Niagara University establishes center for race, equality and mission

Fri, Feb 24th 2017 11:00 am
Niagara University

NIAGARA UNIVERSITY - Niagara University announced today the creation of a new on-campus center that will advance the institution's commitment to diversity and social justice.

The Rose Bente Lee Ostapenko Center for Race, Equality and Mission, consistent with Niagara University's Vincentian mission and interdisciplinary core, will be focused on race and equality, generating and applying research to cultivate exchange among faculty and students; engaging meaningfully with the broader community on initiatives that apply research to action; and integrating issues of race and equality into the teaching/learning environment at Niagara.

"In alignment with the Catholic and Vincentian mission of Niagara University, the Ostapenko Center will serve as a resource on issues related to race relations on campus and racial equity in the community," said the Rev. James J. Maher, C.M., president of Niagara University. "We will engage our students, faculty and staff to work collaboratively with stakeholders and partners to leverage change in the academy and across sectors of education, business, government and the community."

Father Maher added that the center draws inspiration from the works of St. Justin De Jacobis, C.M., a Vincentian missionary to Ethiopia from 1839-1860. Despite significant opposition to his evangelization efforts in Ethiopia, Father de Jacobis founded a college and seminary, was ordained a bishop and is considered an apostle to Africa, and the founder of the Abyssinian mission. He was canonized by Pope Paul VI in 1975.

The new center is named in honor of Rose Bente Lee Ostapenko, a native of Germany who immigrated to the United States in the 1930s before becoming a successful entrepreneur and philanthropist. Utilizing her talents as a clothing designer, Ostapenko opened The Sewing Shop in Washington, D.C., the precursor to The House of Fine Fabrics, a 17-store corporation. She sold the fabric store chain in 1978 to Fabri-Center of America.

Ostapenko's philanthropy supported many types of educational, religious, health, and community service organizations. She was introduced to Niagara University by her friend, 1951 NU alumnus Jim Keenan, and developed a friendship with the Rev. Francis X. Prior, C.M., who served as NU's vice president for institutional advancement. Ostapenko received an honorary doctorate from Niagara in 1986. Upon her passing in 2014, a portion of her estate was designated to support Niagara University.

The Ostapenko Center, which will be directed by a faculty member, will operate within the auspices of NU's Office of Academic Affairs. It will work in partnership with several university offices, including the Office of Multicultural Affairs, and seek input through a community board comprised of regional leaders and an advisory council representing external stakeholders.

Beginning in the fall, the Ostapenko Center will:

  • 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.


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