On Wednesday, August 19, 2020, at 3:17 p.m. PST, Sister Joan, Sister Joanie, and Sister Lynn sent out an email entitled “Xavier’s Commitment to Justice.” Upon reading the subject, we were initially hopeful; upon reading the entirety of the email, we are absolutely heartbroken, disillusioned, and speechless. We respectfully and strongly disagree with the claims and accusations made by our own former administrators - most of which are unequivocally untrue. We are current and former students of color and allies who remain silenced, ignored, and misrepresented.
To preface, we harbor no animosity towards Xavier. Alumni, students, and parents have come to this work from a place of love, respect, and gratitude for Xavier, and a desire to better an institution we owe so much to. In the words of James Baldwin, “I love America more than any other country in the world and, exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually.” We love Xavier, and exactly for that reason, we expect Xavier to live up to its mission statement around unity in diversity and human dignity for all students.
Xavier taught us how to lead by example, as young women of faith pursuing excellence, practicing the Catholic values that were instilled in us as students. As such, uplifting the voices of current students at Xavier has always been our primary focus, and our work was borne out of ideas and experiences shared with us by current students and graduates from the Class of 2019.
We have tried to be as transparent as possible through our website and social media, with the exception that we have not made public the names of many of the individuals inside the organization, based on protection from retribution; regardless, any movement is the sum of its parts. Nonetheless, many of the Alumni for Change members participated in a video addressed to Xavier teachers, and we have always identified ourselves by name in all of our communications with the Diocese and Xavier administrators and faculty. We are all former or current students at Xavier; we are teachers, policy practitioners, businesswomen, journalists, lawyers, designers, mothers, partners, community members, and faithful Catholics. We post daily to social media, and have engaged in dialogue with people across the Valley and the U.S. We meet amongst ourselves nightly - often for several hours a night - over Zoom, while juggling full-time jobs, class schedules or homework, just as we did last night.
We would like to take this opportunity to set the record straight, in an effort to remain transparent and steadfast in our work. On June 12, 2020, Xavier responded to the original petition authors, Lauren D'Souza '14 and Sarah Sakha '14 with a one-page PDF document, which could be found on our website and Instagram. Lauren and Sarah responded to Xavier immediately, noting the PDF response did not contain any actions or commitments and politely requesting a meeting. Xavier chose to ignore this direct response and request for a meeting, as well as our subsequent communications and efforts. A full record of our communications with Xavier and the Diocese are publicly available on our website.
Concurrently, mid-June, members of the Class of 2019 Executive Board began speaking more with current Black students to speak on their shared experiences being Black women. Individual students of color over the years have made at least three formal asks of the administration to start a Black Student Union; they have been repeatedly told no, and given varying excuses. A representative from this group sent a formal letter to Xavier mid-June, reflecting on her and others’ experiences and reiterating the need for affinity groups; she received no response.
Over the coming weeks, a group of alumni would begin to organically - and exponentially - grow. Several Zoom calls later, on June 26, Alumni for Change as an organization officially formed, and since that point we have not received a direct response in our capacity as an organization with 100+ alumni. We have since sent 6 direct requests to Xavier and another 6 direct requests to the Diocese asking for dialogue, without any answer; this is why we have said that Xavier has not responded to us, Alumni for Change, or more specifically, offered us an opportunity for dialogue.
In the wake of the national anti-racist protests in early June 2020, hundreds of current and former Xavier students made the difficult decision to come forward and share painful stories of harassment and discrimination by Xavier faculty, administration, and fellow students. While full names are required in order to submit stories, many have chosen to remain anonymous when their story is publicly shared due to fear of retaliation by the institution. Per Xavier’s student handbook, what exactly constitutes “materials...that disrespect or reflect poorly on the Xavier community” remains unclear, and makes it extremely difficult for current students to openly discuss any discriminatory or alienating interactions they have had on campus for fear of being disciplined (2020-2021 Student Handbook, pg.14). Anonymity does not make these stories any less true or anyone’s pain any less tangible. While Xavier acknowledged that racism is a problem in all corners of the world, they failed to acknowledge the pain and suffering caused by racism in their own backyard. We believe we are all called to this reckoning and genuine work of reconciliation.
Xavier discusses the actions the school has allegedly taken to date to address racial justice, including communicating with the Diocese and the newly announced Racial Healing Commission, training for faculty and staff, hosting diverse speakers, and curricular review across departments. We are grateful to see Xavier’s administration engage in a process of discernment, reflection, and reform, but this is the first time we are hearing about any of these steps or developments. Nonetheless, we are grateful to see that Xavier has taken the five recommendations, suggested by this very community, into consideration. Making tangible change at the school for the benefit of all students has always been our goal, and we’re happy to see that new programming is underway.
Furthermore, we have repeatedly expressed the earnest desire to work with Xavier faculty and administration around curricular reform since day one. We have spent the past 12 weeks doing outreach to educators and experts across the Valley - across the United States - to ensure our frameworks are rooted in the most up-to-date and salient research. We are eager to transparently see the changes Xavier will make to its curriculum, which based on our research, is nearly 90% of white authorship taught by a predominantly white staff.
Our group of current and former students have never harassed, threatened, or otherwise intimidated any of Xavier’s faculty, staff, administrators, counselors, or students. Our work comes from a place of love and collaboration - the “Dear Teachers” video we created was intended to encourage faculty to create more inclusive classrooms for their students, as you can read in our email on August 11, 2020.
Regarding the Racial Healing Commission, we have been transparent that we are in contact with a member of the Commission and have been working to schedule a listening session, as you can see in our social media post from August 11. As of today, we have not been able to schedule that meeting, though we have nominated four individuals to present to the commission. We recognize that the establishment of this commission is a major step forward, but we want to reiterate that we have not been given a seat at the table on the Racial Healing and Reconciliation Commission. We have been fighting for a seat at the table - as an opportunity to actively contribute to the development of solutions in an ongoing manner - since this commission was publicly announced to us on July 31. A seat at the table means a seat on the commission. On the same day as Xavier’s email communication, our point of contact on the commission threatened to cancel the listening session, and noted that it will not be possible to reach her until September 8th to schedule the listening session.
In the spirit of this social movement - to honor the life and dignity of all human beings - we do not condone any language or threats of violence. We have the receipts and screenshots of comments made by Alumni For Change and any of its members and in good faith can attest that they represent our moral integrity and respect for all constituencies involved. We believe the best way to accomplish our goals is by using respectful and precise email communications and phone calls to attempt to set up a meeting with Xavier and the Diocese - all of which are detailed on our website. No member representing or affiliated with our group posted any sort of threat on or through any social media platform. The members of our group have conducted themselves to the highest professional standards and reiterate that we do not condone violent language to achieve our goals with Xavier.
Xavier asserts they will not tolerate “bullying, intimidation, or threats” that prevent them from living and acting according to their faith; neither will we, for our students. Once people began to flood Xavier’s posts with pleas for them to respond to us - 65+ respectful, earnest comments that you can see on our website - Xavier swiftly shut down the comments sections of its most recent posts. When community members called Xavier’s front office this past week, once again with polite pleas for them to meet us, people were explicitly told that they were no longer keeping record of anyone who called regarding the petition or our organization, and diverted all calls to the Diocese. Now, Xavier mentions an alleged threatening comment posted “among” separate Alumni for Change posts that resulted in contacting law enforcement, without citing the specifics of this comment.
These tactics - namely discussing Alumni for Change via indirect and dishonest communication - entails silencing, bullying, and gaslighting.
Xavier claims they have “never been silent regarding our commitment to justice” over the last 75 years. Their overwhelming silence with us, aside from two announcements that did not include any mention of concrete steps addressing racial injustice on campus, for the past 2.5 months speaks louder than any of their words right now may. Any of the nearly 3,000 people who have signed our petitions, followed our work, and spoken with us at our town halls or social media to date - and any of the hundreds of alumni and students who have submitted stories of blatant discrimination within Xavier’s own halls - can attest to the fact that Alumni for Change has shown ceaseless, direct support for students of color, when Xavier has not.
We are frankly disappointed; Xavier’s actions are dishonest, and as a leading institution of Catholic education, acting for and in the spirit of Christ, rooted in Catholic values of love and understanding, we expect better - and demand better. We do not want to change Xavier’s core mission and deeply respect the ultimate mission of the Catholic school. We are simply seeking a change that positively impacts the experiences of women of color and authentically generates a community climate in school that is permeated by the Gospel spirit of freedom and love. We demand better for our students, as this work is not about any one of us, or any one of Xavier’s administrators.
To be clear, we have been requesting a meeting with Xavier administration, an offer that has never been extended to us, to begin the dialogue about moving this work forward. We will continue to call in - not call out - Xavier, and other Catholic institutions, to do the difficult work of anti-racism.
When others go low, we will go higher. The truth always wins.
Alumni for Change