C. Reynold Verret installed as Xavier president: ‘We are joined together in noble work’ _lowres

Advocate staff photo by JOHN McCUSKER -- Prof. Ron Bechet leads the procession as Grand Marshall as C. Reynold Verret was installed Friday as the sixth president of Xavier University of Louisiana. The ceremony featured jazz, best wishes from the Xavier faculty and oratory delivered in the many native languages of the university's diverse student population.

Xavier University has secured a $500,000 grant from the Kellogg Foundation for its fledgling research and outreach program called the Center for Equity, Justice and the Human Spirit.

The grant will fund initiatives aimed at advancing community engagement and racial equity, the school said. 

The grant will provide start-up funding for the center, which will tackle issues ranging from education and child well-being to criminal justice reform and the environment, said Xavier President Reynold Verret.

"Our vision for the Center for Equity, Justice, and the Human Spirit has always been to establish a site for scholarly and policy-focused research, community impact, and the development of a campus community education in restorative justice practices," Verret said, adding that the gift will "propel us toward all of those goals."

A major portion of the grant will go to public education research. The center will research ways to reduce racial disparities among elementary and high school students by examining test results, graduation rates and measures of college readiness, according to Dr. David W. Robinson-Morris, the center's director.

The grant will also pay for staff, a fellowship program and public lectures.

Robinson-Morris said that in the next few months the center will assemble an advisory board and hopes to hire a program coordinator and a fellow to focus on educational equity. In the longer term, it hopes to renovate Xavier's old convent and make the building its permanent home.

Robinson-Morris said it will cost the center $10 million initially to restore the convent, hire staff and endow the program. Of that, $5 million would be needed to secure the new location.

Officials said the center is the first of its kind at a historically black university or college.

It is designed to uphold the legacy of Xavier's founder, St. Katharine Drexel, who founded and staffed many institutions designed to educate African Americans and Native Americans. She was canonized by the Catholic Church in 2000.

Xavier is the only historically black Catholic university in the United States.

Follow Della Hasselle on Twitter, @dellahasselle.