This week SCS highlighted the work of mission integration in its weekly email to students. As we prepare to end summer and enter into the Fall semester, this is a good opportunity to provide more insight into what mission integration is and how it fits into the overall Georgetown experience. My hope is that better understanding the “how” of mission integration might encourage more students, faculty, and staff to accept mission-related invitations that they might receive along the way.
Mission integration is all about the many intentional ways that we animate Jesuit mission and heritage in the formation and development of students, faculty, and staff, especially through courses, seminars, retreats, service learning, religious services, and other forms of spiritual grounding. Georgetown is the oldest Catholic and Jesuit university in the United States and integrates the core Spirit of Georgetown values in an inclusive way that respects a multitude of religious traditions and spiritual experiences. Georgetown SCS mission integration is guided by four commitments or, as the Jesuits would say, ways of proceeding:
Intentional: we think carefully about how the university’s Catholic and Jesuit identity is shared in various contexts and with differing audiences;
Explicit: we narrate the meaning and significance of the mission in regular and visible ways;
Inclusive: we welcome people of all faith traditions, backgrounds, and identities into our community; and
Invitational: we discern new and creative ways to encourage members of our community to appropriate Catholic and Jesuit heritage with the potential to enrich the life of the university.
The SCS Mission in Motion blog was created to help spread the word about the many different ways that our community embodies Georgetown’s Jesuit values and puts them into practice. We have highlighted, for example, how mission comes alive in coursework, in pedagogical innovation, in retreats, in direct service for and with marginalized persons and communities, and in public events that make our mission and values visible and recognizable to outside stakeholders. These are only a few examples of how SCS community members passionately and thoughtfully incorporate mission in significant and lasting ways that serve the common good.
This next academic year presents new opportunities to creatively adapt our mission resources to meet the pressing challenges of the present moment. In the coming weeks, I will highlight more ways for our community, especially our new students, to engage our mission at a deeper level. My hope is that these challenging times might challenge and invite all of us to deepen our commitment to the university’s mission of forming persons to be “reflective lifelong learners, to be responsible and active participants in civic life and to live generously in service to others.”
In March, COVID-19 forced an abrupt transition to working and learning virtually. There was an early recognition that lives of quarantine and physical distancing could lead to social isolation and disconnection. The SCS community worked quickly to address these potential harms by outlining a series of digital activities that could bring together students, staff, faculty, and alumni. Among the menu of options presented, daily digital meditations over Zoom during the work week quickly became a nourishing resource for the community to engage. This week we turn our attentions to the SCS daily meditations and ask: What good has come from these digital meditations that have been offered continuously since March 13, 2020? Why might you consider joining this growing community of meditators?As we continue to journey an indeterminate period of pandemic, how can meditation meet some of our personal and communal needs?
Research clearly indicates that regular meditation leads to significant health benefits, including improvements in mental, physical, and social well-being. Jon Kabat-Zinn, professor of medicine and founder of the Center for Mindfulness, Health Care, and Society at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, has demonstrated that mindfulness meditation leads to reductions in stress, anxiety, and pain. Kabat-Zinn was worked for years to integrate mindfulness meditation into mainstream medicine and healthcare, arguing that mindfulness helps us to accept that while suffering is an essential part of lived experience it does not have to control us. The practice of mindfulness, rooted in silence and non-doing, allows us to be fully awake to the present moment. According to Kabat-Zinn, mindfulness actually leads to biological changes in our bodies that enable us to better deal with stress:
“Now, ironically, biologically, just that has huge consequences in the body and in the mind, and probably for health. So, the non-doing, in the apparent non-doing of meditative practice, actually every atom and molecule and neuron in your body is listening to this, and your genes. And there’s evidence that our biology is actually changing in relationship to how we hold the present moment.”
In addition to physical and mental health benefits, regular meditation practice contributes to spiritual growth and development. Many spiritual traditions have made meditation central to their practices. At Georgetown, where we affirm a diversity of religious experience and a commitment to being contemplatives in action, regular meditation practice brings us closer to our truest selves, encourages interior freedom, and, ultimately, cultivates us to act more generously in the world. For Richard Rohr, a Franciscan friar and spiritual mystic grounded in the Christian tradition, the silence at root of meditation is actually a great teacher. Rohr writes that: “We must find a way to return to this place, live in this place, abide in this place of inner silence. Outer silence means very little if there is not a deeper inner silence. Everything else appears much clearer when it appears or emerges out of silence.” Various Eastern and Western traditions have made silence an essential part of the spiritual journey toward greater union with God, transcendent mystery, and our truest selves.
Regardless of the motivation or intention one brings to the type of silent mindfulness offered in the SCS daily digital meditations, there is a rich resource to be explored in this practice and the community that has formed over the last five months. In order to fully appreciate the meaning and value of these meditations, I’ve asked some active participants to share their perspectives on the experience.
Melanie Goerke, a student in the Master’s in Urban & Regional Planning program addresses how she overcame some initial doubts and committed to the regular practice:
“One of my goals for 2020 was to spend more time listening to my mind and body and to challenge myself to do something different. I’m one of those exuberant extroverts, and I often do not appreciate my surroundings enough because I’m racing through my tasks. Whether that be my full-time position, my full-time grad school schedule, or my additional volunteer and social events.
When I started daily meditations, I wasn’t sure it was for me. I felt that I couldn’t “quiet” my mind enough. The more I continued to do it, the more I realized how beneficial it was for me in my daily routine. I’m able to allow my mind ten minutes of time alone, time to reflect, and time to prepare for the remainder of my day. The value to me, is that I’m able to gain a wider perspective, to detox from my busy schedule, and to let my body rest in a way that’s different than sitting on the couch or going for a walk outside. Meditation leads me to a deeper inner strength and lowers my stress levels in a way that feels healthier to the mind, allowing me to fully relax.”
Alexis Fox, who works in Georgetown’s Office of Advancement and is also a student in the Master’s in Artificial Intelligence program discusses the mental health benefits:
“For me, meditation is a way to help center and relieve frustrations. It’s so easy to get annoyed by inconsequential things, which can then affect your whole day. The experience that the meditation leader provides daily is invaluable; the format, at less than 20 minutes, is a very doable amount of time to take a step back for mental health and the guided meditation is soothing. Meditation in general is so highly correlated with brain and mental health. I see this great opportunity as a way to help learning and memory long-term in addition to staying sane during all this craziness.”
And a regularly participating faculty member describes the joys of being in a community of meditators:
“I joined the SCS daily meditation group in the early days of the COVID-19 shut-downs to deal with feelings of anxiety and isolation. Because meditation has always felt like a deeply personal experience to me, I wasn’t sure how I would feel practicing meditation with a group. As it turns out, over the past several months, I have found a community of individuals who share a common goal of sitting in silence to contemplate whatever they are dealing with on any particular day. Perhaps it is the sense that none of us are alone in our fears, anxieties, or frustrations, but I gather strength and perspective from regular participation in this practice. I do not use the word ‘gratitude’ lightly, but I am extremely grateful for this opportunity.”
Interested? Want to learn more? Consider signing up for SCS Daily Digital Meditations offered over Zoom each day of the work week at 12 pm EST.
The Georgetown School of Continuing Studies and campuses across the university are engaged in intentional planning and development of racial justice initiatives that support Georgetown’s aspiration to be more fully a “community in diversity.” At SCS, a series of initial activities have informed the school’s efforts to address challenges for racial equity and inclusion in our academic setting. These activities included listening circles with faculty and staff, open fora with students and alumni, and dedicated channels for all SCS members to communicate with school leadership about their racial injustice experiences. All of these steps are leading toward the formal creation of a Diversity, Equity, Belonging & Inclusion (DEBIC) Council that will build on existing diversity and inclusion work and support new programs to advance these goals. More information about DEBIC and how students and alumni can participate is expected early in the fall semester.
In this week’s Mission in Motion, we spent some time with Dr. Kristen Hodge-Clark, senior assistant dean of program planning at SCS. In addition to her core responsibilities at the school, Dr. Hodge-Clark has been participating, along with a core group of colleagues, in the formational work of DEBIC. She reflects on the importance of racial justice at SCS, her personal and professional journeys, the challenges facing Georgetown, and more.
How are you doing these days? How have you and your family been during these challenging times?
During this time, all things considered, I am doing well. I say that because I am thankful for the home that I have, employment, family, and health insurance among the many other things I’ve been able to maintain. I’ve become more acutely aware of these blessings and am much more mindful not to take them for granted and to find ways where I can help others.
My family has been managing ok as well. With two young school-aged children and no in-person summer camp options, along with the reality of distance learning looming again for the fall, we’ve had to find new ways to keep them engaged and to manage life. Candidly, some days are better than others. I struggle with moments of guilt but also recognize the need to give myself some grace. These two opposing forces are a regular part of my life these days. I realize that we are all trying to do the best that we can. But the challenges of this pandemic are not abstract for me and my family. The interruptions of COVID-19 are painfully very real.
One of my uncles recently tested positive for COVID -19 and has recovered well, but it has given me new meaning and a new relationship to the virus now that it has hit my family directly. Not to mention, in the midst of the pandemic, we’ve had to grapple yet again with what it means to be Black in America and remind ourselves of the extra precautions we must take to ensure our family’s safety. As with the global pandemic, the challenges of racism are not just concepts for me and my family. We live with the dynamics of racism, racial injustice, and a lack of awareness about inclusivity and equity on a daily basis. I am grateful that we as a country seem to be awakening to this reality as a result of this current news cycle but there is so much work yet to be done.
Can you share more about your role at Georgetown SCS? And how your personal and professional journey led you to the work you do now at the university?
In my current capacity as senior assistant dean of program planning, I lead the development of new credit-bearing programs and credentials along with the review process for existing programs. A central component of this work includes market research. I am energized by my position at Georgetown SCS because it gives me an excellent opportunity to extend the reach of access to our educational programs. Increasing educational access is one of my core commitments and I am excited by collaborating with others to ensure that more people can benefit from a Georgetown education.
Most of my career has been within the space of higher education and in leading and developing applied research—dating back to my role as policy analyst at the Association of American Universities (AAU) and more recently as former VP over our division of programs and research with the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges (AGB). The thread of research is what led me to SCS not only in my current role, but also in my role as a lecturer teaching research methods for our education program evaluation certificate program. Having the perspective of a faculty member enhances my work in degree planning. These dual roles help me balance the healthy tension of the macro and the micro—keeping a broad perspective on research and data about the economy and the marketplace with a sensitivity to the needs of individual students.
You have been involved in leading ongoing efforts at SCS to develop the school’s capacity to become a more diverse, equitable, inclusive, and racially just community. Can you share what your hopes are for this work at SCS?
One of my ultimate hopes for the racial justice work I have recently been a part of can be captured in one word—sustainable. I hope (and pray) that the groundwork we are laying now is sustainable and enduring for many years to come, if not forever. It’s easy to give lip service to these issues, but the true test is in clear action and change with no expected end date. While a test of this work is how focused we remain on action, it is clear to me already that sustainable action will flow out of continued dialogue, listening, and planning. I am heartened by the commitment that so many across our community have already made to this work.
Whether that takes shape in the form of regular forums, listening circles, new courses, or more diverse hires, my hope is that the commitment to these areas persists regardless of who is leading this work today or tomorrow.
There is uncertainty in higher education these days as we approach the coming fall semester. Do you have any advice for fellow administrators, faculty, and staff about how to proceed through these times?
The only advice I can offer speaks to the response I provided to your first question—grace. It seems that we can’t go 24 hours without some new challenge, change, or event happening that disrupts our well-intentioned plans. That includes things as small as spotty internet connections and missed Zoom meetings. We are all doing the best we can and I encourage us to all extend grace to ourselves and each other. There is such a valuable learning opportunity in these challenging times, but making good on that requires taking care of ourselves and the people around us.
In his historically significant 2000 address at Santa Clara University, then Superior General of the Jesuits, Fr. Peter-Hans Kolvenbach, S.J., provocatively reflected on the service of faith and the promotion of justice in Jesuit colleges and universities in the United States. Part affirmation, part challenge to Jesuit higher education, Kolvenbach’s remarks are famous for his articulation of how Jesuit colleges and universities should be measured in terms of their effectiveness in meeting the mission of the Society of Jesus. According to Kolvenbach, Jesuit schools strive to form students not just for world success but for a deeper personal and social commitment: “The real measure of our Jesuit universities lies in who our students become. For 450 years, Jesuit education has sought to educate ‘the whole person’ intellectually and professionally, psychologically, morally, and spiritually…Tomorrow’s ‘whole person’ cannot be whole without an educated awareness of society and culture with which to contribute socially, generally, in the real world. Tomorrow’s whole person must have, in brief, a well-educated solidarity.”
In this week’s Mission in Motion, we take a closer look at how Georgetown SCS has been forming students for such a “well-educated solidarity,” an especially needed disposition in these times to address the multiple, intersecting challenges of social injustice facing our communities. We asked Karim Trueblood, an alumna of the Master of Professional Studies in Emergency & Disaster Management (EDM), about her time at Georgetown and how her Jesuit education has informed her personal and professional life since graduation. I have been blessed to know Karim both as a student in the SCS Jesuit Values in Professional Practice course described here and as an advisee for her Capstone project, “Integration of Ignatian Principles in Emergency and Disaster Management Education,” which contributed to Karim being named EDM’s Outstanding Student of the Year at the 2019 Tropaia Ceremony.
What are you up to since graduating from Georgetown? How has the global pandemic affected you personally and professionally?
Since graduating from Georgetown in Spring 2019, I took some time off for reflection and family time. My son graduated high school and enlisted in the United States Marine Corps and is now living in California. I am very proud of his service to our country. I also completed a graduate certificate in education at the University of Central Florida. I am currently furthering my education at Creighton University, where I am pursuing a Doctor of Education in Interdisciplinary Leadership. In addition, I launched my own consulting company, guided by Jesuit values. I am very passionate about this project because I am able to incorporate my dedication to Ignatian spirituality, emergency and disaster management, and education.
As we are faced with a global pandemic, it has been a struggle, personally and professionally. I had to move on from previous projects and readjust my goals and expectations for the near future. The isolation restrictions, like for many other people around the country and the world, had a negative impact on my mental and physical health. But the pandemic has also forced me to develop new skills and learn to express gratitude for what I used to take for granted.
I also have reconnected long distance with old friends, and I was able to attend a five-day silent retreat at Ignatius House in Atlanta. This was very meaningful and beneficial because it allowed time for contemplation, reflection, and healing. Silence urged me to be still and develop a deeper, more meaningful relationship with God. It also gave me a different perspective for those affected by the pandemic and discern who I am and where I belong.
What are the knowledge, skills, and values that you find yourself using most from your Georgetown education? How did your time at Georgetown form who you have become?
The academic skills that I learned from Georgetown are fundamental. Academic excellence and seeking meaning from my educational journey to better serve the community and for the greater good are why I continue to further my education. The better prepared I am, the better I will be able to serve the community.
The comprehensive approach of Georgetown’s educational programs and the concept of educating the whole person served me well because I try to continue to apply that approach to everything I do in my life. I am on a journey to become a better person, seeking internal peace and detachment. I am more aware of God’s presence, as my time at Georgetown helped me become more reflective and present. It also gave me the tools and skills to use my voice and advocate for those living in the margins.
One of the most important lessons I learned at Georgetown is that God meets you where you are. God loves me as I am, imperfect, and a constant work in progress. The concept of community in diversity in Georgetown, an inclusive community where everyone belongs and everyone is accepted, taught me to be more mindful of every individual’s unique journey. And as I reflect on my journey, I learned that God calls us to serve in different roles, and all calls for service are all as essential, and we must be alert enough to discover what our call is.
Self-knowledge and self-acceptance are only possible once we learn to be our true selves. I am still seeking more, but my Georgetown experience helped me develop skills to recognize God’s presence where there is a need for service and education.
What do Georgetown’s Jesuit Values mean to you? How have you grown in your understanding of them and their application to your personal and professional life since graduating?
Georgetown’s Jesuit Values mean that the university’s foundational moral compass was built on a tradition of working for the greater Glory of God and for the greater good. The Jesuit tradition of tolerance and understanding people of diverse religions and cultures embedded since inception in a tradition of service and promotion of justice sets a standard that I must follow to try to be better. As a flawed individual, I believe Jesuit values guide us to be the best version of ourselves.
Overall, Georgetown Jesuit Values are vital because they align with my core values. It is critical to go to a school or be part of an organization that models ethical values that will be part of your internal moral compass regardless of religious background.
Georgetown’s commitment to social justice and to work for the community impacted me immensely since it paved the way for me to develop into further research and application of Ignatian spirituality into the education of emergency and disaster management and public service.
Georgetown’s promotion of justice led me into my current project working on the application of Ignatian spirituality to guide better decision-making for the greater good in emergency and disaster management. Also, to focus on fostering better relationships between vulnerable populations and stakeholders, to bridge gaps respectfully and sensitively, and by promoting reflection.
The inequalities our country is living regarding social, racial, and law enforcement controversies motivated me to seek implementation of Ignatian spirituality to serve the communities and serve public service by practicing discernment and reflection as tools for self-care. Embracing our emotions and feelings to act more compassionately towards others and ourselves generates a more positive work environment and, consequently, a stronger community.
If you could share one message with SCS students during this challenging period?
Embrace the trying times as an opportunity for service. Write in a journal and allow time for reflection. Be open-minded and compassionate with others and with yourself.
This week’s announcement by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Student and Visitor Program (SEVP) unsettles our learning community and contributes to feelings of uncertainty for our international students at Georgetown. Both President DeGioia and Dean Otter issued statements this week decrying the SEVP guidance and expressing solidarity with our international community. This news compounds other distressing news–in addition to intersecting pandemics of COVID-19 and systemic racial injustice, we find ourselves confronting another profound challenge. Feelings of confusion, disappointment, and concern are pervasive, which might give rise to hopelessness.
We are again in a position to ask how our university mission, values, and heritage might provide resources for hope in this time. Last week, I reflected upon the legacy of Jesuit higher education in the United States and invited you to more deeply consider what being a student, staff, or faculty member at a Jesuit institution means to you. This week, I’d like to share a framework for helping engage constructively with your emotions. Here is my invitation: How best to move from feelings of disappointment to discerned action about how to proceed in these times of challenge? Whether the difficult feelings rising up for you are about the SEVP guidance, racial injustice, fall operating plans, COVID-19, and/or other inter-related challenges facing our Georgetown community and the broader world, this framework for meaning-making may be helpful to you.
Anchored in both Jesuit spirituality and experiential learning theory, this approach is intended to help you reflect and learn from your experiences. Utilized in community-based learning courses, including the SCS Jesuit Values in Professional Practice course described here, the framework assumes that all experiences, including the raw data of our feelings, provide an opportunity for deeper learning, self-growth, and social transformation. Even the most difficult emotions can be formative to your growth and development. The model moves through this pattern: Awareness (What?) > Understanding (So What?) > Action (Now What?). Let me briefly explain each stage in this theory of reflection.
Awareness (What?): There is power in naming the feelings of disappointment. Feelings are temporary and go away. Being explicit about naming feelings is the first step toward finding balance because your feelings may be indicating other concerns in your life that need to be addressed. In this first stage of growing in awareness of your feelings, I invite you to breathe, identify, observe, name, and withhold judgment. If possible, write out all of the feelings that you are noticing in yourself. You might consult a feelings vocabulary list to help you explicitly articulate your interior emotions. There is power in naming feelings.
Understanding (So What?): The next stage invites you to make meaning of your feelings and subjective, personal experience. This step in reflection critically considers, analyzes, and understands your feelings. The goal is to obtain a deeper form of knowing about your experience and the implications for your life. In this second stage of reflection, I invite you to connect your feelings in this moment with other experiences you’ve had and learned from in the past. For example, do you have memories of dealing with similar feelings? Are there resources in your education, including books, theories, projects, mentors, or other meaning-making structures like your faith community, family, etc. that might help you make sense of your emotions and reactions? How can you engage these feelings at a deeper level?
Action (Now What?): The final stage is one of transformation, a movement from feelings of frustration into discerned action for the future. This is not possible until you have named and accepted your feelings. Having done that, you can grow in greater interior freedom. Such detachment frees you to practice compassion for others. Herein lies the truly transformative potential of confronting difficult feelings. How do you make difficult feelings a learning experience that deepens your commitment to social transformation, to acting for justice?
Consider signing up for SCS Daily Digital Meditations offered over Zoom each day of the work week at 12 pm EST. Georgetown’s Office of Campus Ministry also offers spiritual and religious programs that you can learn more about here.
Reach out to your peers to inquire about how they are doing. Consider forming a small support group to create open space for sharing and reflecting on your feelings.
Develop your own interior practice of naming your feelings. You might consider practicing the Ignatian examen, a structured form of regular reflection as a way to get in touch with your emotions.
As we make our way through this summer, and continue to address the intersection of the COVID-19 pandemic and systemic racial injustice, I invite all of us in the SCS community to take a reflective pause and ask: what are we about as a Jesuit institution of higher learning? What is distinctive about our mission and values as a Jesuit school and how can this history and perspective inform how we proceed through these difficult times?
Each of us likely has our own viewpoint on what it means to learn and work at a Jesuit institution–some are deeply motivated and inspired by this tradition and it is the reason we choose to be part of Georgetown, while others might not reflect about what the university’s mission and values mean to us. Regardless of how one engages with our Jesuit heritage, however, we each have the opportunity to be inspired or challenged by this heritage in a way that deeply animates our time at Georgetown. Each of us is invited to make our Georgetown experience more meaningful and more impactful by journeying with the tools and resources made available by our Jesuit heritage.
This week, the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities (AJCU), an umbrella organization that represents the 27 Jesuit institutions of higher education in the U.S., marked its 50-year anniversary as a body. AJCU produced this short video to reflect on its first half-century of work and ponder what the next 50 years will look like in American Jesuit higher education. There is much to say about the characteristics of Jesuit education in terms of pedagogy, structure, inspiration, and application, but I would like to focus on two ideas in the video and invite you to reflect on them.
First, Charlene Brown-McKenzie, Georgetown’s Director of the Center for Multicultural Equity & Access and a student in the Doctor of Liberal Studies program, celebrates Jesuit education’s commitment to critical reflection. Charlene says in the video: “Jesuit history comes out of being innovators, progressive in so many ways, anchored in this critical question of inquiry and discourse.” Later on, Christopher Kerr, Executive Director of the Ignatian Solidarity Network, states: “We [in Jesuit higher education] see everything as inter-connected, a very-holistic model of working for justice. What are the connections to economic justice? What are the connections to racial injustice and inequity in our society?”
Blending together these two themes of critical inquiry and inter-connection, I invite you to consider this question for reflection: in your work and study at Georgetown, in the midst of intersecting pandemics of COVID-19 and systemic racial injustice, what topics or issues of concern are leading you into deeper reflection about how to act justly in the world as a professional?
Second, the AJCU video presents Ignatian discernment as a critical tool for proceeding in these times to meet our local, national, and global challenges. We’ve highlighted the Jesuit examen of consciousness before, and how this form of structured daily reflection helps us make sense of our feelings and grow in deeper awareness of how we are called to act in the world. Kerr addresses the relationship between justice and discernment when he says: “[Jesuit higher education] is going to be seeking to be on the frontiers of our world, where we find the greatest need, find people who are most vulnerable.” Linking discernment and justice in this way makes clear how important it is to maintain a regular interior practice of meditation, mindfulness, and/or prayer. We might ponder this question:
How are you practicing regular discernment? And how is your discernment and reflection these days informing how you are called to meet the world’s greatest needs and the needs of the most vulnerable in our society?
I invite you to take some time reflecting on these questions and exploring how the university’s Jesuit mission and values may help you deepen your experience at Georgetown. Please reach out to me, Jamie Kralovec, SCS Associate Director for Mission Integration (email@example.com), if you have questions or suggestions about how our university mission and values can more fully meet the challenges of this moment.
Since 2016, the School of Continuing Studies has annually offered degree-seeking students in the Master of Professional Studies and Liberal Studies programs a unique course opportunity to deeply engage with both their own personal values and the values that animate the mission of Georgetown University. The course, “Jesuit Values in Professional Practice,” has become a popular offering among SCS students and satisfies degree plans as a free elective.
With the help of Georgetown’s Center for Social Justice Research, Teaching & Service, the class is designed as Community-Based Learning (CBL) so that students take on direct work with a community-based organization addressing identified needs of marginalized persons and communities in the DC area. This community service outside of the classroom provides students with data for ongoing individual and group reflections that sustain the 15-week course.
Diverse learning activities in the class include presentations by officials responsible for advancing Jesuit mission and values in their work at Georgetown and beyond, regular individual and group reflection, and learning materials that make the Jesuits’ 500-year old tradition come alive for contemporary professionals. The class is open to and welcomes students of all faith traditions or no faith tradition at all, utilizing a “whole person” approach to education that considers the intellectual, professional, moral, and spiritual aspects of human development.
As “Jesuit Values in Professional Practice” enters its fifth fall semester, the course will be delivered this year in a remote format. The CBL requirement will also become virtual for students, who can serve in community-based organizations with opportunities for such virtual service coordinated by the Center for Social Justice (an example of how the CSJ has already promoted these remote service possibilities for students can be found here and here). We can embrace and adapt to virtual forms of teaching and learning consistent with the spirit of a “community in dispersion,” a concept that arises out of the early Jesuits’ history of “remaining intimately connected through the technology” of the day in spite of their own disruptions and separations.
Fr. Matthew Carnes S.J., associate professor in Georgetown’s Department of Government and Walsh School of Foreign Service and past presenter in the SCS course, describes more fully the uniquely Jesuit contribution to the motif of a “community in dispersion” here.
Given the social challenges facing our communities at the intersection of the COVID-19 pandemic and systemic racial injustice, the course’s objective to help students “identify ways to serve justice and the common good in both a professional and personal context” is particularly relevant today. I have found that students tend to enjoy the class because of the extended opportunity it provides for guided and structured discernment about developing one’s personal mission and values as a professional. I have also found that students at SCS enjoy the interdisciplinary nature of the learning and the occasion for engaging with students outside of their professional disciplines and degree programs.
More than any advertisement, perspectives from course alumni testify to the curricular value. Here is a sampling of what past students have had to say about the class:
“I finally understand what makes Jesuit spirituality unique. It is a spirituality that is externalized, that actively shapes one’s choices and actions, it is contemplation in action, being people for others and aspiring for the Magis (the more).”
“The speakers who moved me the most had journeyed deeply inside their humanity and touched mine.”
“CBL truly opened my eyes to the ways people dedicate their time to fight for justice everyday. I enjoyed serving those in need and getting to know them and their stories. It was an experience that I will carry on into my own work and life.”
“I learned the foundational aspects of Jesuit values and caring for the whole person. In working to develop a right relationship with all, I learned much about Jesuit spirituality in practice and about the process of accompanying, serving, reflecting on data, researching, communicating and raising awareness in order to transform the life of another, one person at a time.”
Degree-seeking students with questions about “LSHV 480: CBL Jesuit Values in Professional Practice” (CRN: 31553, meets Thursdays at 5:20 pm in the fall) should reach out to course instructor and Associate Director for Mission Integration, Jamie Kralovec (firstname.lastname@example.org).
In last week’s post, I noted that there are many prongs in the racial justice movement. Concrete action for change, and not just “talk,” must be the priority of the work. In order to make that shared action possible, however, it is important to recognize the ways in which racism consciously and unconsciously shapes social structures and informs how white people understand and relate to Black people and other people of color. The long-haul work of dismantling racist structures demands a recognition of Black voices and experience that the dominant narratives in our shared spaces too often de-center and ignore. Raising consciousness and awareness about Black voices and stories is an important component of racial justice.
This week I want to highlight four examples at Georgetown in which the university has utilized its digital platforms to promote the work of racial justice by highlighting and honoring the reality of Black experience.
First, SCS leveraged its effectiveness with social media by inviting Black students and alumni to share their reflections about racial injustice in a series of Instagram Stories, including Instagram Takeovers (You can access the stories here). These Instagram Stories amplify the voices of SCS students and alumni who are powerfully using their professional roles to advocate for justice and empowerment of people of color. In one Instagram story, Lauren Strayhorn, an alumna of the Master of Professional Studies in Integrated Marketing Communications, who works in digital marketing for Deloitte, reflects on how a Georgetown education prepared her to commit to creating authentic spaces for Black women through a digital newsletter that she created:
“It is important to be in spaces and places that encourage authenticity and uphold similar values and traditions that I honor and cherish where I can be who I am as I am. The Jesuit value of Educating the Whole Person embraces an understanding of one’s experience within and outside the classroom environment … I didn’t see myself in the news that I was reading and I created Notedd (a digital newsletter offering perspectives of ambitious women of color) for those who were also struggling.”
Second, Georgetown organized this week an “Interfaith Prayer for Lament, Healing, & Justice” in Dahlgren Chapel. With chaplains and staff participating from the many faith traditions represented at Georgetown, along with President DeGioia, the solemn gathering affirmed the university’s commitment to Contemplation in Action. Prayers offered up from across the religious traditions pointed to the need for sustained action to realize a racially just community. Reverend Ebony Grisom, Protestant Chaplain, prophetically noted that the tradition of lamentation precedes truth-telling and authenticity. Reverend Grisom called this community to bring about an alternate future where anti-Black violence no longer steals God’s Glory: “We lament the world as it is and long for what it should be.”
Third, Georgetown launched “Georgetown Community Continues Quest for Racial Justice,” a centralized page highlighting the many ways, through teaching, research, artistic expression, advocacy, and activism, that “members of the Georgetown community seek racial justice.” Hopefully this site can serve as a platform for Georgetown students, staff, and faculty to research and learn about how people of color are negatively impacted by racism embedded in intersecting social structures, like housing, education, and health.
And finally, Georgetown University’s president announced yesterday that the University will officially observe June 19, 2020—Juneteenth—as an official University holiday this year, and annually. This recognition is a long time coming and is an important day to honor the millions of African people who were enslaved, and to acknowledge and reflect on the full promise of freedom. We must continue to work collectively to address the implications of enslavement and segregation that are still present today to ensure a more just future.
If you are looking for ways to practice racial justice consciousness in the ways you engage with social media, here are some resources to consider:
National Museum of African-American History & Culture presents tools and guidance for Talking About Race;
For parents looking to educate children through a Critical Race Lens, The Conscious Kid offers some Black and Brown owned books; and
Last week’s reflection focused on the ways that Georgetown’s religious traditions have responded to the cries for racial justice in our institution, our local communities, and our larger society. The task of building a racially just and equitable community is long-haul work and, as noted last week, begins in the interior. Recognizing that education is one component of racial justice work and that interior practices are at the root of the struggle to dismantle unjust structures, I would like to highlight this week a particularly helpful resource for cultivating an inner life that this struggle for justice requires.
The “Inner Work of Racial Justice” by Professor Rhonda Magee offers an inspiring yet challenging framework for how embodied mindfulness can address the patterns of conflict and division that enable racial injustice. Recognizing a diverse tradition of mindfulness practice, Magee defines mindfulness as “paying attention to life as it unfolds, grounded in the body and breath, and allowing that awareness to settle the mind, increase presence and consciousness of interconnectedness with others.” In her book, Professor Magee, a law professor at the University of San Francisco, a peer Jesuit institution, invites her readers, regardless of how they identify or choose not to, to deeply engage with how race and racism shapes all of us. Magee speaks both to white allies and persons of color about the transformative potential of mindfulness practices. The book flows in five parts: Grounding, Seeing, Being, Doing, and Liberating, a pattern that closely resembles a Jesuit spirituality framework of moving from experience to reflection and from reflection to action for justice.
For white allies, mindfulness is especially needed to grow in deeper inner recognition of the unconscious bias towards people of color that manifests in thoughts, feelings, and inner sensations. For people of color, who have suffered from explicit racism and the pernicious effects of unconscious bias permeating our social structures, mindfulness can become a form of healing, showing “how to slow down and reflect on microaggressions – to hold them with some objectivity and distance – rather than bury unpleasant experiences so they have a cumulative effect over time.” Magee’s perspective is ultimately hopeful, noting that mindfulness meditation can both “tame and clarify” a troubled mind while also opening the possibility that we can “transform the world.”
In February 2020, Georgetown invited Professor Magee to offer a Race and Higher Education presentationas part of Social Justice Week and the MLK: Let Freedom Ring! Initiative of the Office of the President. The presentation, “Doing the Inner Work of Racial Justice: Principles, Practices (and Prayers!) for Healing Ourselves and Transforming the World,” offered many insights about the unique challenges of doing racial justice in a predominantly white institution of higher learning. As I noted last week, waking up to racism is especially uncomfortable when white privilege remains a barrier to meaningful social change for racial justice. But Professor Magee notes that this transformation for justice ultimately depends on a self-compassion that leads to greater joy:
“As by now you have no doubt come to see, this work is not for the faint of heart. We are working to heal ourselves, yes. At the same time we are working to disrupt, deconstruct, and break open patterns that make normal and “okay” the suffering of people at the margins of our lives. And we are working to build a new world –one that actually inclines toward the liberation of all, rather than toward our greater but more subtle enslavement. Because all that we do is subject to change and is impermanent, we are seeking to develop the capacity to do what we can with a lightness and joy that keep us from taking ourselves too seriously and, at the same time, illuminate the dire necessity of continuing to do our loving best even in the face of some defeat. Let’s get to work.“
George Floyd cried out for breath as his innocent life was extinguished. His death by the knee of a white police officer shines a light on the persisting evil of racism in America. A global movement spurred by Floyd’s murder, and the murders of Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery, among many others, has raised greater consciousness about systemic racism in the United States and the potential for sustaining meaningful social and political action to dismantle unjust racist structures. Countless other Black lives have also been lost in recent years to police violence but have not led to a national movement rising up like the one we are witnessing today.
The energy for social change on display in this moment is a reason for hope but I must also acknowledge that racial violence, and the conscious and the unconscious ways that racism and anti-Blackness manifest in daily life, is a reality that white people like me have the privilege to ignore or choose not to see. And as a white Catholic, I also have to acknowledge the ways that my church has too often been silent when issues of racial justice demanded action, not only in our sacred spaces but also in our society.
After a week of listening to my colleagues, I can affirm that feelings of loss, anger, and vulnerability are pervasive in our community. In the midst of such acute hopelessness, fragility, and despair, what do our mission and ministry resources offer us as we attempt to honor the cries for justice following the brutal murders of Floyd, Abery, and Taylor? How do we move forward in a shared struggle toward reconciliation of our racist divisions? And for white persons like me, who desire to be in solidarity with my Black sisters and brothers, what is necessary to understand about the white privilege that makes it possible for these tragic manifestations of racist violence to continue?
Our religious traditions, a pluralism that we honor and celebrate at Georgetown, have attempted to fill the temptation to overwhelming despair with their prophetic wisdom. Imam Yahya Hendi, Director for Muslim Life at Georgetown, in a reflection entitled “Demanding Justice for George Floyd and Taking a Stand Against Racism,” offers this: “All forms of racism must be rejected. Racism is a sin against God. Racism is a sin against humanity. Racism is a pandemic and disease that we all have to fight.” Reverend Ebony Grisom, Protestant Chaplain at Georgetown, reflects that “our collective conscious knows that the witnesses are too numerous to name, even as we hold their names and stories in our hearts … We cannot look away, nor can we ‘un-see’ what we saw this week.” And Rabbi Rachel Gardner, Director for Jewish Life at Georgetown, offers that “social justice is an inherently Jewish value and the recent murders of Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and George Floyd at the hands of police, as well as many other Black folx who have lost their lives to police brutality, necessitate us to act on our Jewish values.”
The Chaplains and Staff of Campus Ministry issued a statement on “Our Response to Racism and Racial Justice: “We lament that all of our traditions have at one time or another throughout history been complicit in raising up some at the expense of others. We who bear the privileges of these systems must reflect on our participation and root out the seeds of racism from our communities. Otherwise, these tragic patterns will persist.”
Prayerful reflections and statements of solidarity also flowed this week from our Catholic and Jesuit communities. In his Pentecost Sunday homily, Fr. Mark Bosco, Vice President for Mission and Ministry at Georgetown, links the breath of the Holy Spirit giving life to the apostles with the breath denied to George Floyd: “What about the Spirit speaks to us today? . . . The terrible sin of racism that literally took George Floyd’s breath away…We long for a Spirit that advocates, counsels, and comforts.”
In a written reflection, the Jesuit Patrick Saint-Jean shares out of his experience as a Black person in this country: “Blacks are constantly begging for oxygen, a gift that God granted everyone. Centuries of systemic racism, such as redlining and gerrymandering, have rendered a long litany of resources unavailable to the Black community. Air should be added to the list. It is hard for Black people to have to ask for their humanity to be recognized while also asking for breath.” And the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities issued a statement on racial violence:
“For more than 200 years, our nation’s Jesuit colleges, universities, high schools, and middle schools have taken the slow and deliberate path of educating students for thoughtful, moral citizenship. Our efforts have been well-intended, yet imperfect. Today, the killings of George Floyd and so many others challenge us to act against the overt and unrecognized racism that lurks in the American community and in the recesses of our own hearts. As our Jesuit mission calls us to do, let us use our collective voices as a lever for justice and the common good. We call upon our students, alumni, faculty, and staff to take concrete steps to make a difference in our own institutions and in our nation.“
All of these statements and reflections caught my attention this week, but perhaps none challenged my conscience, my self-understanding, and my desire to act justly more strongly than this article, “The Assumptions of White Privilege and What We Can Do About It,” by Fr. Bryan Massingale, a priest and theologian at Fordham University. Fr. Massingale, an outspoken advocate for racial justice in the Catholic Church, explores the uncomfortable truths about white privilege from his experience as a Black man in a religious tradition in the U.S. that has too often oppressed marginalized persons instead of lifting them up. Massingale offers this definition of white privilege, or white supremacy, in this way:
“White supremacy fundamentally is the assumption that this country, its political institutions, its cultural heritage, its social policies and its public spaces belong to white people in a way that they do not belong to others. It is the basic assumption that some naturally belong in our public and cultural space and others have to justify being there. Further, it is the suspicion that those ‘others’ are in ‘our’ space only because someone has made special allowances for them.”
Massingale goes on to identify five things that white people need to know and need to do if they desire to be in true solidarity with people of color:
First, understand the difference between being uncomfortable and being threatened;
Second, sit in the discomfort that this hard truth brings: systemic racism benefits white people;
Third, admit your ignorance and do something about it;
Fourth, have the courage to confront your family and friends; and
Fifth, have an unconditional commitment to life that includes challenging unjust social policies and working against attitudes that cloak support for racism.
Fr. Massingale’s recommendations challenged me and made me uncomfortable in a way that I did not expect—understanding and exploring my own privilege and complicity is not easy work. And while I am tempted to forego any meaningful action for racial justice because the work seems too difficult, I know that real solidarity depends on taking the risk of growing in greater awareness about how people of color experience the world and moving from an awareness to loving action born of my own interior freedom. As President DeGioia mentioned in his statement from last week, we must remember that the process of dismantling injustice and inequality begins in the interior:
“Individually, in each of our own interiority, we must determine how we contribute to perpetuating injustice and sustaining structures that cannot continue and that now must be reimagined. And, for us in our shared membership in this Georgetown University community, it remains for us in the Academy to contribute to this work of reimagining the social, political, economic and moral structures to ensure justice for all—and especially for those for whom it has been too long denied.”
For resources from Georgetown’s Center for Social Justice organized by racial identities and groups for responding now, please see here.
To receive regular newsletters from Georgetown’s multi-faith religious chaplaincies, please sign up here.