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President's Blog: From the Heart

In the Good Name of Jessie Hathcock

By Eric F. Spina

“What does it mean for us to go back into history and pluck Jessie Hathcock's good name from our student rolls and put it here on this beautiful new building?”

Denise James, associate dean in the College of Arts and Sciences, posed that question before a standing-room-only crowd at the dedication of Jessie S. Hathcock Hall, the new home for computer science, the fastest-growing program on campus.

For me, the answer is simple. Everything. It means everything — and it’s a long overdue tribute.

In 1930, Jessie graduated from the University of Dayton with a bachelor’s degree in education. Nearly a half century later, the longtime Dunbar High School teacher received an honorary degree in humanities from her alma mater. In both cases, she was first African American woman to do so. She was a two-time trailblazer just at the University of Dayton — and a woman dedicated to the transformative power of education.

“She championed the underdog, the kid who needs a little push, some financial assistance,” remembered Barbara Hathcock ‘88 about her husband Lloyd’s grandmother as we visited before the dedication. “She was just a grand lady.”

Grandson Lloyd remembers her professional dedication and adventurous spirit. She traveled around the world three times after she retired. As an educator, humanitarian, and beloved grandmother, “she was on target, on beat, very diligent, very smooth. She did what she had to do with patience. Mama Jessie had a lot of patience.”

Looking around the newly renovated building that overlooks Baujan Field, Lloyd recalled his first reaction when he saw photos of the transformation of the former Music/Theatre Building: “I was just astounded and amazed by the beauty of the building.”

As the family and I walked from a classroom to the dramatic, enclosed walkway that now connects Kettering Labs and Hathcock Hall, it seemed inconceivable to me that this space was once a wind tunnel. Now it’s a space for studying, collaboration — and celebration.

As Father Jim Fitz blessed the new space, I returned to Professor James’ question — and her eloquent answer.

“To name this building after her is not just to give it a place marker for our maps but to affirm the values she embodied,” said the philosopher and director of the Women’s and Gender Studies Program.

“Perhaps in naming this building and taking up the good name of Jessie Hathcock, we are aspirational? Here we stand today, together, in this well-appointed space, responsible, not for the correction of an unjust past that cannot be relived or fixed, but responsible to a present in which we aspire to live up to her good name and to a future in which we will dare create a learning community worth of her good name,” she said.

“Today, perhaps we are here to make good on the honor her family has given us in allowing us to name this building after her,” she continued. “Today, we strive to bring students here not just to study under any conditions, but in a thriving, inclusive community worthy of her good name. Perhaps we will take up the good name on this building as a challenge to be better educators, better stewards, better members of the city to which Mrs. Hathcock dedicated so much of her life?”

What’s in the good name of Jessie Hathcock? Everything.

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