This week we highlight two important resources for students that directly address the upheaval and distance of this semester. Together, these opportunities reflect Georgetown’s commitment to a whole person education that attends to the many dimensions of student lives.
Contemplation in Daily Life is a week-long program that offers students opportunities to engage in contemplative practices from a variety of religious traditions with the accompaniment of a spiritual adviser. These spiritual advisers come from the multifaith team of Campus Ministry. Over the course of a single week (October 4 through October 9), participants will be guided through 30 minutes of daily practices and will meet one-on-one with a spiritual advisor for 30 minutes to reflect on their experiences. At the beginning of the week, participants will gather as a community of diverse identities to share their journeys. The retreat begins with a virtual gathering from 8 to 9:00 p.m. EST on Sunday, October 4 and ends with a virtual closing from 3 to 4:00 p.m. EST on Friday, October 9. Students need to apply by September 27 at midnight EST to be considered for the retreat.
The beauty of this retreat, which especially affirms the university’s value of Interreligious Understanding and Contemplation in Action, is that students can choose from among a diversity of programs. From “Deepening Friendship with God: A Prayer in Daily Life Retreat” to “Muraqabah and Mindfulness in the Islamic Tradition” to “Poetic Prayer in Daily Life: Protestant Christian Edition,” many possible paths are established for students on their contemplative journeys. The depth of this offering, represented by many spiritual advisors from across diverse traditions, illustrates the strength of Georgetown’s Campus Ministry.
Another opportunity for students to consider is the Wellbeing Workshop Series, a collaborative cross-campus effort between the Engelhard Project, Counseling and Psychiatric Services (CAPS), and Health Education Services (HES). The intention behind the series of workshops is to present skills-building resources for students to promote wellness and mental health. The workshops address a wide range of issues that impact wellbeing, including “Managing Stress and Anxiety During COVID,” “Bringing Your Authentic Self to a Virtual World,” and “Navigating Cultural Forces and COVID: Exploring Your Values.” Students can sign up for any of the workshops at this link.
In a profound way, these opportunities for students make clear that physical distancing need not mean social isolation. These resources, which flow out from commitments to the university’s mission and values, offer important support for students in these times of challenge.
This week marked an important milestone in efforts at the School of Continuing Studies to address issues of systemic racial injustice in our institution and in our communities.
A newly formed leadership committee of six full-time SCS faculty and staff announced the first public meeting of the Diversity, Equity, Belonging & Inclusion Council (DEBIC). All SCS students, faculty, alumni, and staff, are invited to participate in DEBIC, which will have its first public meeting on September 30 from 2 to 3 p.m. EST (sign up here to RSVP for the meeting). The purpose of DEBIC is to provide direction and leadership for initiatives at SCS that work to fully integrate diversity and inclusion values into all aspects of our academic setting.
The formation of DEBIC follows a summer of active listening sessions in which, through circles for faculty and staff, student and alumni forums, and open feedback forms, members of the SCS community expressed their experiences, feelings, and perspectives about racism and social exclusion. While DEBIC will focus on projects and activities that affirm and welcome all members of the SCS community in the diversity of their identities, they will place a particular emphasis on combating racism and racial injustice.
As we prepare for meaningful actions to ensure that SCS addresses the persisting manifestations of structural injustice and racial inequity, I think it would be helpful to reflect on why the shared work of combating racism and racial injustice is inherently a commitment rooted in our university mission. In other words, what does mission have to do with this work of racial justice?
The Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities (AJCU) offers a helpful starting place to explore the connections between mission integration and diversity and inclusion:
“In these days, when the coronavirus pandemic and police violence clearly impact people of color to a disproportionate degree, we implore our campus communities not just to decry injustice and bemoan the lack of opportunity. Rather, we must all pray, listen, learn and act. We are compelled to do all that we can, to make a difference for the better, for justice and equality.
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. The killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and so many others challenge us to act against the covert 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 institutions and in our nation.” (from AJCU Resources on Racial Justice)
This commitment by the AJCU has been joined by statements issued across the Jesuit network, from Jesuits and the colleagues that work alongside them. Fr. Brian Paulson, for example, the Provincial for the Midwest Province of the Jesuits offered this connection with mission:
“Because of our many privileges, we have a voice as individuals, as citizens, as a religious community and as a church, affiliated with often powerful institutions. Let us strive to be part of the solution and not part of the problem when it comes to dismantling systemic racism and promoting racial healing in our country. In the midst of these struggles, may we who have a voice, find a way, wherever we are, to give voice to the voiceless when basic human dignity and decency are violated.” (fromLetter from Provincial Brian Paulson, SJ on the Tragic Events in Minneapolis and Across the U.S.)
And at Georgetown, our Campus Ministry has explicitly put into dialogue the university’s Jesuit values with its commitment to responding to racial injustice:
“As a Catholic and Jesuit institution, we uphold the words of the 32nd General Congregation of the Society of Jesus, that ‘the promotion of justice is an absolute requirement’ of the ‘service of faith.’ As people of diverse religious and non-religious backgrounds, we affirm that these words speak to a deeper, universal call – the call to care for the wounded among us, to seek understanding, and to dismantle the causes of all forms of violence. We commend all those who have responded to this call.” (from Georgetown University Campus Ministry “Our Response to Racism and Racial Injustice”)
All of these words make clear that Jesuit mission and values are integrally related to the ongoing struggle for racial justice. But this connection is about more than words or principles. Orienting our work for racial justice in the resources of our mission reminds us that the full measure of our efforts is action. Just action must flow out of a discerned awareness about how each one of us is called to respond to the barriers to justice.
Our mission at Georgetown inspires all of us into a “commitment to justice and the common good.” And today, as we rely upon individual and communal discernment to reflect and act upon the greatest threats to justice and the common good, we are moved to sustained action to dismantle racist structures in our communities and in our institution. Mission is not an after-thought of this shared commitment at Georgetown, it is central to this work.
The virtual reality of our study and work has inspired all kinds of innovation at Georgetown. Spiritual formation programs have also embraced digital tools and platforms to support the university’s commitment to whole person development. This year’s SCS Staff and Faculty retreat was a great example of how traditional ways of proceeding can be imagined anew in these virtual times.
This year’s retreat for staff and faculty, “An Ignatian Retreat in the Age of Zoom: Meditating on Faces & the Image of God,” was led by two Jesuits, Fr. Mark Bosco, vice president for mission and ministry, and Fr. Jerry Hayes, director of Ignatian programs, along with Jamie Kralovec, SCS associate director for mission integration. Frs. Bosco and Hayes designed the template for the retreat and have been extending invitations to offices and departments across the university to experience the virtual program.
At the heart of this virtual Ignatian retreat, which lasts between 60 and 75 minutes, is a deeper contemplation of human faces and the way that these faces point us in the direction of the Divine. The retreat is a creative take on Zoom fatigue (which we discussed on Mission in Motion a few months ago). While virtual living, working, and studying pose significant challenges and stresses, “An Ignatian Retreat in the Age of Zoom” invites retreatants to ponder the deeper spiritual significance and potential for greater solidarity in contemplating the faces on our screens: “the face both reveals and conceals, drawing us into new ways of experiencing both our shared humanity, and our sense of the Divine shining through the face of the other.”
The retreat then deepens exploration of faces and the image of God through readings of the poem “As Kingfishers Catch Fire” by Jesuit Poet Gerard Manley Hopkins and an Examen meditation (described here on Mission in Motion) about the faces that we encounter each day. The point of these exercises is to invite retreatants to consider what is happening in their interior experience as they go about each day processing an overwhelming amount of visual data (and faces) on screens. Some questions to consider from a virtual day of life, work, and study:
What faces do I encounter in my day that bring me joy and remind me of the goodness and joys of life?
What faces in my day challenge, irritate, or annoy me?
What faces do I intentionally choose to ignore and exclude from my vision?
How can I enter into my next Zoom meeting with a reverence for the innate sacredness and human dignity of each face I contemplate? How do I recall that every face I meet, even the ones that challenge me, is an opportunity to gaze upon a glimpse of the Divine?
At Georgetown, living out the value of being Contemplatives in Action means taking needed time for pause, reflection, and spiritual grounding. Last year’s staff and faculty retreat was a time of community and inspired reflection, providing participants with some helpful rest and rejuvenation for the coming academic year. Attendees of last year’s student retreat had similar feelings about the retreat experience (read more in Mission in Motion about last year’s student retreat). And this year’s staff and faculty retreat made clear that we can acknowledge and accept the many limitations and constraints of this virtual environment while finding in it some unexpected graces and the potential for greater shared humanity.
This year’s retreat produced some helpful lessons about how best to design spiritual experiences in the age of Zoom. In the coming weeks, we will share additional ways that students and alumni can directly experience the transformative benefits of a virtual Georgetown retreat.
The Mass of the Holy Spirit is a tradition as old as the first schools begun by Jesuits almost five centuries ago. Every year, Jesuit educational institutions around the world like Georgetown usher in a new academic year with this celebratory religious service. Typically, university students, staff, faculty, multi-faith chaplains, and Jesuits at Georgetown mark the occasion by joyously gathering on the lawn in front of Healey or in Gaston Hall. This year, due to the ongoing global pandemic, the celebration was broadcast virtually from Dahlgren Chapel (you can watch a recording of the entire mass on Georgetown’s Facebook page here).
There are many important reasons why Jesuit schools begin the academic year in this way. In past years, I have received much consolation from this annual ritual because it provided a needed pause for reflection and gratitude as I prepared to enter more fully into a busy year at Georgetown. Taking some time for reflection, in the company of the entire university community, helped remind me of my “why” for being at Georgetown.
The symbolic significance of this opening year mass cannot be overstated. At Georgetown, we share in a conviction that our work of education transcends the knowledge and skills that we learn in books and in classroom. The vision at the heart of Georgetown’s mission is that an education in the Jesuit tradition calls all of us, regardless of our profession of a faith tradition or none at all, to the deeper, more transformative purpose of schooling. We are each called to find meaning, purpose, and belonging in our work and study and to share this transformative learning generously with and for others. We are each invited to #SeekSomethingGreater (as we like to say at SCS).
Calling upon the help of the Holy Spirit to aid us on our individual and collective journeys felt different this year, but even more important. Fr. Peter Folan, a Jesuit at Georgetown and member of the Theology faculty, noted the extraordinary challenges facing our world and our university. The temptation for despair is ever-present, remarked Fr. Folan in his homily: “Hope is in short supply these days. That is why it bears repeating. The Spirit’s fire burns brightest when it looks like the flame of hope is about to be extinguished.” Fr. Folan issued a challenging invitation to the community to listen attentively to how the Spirit may be moving in us this year: “What is the fire burning in this collective community’s heart that must be spoken aloud?” He concluded with a reminder, especially in challenging times like these with the realities of global pandemic and persisting racial injustices, that we are all summoned to service: “Will the fire of the Spirit bring hope back into our world by reminding each of us that our lives are to be lived for others. Our educations are to be given away, so to speak, in service of others.”
As custom, President DeGioia concluded the mass with reflections about the year to come. He called attention this year to two critical ideas. First, President DeGioia affirmed the Jesuit character of Georgetown and celebrated the uniquely manifested gift of Jesuit hospitality that shows up in various ways at the university. He remarked:
“All of the members of the Jesuit community embody a characteristic virtue in practice. Hospitality. It’s another Jesuit, James Keenan, who describes Jesuit hospitality this way: ‘Our hospitality is a mobile one. Mobile because those who we serve are found throughout the whole earth.’
Tonight our Georgetown community is certainly found throughout the whole earth. You have, you will experience this welcoming, this hospitality when you are next here in this place. The distinctive aspect of Jesuit hospitality is that you can experience it wherever you are. I know you have experienced this in our special celebration tonight, in the celebration of this mass and in Fr. Folan’s beautiful homily. We are all witnesses to Jesuit hospitality.”
President DeGioia went on to offer that we as a university community can come together this year despite the physical distances that seem to separate us. He noted that the Spirit is always present, always available to meet us in our weakness and need for strength. According to President DeGioia, calling upon the Spirit for guidance is essential if we are to meet the major challenges facing the world: “What we believe, what our presence here together is witness to, is our conviction that the Spirit helps us in our weakness, that very Spirit intercedes for us. We can trust in the presence of the Spirit to guide us, in responding to these challenges.” He then named some of these pressing issues: a global pandemic, a financial crisis, an eroding civic culture, and an enduring legacy of slavery and segregation in our country.
President DeGioia concluded by making an explicit connection between the support provided by the Holy Spirit and the shared task of realizing racial justice at Georgetown:
“We have seen again this past week how urgent it is that we accept our responsibilities to address the original sin of this nation. So let me close by sharing these words by Austin Channing Brown from her book I’m Still Here. And I quote: ‘Our only chance at dismantling racial injustice is being more curious about its origins than we are worried about our comfort. It is not a comfortable conversation for any of us. It is risky and messy. It is haunting work to recall the sins of the past. But is this not the work we have been called to anyway? Is this not the work of the Holy Spirit? To illuminate truth and inspire transformation. When we talk about race today and all the pain packed into that conversation the Holy Spirit remains in the room.’
The Spirit is here with us. The Spirit that will illuminate truth and inspire transformation. The Spirit that remains in the room. As we continue our journeys. As we engage in the challenging work ahead. This is what we celebrate tonight.”
Our journeys at SCS have already begun this fall. I invite all of us in this community to reflect on these themes of hospitality and hope. How are you finding hope these days? How are you growing more hospitable, more generous in your service of others? What and who do you call upon in times of need?
May the Holy Spirit, however you understand it in your own life, experience, and vision of a transcendent reality, bless you this year.
The pilgrimage is a popular image in the spirituality of the Jesuits. It comes from the life of St. Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits, who thought of himself as a pilgrim always on the road. There is an innate freedom in being a pilgrim and the thing about journeys is that they begin someplace but never really end. This is one way we might think about the shared project, as students, staff, faculty, alumni, of a Georgetown education.
As we enter into the fall semester, Mission in Motion pauses this week to recognize the beginning of something new. This week we asked Michael Canter, SCS Senior Associate Dean for Students and Academic Operations and long-time member of the Georgetown community, for his advice to new and continuing students beginning their own educational journeys this fall.
1. You’ve spent a considerable part of your life in the Georgetown community, both as a student and as a staff member. What can you say about Georgetown to a new student experiencing the university for the first time?
Oftentimes, I hear from students that they feel intimidated to be here or can’t believe that they are attending Georgetown. Some wonder whether they can handle the experience. They are always surprised when I share that as both a student and a staff member there have been times when I’ve felt the same way. Why am I here? What do I bring?
I’m a first generation college student. Education wasn’t a major push in my family. Most barely graduated middle or high school. Many spent time incarcerated. A few suffered from substance abuse issues. I share these facts not in any judgment of my family but to provide that my upbringing was challenging in parts. And all of these parts made me who I am today. I brought all of this with me when I entered the gates at 37th & O Streets N.W. many years ago and I bring this with me every day to my current position. I’m better for it. And Georgetown is too.
We don’t arrive at Georgetown with clean slates. We bring a life that has been lived. Experiences. Perspectives. Students bring all of that power with them. They have the ability to shape and define what it means to be a member of this community. The landscape should be evolving. Ever changing. We need their voices. We need their stories. But most of all we need their honesty. All of this is what makes Georgetown a fantastic place to grow and explore. I invite all students to bring their full selves to this experience and to our community. They’ll be better for it. And so will we.
2. Can you share more about your role at SCS and how you and your team support student experience at the school?
Currently, I’m the Senior Associate Dean of Students and Academic Operations where I oversee the department that manages the student experience and administrative functions for all the degree seeking programs at SCS. Our team covers new student onboarding, advising, course scheduling, faculty contracting, student events, student communications, and many other fun administrative projects that help the degree programs function. Our team works side-by-side with our awesome Faculty Directors who oversee the curriculum for our academic programs and manage their specific faculty communities.
From a team perspective, I count myself pretty lucky. The team is filled with diverse, talented and driven individuals who bring a tremendous amount of passion and creativity to their work. They truly enjoy the connection with students and the ability to work with cross functional teams across the school to create new opportunities for our community. We are a team that constantly wants to improve and so thrives upon feedback from our students. Feedback can be a loaded term but I truly mean it.
I say this to share with students that we welcome all feedback. We genuinely enjoy meeting with students to hear their ideas, good experiences, or possibly areas where we didn’t quite meet their expectations. All of the above are the reasons why we do the work that we do. We want your time with us to be transformative and fulfilling so don’t hesitate to reach out to us.
3. Of all of the values in the Spirit of Georgetown, which one resonates the most with you and why? How have you brought this value into your work at Georgetown?
I always want to say, “Cura Personalis.” I feel like that is more a fan favorite. But I prefer to give some love to another key value “Educating the Whole Person.” I find a substantial amount of fulfillment in creating opportunities for individuals to grow both personally and professionally. It is what first drew me to returning to Georgetown in the first place. As a student, I felt the power of the staff and faculty. It was almost overwhelming at first because I didn’t know or understand how to accept that kind of commitment to my success. Yet, these teams pushed me towards new heights and helped me to uncover areas of my life that I hadn’t yet fully realized. They created and offered opportunities to me that I could not have produced on my own.
Dr. O’Connor, Dr. Glavin, Dr. Hirsch, Dr. Ortiz, and Dean Chiarolanzio were major influences on my collegial journey. I was never the best student but they treated me as such. The lessons that they shared with me are lessons that have inspired some of the most creative endeavors of my life. I joined the US Marine Corps. Completed further degrees. And even started writing music.
I show up to work each day hoping to have that kind of influence on my team, colleagues, but most especially our students. I’m no saint. My execution is sometimes flawed. I can have an “off” day or two or ten. But my greatest joy in life is seeing others succeed. For me, that is part of the magic of what we do here. If I can help one person, I’m a success.
4. What advice do you have for students as they proceed into the fall semester?
Work each day to block out the negativity that abounds when you are attempting to succeed at something new. People love to hate on things that they might not be able to understand. Cancel out the noise. Forget what that member of your circle said about who you are and what they believe you should do. Forget them. Leave it at the door. You deserve to be here. You deserve to have this experience. And you deserve to have the opportunity to evolve. Do it!
Communicate with your team at SCS. I’m talking about your program support, your faculty directors, your faculty members, your classmates, your resource center representatives, your amazing operations and security team (when we are back in the building)…
Did you notice what I did there? Your team is pretty large and all here to help YOU. Use them!
5. Anything else to share?
Of course! You’ve made it this far so the least I can do is leave you with few recommendations for non-school activities:
Books on my desk this week:
Almost Everything: Notes on Hope by Anne Lamott
New Seeds of Contemplation by Thomas Merton (A book Mr. Kralovec recommended to me.)
The Source of Self-Regard by Toni Morrison (I keep referring back to many essays in this book. I share her Sarah Lawrence Commencement Address and The Individual Artists as highlights.)
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.