August 19, 2020
Dear Xavier Community:
In early June, we sent you a heartfelt message regarding the tragic death of George Floyd and our vow to fight racism, racial discrimination, and marginalization. The purpose of this communication is to update you on our progress, inform you of some recent developments, and ask for your continued support, trust, and prayers.
Over the last 75 years of Xavier’s existence, we have never been silent regarding our commitment to justice, as evidenced by the very nature of our mission statement “celebrating unity in diversity” and our founding principles of preparing young women of all ethnic, racial and socio-economic backgrounds to meet the challenges of our world through an encounter with the living Jesus Christ in a Catholic, Spirit-filled community. And we certainly haven’t been silent now, during this critically important moment in our nation’s history. We care deeply and sincerely about racial justice, and we stand firmly against injustice wherever we find it – especially when it occurs within our own halls.
Consistent with our commitment, our faith, and our Catholic mission, we are backing our words with action. In early June, we began communicating directly with members of the diocesan Racial Healing and Reconciliation Commission, formed by Bishop Olmsted to address these precise issues for all schools and parishes in the Diocese. Since then, we have hosted meetings for faculty, staff, and coaches that have included panels and discussions regarding racism, diversity, and inclusion. We are also making every effort to invite diverse speakers to our various functions and celebrations. For instance, our fall faculty training will focus on racial issues in girls’ Catholic schools, and will feature an outside, national expert on racism and education. Our X Breakfast speaker is an alumna and a survivor of a violent hate crime, who will speak about her experiences and her faith. All departments are reviewing and evaluating their curricula and resources; for example, our theology department is reviewing how the sin of racism is addressed in its curriculum, our English department is evaluating its reading lists, and our Physical Education department has selected and is implementing a program which addresses racism in athletics. We Are Xavier, our Unity in Diversity Club, seeks to foster unity and inclusivity on Xavier’s campus, representing all students while honoring and celebrating the beautiful diversity of our community. Within WAX, students may form committees that represent, educate, and celebrate various cultures (e.g. Native American, African American, Latina, Asian, etc.). Xavier is also exploring the creation of an equity and diversity committee that will work with the Diocese of Phoenix and other Diocesan Catholic high schools on these important issues. We sent multiple communications to the Xavier community throughout June and July, confirming our commitment and promising to update you on our progress, and we will continue to keep you updated regarding our efforts.
In early June, we were also contacted by a group calling themselves “Alumnae for Change” (or, at times, “Alumni for Change”). On June 8th, they provided a letter, a petition, a series of testimonials from alumnae, and a series of recommendations for us to consider. On June 12th, after reading the material they sent, we responded politely and in good faith, directly to the organizers. In that response, we personally thanked them for their communication, acknowledged their efforts, and directly assured them that we would work tirelessly “to ensure that our curriculum truly reflects our Catholic faith.” As we told the entire Xavier community – including this group of alumnae – we are very grateful to all who took the time to share their thoughts and their testimonies. As the “Alumnae for Change” representatives have been expressly told, we also provided their petition, testimonials and recommendations directly to the diocesan Racial Healing and Reconciliation Commission for review and consideration as they prepare their recommendations Diocese-wide.
Unfortunately, however, the leadership of “Alumnae for Change” chose to ignore our direct response of June 12th, as well as our subsequent communications and efforts. After receiving our good faith response and show of gratitude and support, the group’s leadership responded by derisively mocking our faith, claiming that we were just “trying to pray it away,” and began to organize and direct a series of unfair and dishonest attacks on Xavier. Among those tactics has been to tell their followers, the media and the public that we had “never responded.” For whatever reason, they have deliberately misled their supporters and followers into believing that we have been silent, instead of decently and honestly sharing the truth.
In addition, representatives of “Alumnae for Change were invited to participate in a listening session with the Diocesan Racial Healing and Reconciliation Commission to discuss their petition, their testimonies, and their recommendations for action. Rather than opt to work constructively with Xavier and the Diocese of Phoenix on these important issues, however, the group has resorted to increasingly aggressive and destructive tactics, directed at Xavier as well as at individual faculty and staff members, coaches, administrators, and even students. All the while, the group’s leadership continues to publicly claim that they only want a “seat at the table,” even though they were offered exactly that. Again, for some reason, they continue to deliberately mislead their supporters and followers, instead of decently and honestly sharing the truth.
At this point, it seems to us that the group and its leaders are not interested in working for the lasting and meaningful healing, reconciliation and change that we seek. They have mocked our history and mission, dismissing it as “75 years of ignoring injustice.” They have published anonymous negative stories, while refusing to share any of the signed positive comments that students and alumnae have sent. They have attempted to shame and harass our teachers, counselors, and coaches for their faithful service. They have disrupted any attempt to celebrate or focus on our current students amidst this pandemic. And they have called for our donors to withdraw or cancel the very donations that provide financial aid for 45% of Xavier families, whose nearly 500 daughters might otherwise be unable to attend Xavier – many of them from the very community the group claims to represent.
Earlier this week, we were forced to report to law enforcement an apparent threat posted on social media, buried among a series of “Alumni for Change” comments. We have heard from students – some as young as rising freshwomen – who have been targeted via social media and email for intimidation and harassment. Our community is alarmed, and the aggressive tactics seem to be escalating.
Despite these ongoing attacks, we have not wavered in our commitment to all of you, or to the students entrusted to our care. We remain steadfast in our opposition to racism in all forms, and to doing everything in our power to battle racism, whether it occurs within our halls or outside of Xavier. In particular, our hearts and our appreciation go out to the sincere young women who have shared their painful experiences with us, directly and indirectly, through petition or through social media, out of love for Xavier and their sincere belief in our Catholic, Christ-centered mission. To them we wish to share a personal message:
Thank you. Thank you for your courage and your honesty. Please do not be misled – we care deeply about you, and about these important issues. We have heard you, and we are truly grateful for helping us to make Xavier an even better place. Your testimonies, your courage, and your passion have moved us deeply, and have reinforced our commitment to work tirelessly for healing and justice, both at Xavier and in the larger society. We will fight for you, and we will fight to make sure every Xavier student is treated with the dignity and respect she deserves as a child of God.
We recently were contacted by a number of alumnae and community members who originally signed the petition out of general support for the cause of racial justice, but who no longer wish to be associated with the group due to these aggressive and dishonest tactics. We told them, as we tell you now: we will not tolerate bullying, intimidation, or threats directed at our faculty, staff or students. And, although it saddens us deeply that the leaders of “Alumnae for Change” do not wish to engage in civil and constructive dialogue about these vital matters, we also want to assure you that our Catholic mission and our commitment to the greater cause of racial justice will endure. We will continue working diligently with members of the Racial Healing and Reconciliation Commission, as we have for many weeks, to ensure that our curriculum, culture, student life, resources, policies, procedures, and practices reflect our Catholic mission in every possible way. We are a community that welcomes all, and strives for a unity in diversity that truly reflects the teachings of the Catholic Church, respecting, protecting, and defending the dignity of all of our members. We have never before allowed bullying, intimidation, or threats to prevent us from living our faith and doing what we believe is right, and we aren’t about to do so now.
Instead, we will all move forward, continuing our progress with the efforts that we promised, and dedicating ourselves even more vigorously to our critically important Catholic mission, of educating and protecting the young women who are entrusted to our care.
Thank you all for your support, your trust, and your continued prayers.
May Mary, Queen of Peace, be our guide.
Sister Joan Fitzgerald, BVM
Sister Joan Nuckols, BVM
Sister Lynn Winsor, BVM
Vice Principal for Activities and Athletics