Niagara University launches new diversity and social justice center

Feb 24, 2017

Niagara University is announcing the launch of a new on-campus center that, school officials say, will foster and grow the institution's commitment to diversity and social justice.

Faculty, administrators, students and guests gathered Friday morning in the lower level of the university's Gallagher Center to mark the establishment of the Rose Bente Lee Ostapenko Center for Race, Equality and Mission. It is scheduled to open this fall inside the Office of Academic Affairs.

Reverend James Maher, president of Niagara University, delivers his remarks during Friday morning's announcement of the establishment of the Rose Bente Lee Ostapenko Center for Race, Equity and Mission.
Credit Michael Mroziak, WBFO

"The Center will serve as a resource on issues related to race relations on campus, racial equality and community, working together with stakeholders and partners to leverage change in the academy and across sectors of education, business, government and the community," said Averl Harbin, Niagara's Director of Multicultural Affairs. 

The Ostapenko Center will, according to a description released by the university: 

  • Generate and sustain both faculty and student research on issues of race, equity and poverty.
  • Highlight faculty research and student engagement by providing a forum for scholarship, including roundtables, conferences, speaker series, as well as a clearinghouse of scholarly works in this area and internship opportunities for students.
  • Provide the Niagara University community with professional development and service to continually educate the campus community on challenges regarding race, equality and equity in education.
  • Cultivate opportunities to bring together scholars and students for research and collaboration, with a particular focus on scholarship, teaching and service across the Vincentian universities.
  • Serve as a resource for the community, expanding opportunities for service and engagement related to racial equity in the greater Niagara region.

Niagara Falls Councilman Ezra Scott, who is among partners seeking to build a new community center in his city, envisions Niagara University's new venture as an ideal partner.

"There's a great opportunity for us to collaborate with Niagara University, specifically the Ostapenko Center, to move our work forward, to better serve the people of Niagara Falls and beyond," he said.

Ostapenko, who died in 2014 and left a portion of her estate to Niagara University, was a German immigrant who arrived in the U.S. in the 1930s and made her fortune as an entrepreneur and clothing designer. She was introduced to Niagara University by a friend in the 1950s and in 1986 was awarded an honorary doctorate.

University president Reverend James Maher said the Ostapenko Center will share the same values of St. Vincent de Paul, the Catholic saint who inspired Niagara's mission and values.

"In an age when we hear too much about building of walls, let this center be a place that build bridges on race, equality and mission, so that we can all move together, forward as brothers and sister and generate more light than heat," Rev. Maher said.