cincinnati, too many people just don’t stand up—they simply watch and say nothing. This must change. In an effort to help, our new committees will attempt to provide activities that shape and hone the tools necessary to empower those people eager to address the race question. Whatever solutions are generated must challenge all at Xavier to find their actual level of commitment to social responsibility, and to assume it.
Xavier must also join others in the city of Cincinnati to work to bridge the gap between the white power structure and the African-American community. As an institution that passionately purports to be enlightened about issues of justice, we cannot allow our voices to be muffled or silenced by those visible or invisible, who would rather we remain aloof in our ivy-adorned academic towers. We can and will continue to espouse within our community a culture of service rooted in the ideals of social service and educational equity. And we must continue our dedication to facilitating opportunities in which every member of our community can reach their full potential as learners as well as socially astute and active people.