Finding Gratitude in Challenging Times: A Prayer for Thanksgiving

Next week’s Thanksgiving holiday will be unlike what we expected. Given the ongoing challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic and the need to contain the spread of the virus, plans for large gatherings have been put on hold. Many are likely feeling the disappointment of cancelling much anticipated trips to be with friends and family. Sharing the same physical space with the ones we love is usually a source of so much joy. But like so much of this year, the re-imagined event of Thanksgiving likely brings to the surface some difficult feelings and longings to return to the routines of pre-pandemic life. 

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In this week’s Mission in Motion, we invite you to consider a gratitude meditation as part of next week’s Thanksgiving celebrations. Georgetown SCS is grateful for the ways that students, alumni, staff, and faculty have come together this semester during a continuing time of challenge. Many examples of that mutual support have been highlighted in this blog, including interviews with members of the SCS community. 

Despite the challenges, Thanksgiving, even in these circumstances, provides an opportunity to create in ourselves some healthy inner space for naming what we are grateful for. It is important to note that naming gratitude might not be possible, or even advisable, if you are feeling the opposite of grateful these days. This is especially the case for anyone struggling with mental health challenges like depression. Do not force awareness of gratitude if you are not ready for it. As Jim Manney writes in A Simple Life-Changing Prayer, it can sound like a trick to melancholy people to name gratitude that is not real. So please be gentle with yourself as you proceed through this gratitude meditation. 

Gratitude is not only at the center of the celebration of Thanksgiving but also at the core of the examen (described here in Mission in Motion and practiced every Friday at 12 pm EST as part of our SCS Daily Digital Meditationsign up here), which gives life to the Ignatian spirituality that animates our Georgetown values. Manney explains the examen’s emphasis on gratitude in this way: 

Gratitude is the key to Ignatian spirituality in two real senses – the key that unlocks the door, and the key in which the music is played. It’s both the context of prayer and the secret that explains everything…Virtues and spiritual blessings can become vague and abstract. The examen’s process of reflective thanksgiving makes them concrete. In time, gratitude can become an element of our everyday attitude.” 

My invitation over the next week is to spend time in silence, growing in greater awareness of the persons, places, situations, and experiences for which you are grateful. Focus on the real, concrete experiences from your everyday life. You might focus on the things you are thankful for in the past day, past week, or some longer period of time, like this entire semester. Instead of judging what comes up for you, just allow the experiences of gratitude to float by in your imagination as in a parade. 

The examen practice invites us to grow in relationship with the Transcendent, which some of us name as God and others might name as Ultimate Goodness, Beauty, Mystery or something else. Whatever name we use, I invite you to allow yourself to let God guide you in this meditation. Some questions you might consider as you sift through the gratitude that arises in you during your time of silence: 

  • How do you feel when you become aware of the gratitude that surfaces? Does the gratitude make you feel loved, supported, inspired, challenged, etc? 
  • What is the first gratitude that comes to your mind? Is there significance in this being the first gift that you recall? 
  • Are there challenging feelings or events that present themselves as gratitude? Do you feel like these challenges are inviting you to grow and develop in some ways?  

We have much to be thankful for at Georgetown SCS. This semester has been challenging but the community of students, staff, faculty, alumni, and others have come together in a spirit of mutual support. We continue to rely on one another to make good on the promise of a Georgetown education. May this Thanksgiving week be a time of needed pause, reflection, and gratitude. 

Celebrating Jesuit Heritage Month with SCS Virtual Examen on November 20

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November marks Jesuit Heritage Month, an annual celebration at Georgetown to highlight the ways that Jesuit identity and traditions animate our lives at the University. Every year, Jesuit Heritage Month features services, programs, and other community experiences that deepen awareness and appreciation for the distinctiveness of an education in the Jesuit tradition. This month we encourage your participation in the following Jesuit Heritage Month events: 

  • Jesuit Heritage Month mass on Sunday, November 15 at 7:00 p.m. EST live streamed on the Georgetown University Facebook page. Fr. Jerry Hayes, S.J., will preside and preach at the mass. 
  • A lecture on faith and science featuring NASA atmospheric scientist Dr. Anne M. Thompson, co-sponsored with the Orthodox Christian Chaplaincy on Thursday, November 19 at 7:00 p.m. EST. 
  • Fr. Hayes will share Ignatian Examen meditations on Friday, November 13 and Friday, November 20 on the Jesuit Heritage Month Facebook page. These Examen meditations are intended to explore our sense of community during these times of isolation and quarantine. 

SCS will participate in the month of programming by offering a virtual Examen on Friday, November 20 at 12:00 p.m. EST. Hosted by me, Jamie Kralovec, associate director for mission integration at SCS, this 10-15 Examen meditation is open to everyone in the SCS community. Please RSVP for the Examen meditation here. A Zoom link will be shared with all participants closer to the date. 

Jesuit Resources to Navigate These Election Times

This election week has been stressful, tense, and anxious. Regardless of one’s political affiliation or preferred candidate, it is a fact that the election has caused people to feel despair, fear, and uncertainty. Some of these feelings are negatively impacting our entire lives, including how we feel about others who do not share our political opinions. Georgetown leaders articulated recently that despite the unimaginable challenges facing our community, we as a university affirm that “during times of division and uncertainty, we are reminded that we find community in diversity and strength in our care for others.” Grounded in our Jesuit values and Ignatian spiritual tradition, the statement encouraged us, this week and in the times that follow, to speak our minds, share our views, and show respect for one another.

 Image of St. Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Jesuits. What do our Jesuit values offer us in this time of challenging election-related feelings? Image from https://www.americamagazine.org/faith/2020/11/02/jesuit-spirituality-election-2020-james-martin

So, what from the Jesuit tradition offers us resources and support for navigating the tensions and challenging feelings arising because of this week’s election events? I would like to focus on three practices that might be helpful as we proceed from here. I am indebted to several sources for these ideas, including a webcast given this week by colleagues at our peer Jesuit institution Le Moyne College, “Ignatian Spirituality – Moving Forward Together,” and Fr. James Martin, a popular Jesuit, who provides timely ideas in this article, “Jesuit tools to help you survive the election (and its aftermath).”

Prayer, Meditation, and the Examen: In order to manage the strong emotions arising in us because of the election, we need to create space for a healthy inner life. This means finding intentional times and spaces to pause, reflect, and grow in awareness of how we are feeling. There are many ways to do this, but the practices of prayer, meditation, and the Ignatian Examen (which we’ve reviewed before in Mission in Motion) help us to manage strong emotions. These practices enable us to become more aware of our strong emotions, how they make us feel, and how they might be motivating our actions. Time in silence without the distractions and stimulations of technology, rooted in our own personal relationship with God or the Transcendent (however we want to name that), provides an opportunity to grow in both self-awareness and social awareness. In these times of heightened tension and strained relationships, such awareness and empathy are critical if we are to learn from one another and repair the divisions between us.

Self-Care and Self-Kindness: Ignatius was wise in his time period to note that a person cannot develop a healthy life of prayer or meditation without attending to the needs of the body. Living healthy, balanced lives means paying attention to our daily habits. This is a great time to renew healthy eating and sleeping, and other practices of self-development that bring us fulfillment and joy. SCS has been promoting a series of tips and suggestions for practicing self-care and self-kindness. For me, an especially important form of self-kindness is a walk around my neighborhood at lunch or time to be in nature with my family.

SCS has been promoting Kindness & Wellness with regular messages to the community with recommendations for self-care.

Connecting with Others:  Our Jesuit values animate our works of service and our desire to use our gifts and talents to make the world a better place. At the heart of Ignatian spirituality is a commitment to listening; listening deeply to the needs and desires of others. Such active listening is a good first step to “bridging the gap,” as Fr. David McCallum and Karin Botto shared in their LeMoyne webcast this week, between our own perspective and that of others. We bring into such situations the Presupposition of Ignatian spirituality, which requires us to interpret another’s statement by giving the benefit of the doubt about the other’s good intentions. Such humility and empathy is not, however, an encouragement to keep silent about our values when we feel the need to call someone out for a false or harmful statement. Rather, the Ignatian Presupposition challenges us to see each person we encounter as a partner in the shared work of social transformation.

In these times, we can find a depth of support and resources in the Jesuit tradition that animates our life at Georgetown. I encourage you to check out this helpful list of mental health, wellness, and health care resources. You might also consider our SCS Daily Digital Meditations at 12 p.m. EST each day of the work week. (sign up here).

SCS Staff Member Using His Gifts to Serve Others, Advance Food Equity in D.C.

In this week’s Mission in Motion, we spend some time with Tremell Horne, program coordinator for the Planning & Development cluster at SCS. Tremell came to Georgetown in fall 2016, making a quick impact on the life of the community with his creative approach to program communications. During his time at SCS, Tremell has sought ways to develop both personally and professionally and realized his goal of receiving a master of professional studies degree in Sports Industry Management in 2019. In this interview, Tremell reflects on how he brings Georgetown’s Jesuit values into his work and how he has made the most of his gifts to be of service to others in need during the pandemic.

In this week’s Mission in Motion, we hear from SCS staff member Tremell Horne about his work and service during the pandemic.

Can you tell us about your role at Georgetown SCS? Are there particular ways that you bring some of our Spirit of Georgetown values to life in your work? 

I jokingly refer to my role here at SCS as the “fixer.” I am technically a program coordinator but I wear many hats. When I first started at Georgetown I was mainly focused on communications. This snowballed into marketing, course scheduling, event management, and advising. Now I pretty much do a little bit of everything while fixing what I can along the way. Cura Personalis has been at the core of my advising strategy when dealing with my students. It’s important to let every individual feel heard and appreciated. The circumstances that bring students my way does not always lead to happy conversations. I have a unique role that falls in between the grey area of customer service and following strict policies. Each person has a story, a family, and problems of their own. Often times my advising calls get derailed because a student just needs someone to talk to. I’m fine with it. Those conversations bring out the humanity in us in a setting that is very formal and transactional.

How are you doing these days? Have you found practices to stay centered, healthy, and inspired in these challenging times? 

I am okay. Work has been stressful at times during the pandemic, especially on a small team. My supervisor has really helped support me. He just reassured me that I was doing fine and everyone is adapting to this new way of life with COVID. He said, “Do what you can and when the day is over LOG OFF.” It’s hard to disconnect especially when working from home.

An escape for me has been volunteering. For the last few months I have been volunteering with Dreaming Out Loud. They have a small farm in North East DC. I find that a hard day’s work on the farm can really help reset my mind and body. We are tasked with weeding, planting, and composting. The farm at Kelly Miller Middle school uses 100% sustainable practices. This means no pesticides, no chemicals, and no short cuts. It’s hard work. Very hard work. But it has been nice to get outside and get dirty every few weeks.

Tremell has spent time volunteering during the pandemic for Dreaming Out Loud, an organization committed to food equity in the District of Columbia.

I understand that you have been committed during this pandemic to using your gifts and talents to support those in need. Can you let us know about that work and what inspired you to serve marginalized persons and communities in this way? 

Dreaming Out Loud’s mission is to create economic opportunities for the DC metro region’s marginalized community members through building a healthy, equitable food system. We take food for granted. My Dad always says food is love. To eat a healthy meal with family is a blessing. Many inner-city families live in food deserts. We are privileged to frequent Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods for our favorite snacks.

Dreaming Out Loud gives low income families access to fresh produce. Many of the families receive this produce at no cost! At a time where COVID has displaced families and people have lost their jobs, DOL has provided a healthy food option for many in need.

I have a symbiotic relationship with volunteering. It allows me to get dirty and exert some physical energy after being cooped up in my apartment. I have been struggling with an irregular sleep pattern lately. A hard day equals a good night’s sleep. I also get fresh fruits and veggies sometimes for helping out on the farm. At the same time, I am helping families during these strange times where a little bit of kindness goes a long way.

Is there any advice that you want to share? 

Ok…

Enough of the mushy stuff! My advice to anyone reading this is to get outside! Go for a walk! Get some fresh air! Close your computer and ignore those emails until tomorrow! LOG OFF. If anyone asks, tell them that my supervisor said it’s ok.

Please feel free to shoot me an email if you are interested in volunteering with Dreaming Out Loud! tjh101@georgetown.edu

Interested in Spiritual Direction? A Short Introduction and Invitation to Explore

SCS students have recently participated in several retreats offered by the Office of Mission and Ministry, including “Contemplation in Daily Life,” a week-long inter-faith opportunity which Mission in Motion reviewed here, and “God’s Light and Love,” a six week retreat in daily life modeled upon Ignatian forms of prayer These experiences encourage students to grow in our university value of being Contemplatives in Action. Both retreat experiences include an expectation that participants engage in contemplative practices, like prayer and meditation, on their own for 30 minutes a day. These retreats are also designed for participants to meet regularly with a spiritual director. 

Given heightened interest amongst SCS students for these retreats, I want to introduce and explain the practice of spiritual direction and explore how students can meet with a spiritual director during their time at Georgetown. My focus today will be on spiritual direction offered in the Christian tradition, especially the Ignatian style promoted by the Jesuits, but a future post will consider options for receiving spiritual direction or religious advising in the other faith traditions well-represented at Georgetown.

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Inspired by SCS student interest in retreats recently offered by Mission and Ministry, we explore the definition of spiritual direction and how the SCS community can learn more about this resource (Image from Ignatianspiritualdirection.org.uk).

Spiritual direction is an ancient practice that involves two people of faith entering into a sacred conversation. A trained guide helps the one receiving direction pay closer attention to the way God is communicating with him or her. A hopeful outcome of receiving spiritual direction is that one sifts through their daily experiences with a particular focus on the religious significance of their interior movements: thoughts, feelings, stirrings, desires, inclinations, disinclinations, etc. The director is not telling the directee what to think, feel, or believe, but rather, helping the other respond to how God might be inviting the directee into a deeper relationship or union. 

Someone giving spiritual direction in the Ignatian style will be rooted in the dynamics of the Spiritual Exercises, a theological vision about a world in which each person is capable of uncovering their deepest desires shaped by the Holy Spirit. The Ignatian spiritual director, committed to a partnership that respects the directee’s unique personality, life history, and experience, explores how God is moving in the other’s life. While spiritual direction is considered a helping discipline, it is important to note that spiritual direction is not therapy or counseling. The spiritual director is not helping the one receiving direction solve a problem or diagnose an issue. Instead, the focus is always upon the lived religious experience of the directee. 

For more information about spiritual direction, please see: “Spiritual Direction.” For more about the Ignatian style of spiritual direction, please see: “What is Distinctive About Ignatian Spiritual Direction?” 

There are many ways to explore the richness of spiritual direction in the Ignatian tradition at Georgetown. Mission in Motion will continue to promote upcoming retreats as ways for students, alumni, faculty, and staff to experience spiritual direction in the context of a retreat. Outside of a retreat format, ongoing spiritual direction can be offered once per month for an hour. If you are interested in learning more about the possibility of receiving spiritual direction at Georgetown SCS, please reach out to Jamie Kralovec, SCS associate director for mission integration, at pjk34@georgetown.edu. 

Georgetown’s Center for Social Justice Hosts Education for Liberation Week, Oct. 19-23

Over the years, the School of Continuing Studies has deepened its partnership with the Center for Social Justice, Teaching, Research and Service (CSJ). SCS students have participated in CSJ programs, including the Alternative Breaks Program, and CSJ has supported community-engaged curriculum at SCS like the “Jesuit Values in Professional Practice” course. Last year, CSJ collaborated with SCS on its Day of Service by developing a program of awareness-raising and training around the issues of homelessness in the neighborhood surrounding SCS.

The Center for Social Justice is hosting virtual events Oct 19 – 23 as part of Education for Liberation Week. Check out the series here https://csj.georgetown.edu/educationweek/#

CSJ lives out its mission at Georgetown to “advance justice and the common good” as it “promotes and integrates community-based research, teaching and service by collaborating with diverse partners and communities.” CSJ enacts this mission in three key areas: community and public service, curriculum and pedagogy, and engaged research. Next week, from October 19–23, CSJ will host a series of events titled “Education for Liberation.” Consistent with its mission of educating the campus community around pressing issues of social injustice, the series intends to raise awareness about both the challenges and celebrations within the current field of education. This series is a valuable opportunity for SCS students, alumni, staff, and faculty to learn from community-engaged practitioners, scholar-activists, and others involved in culturally responsive and antiracist pedagogy.

Georgetown’s Center for Social Justice has been offering many programs to live out its mission during these virtual times. Check out the website for more information at https://csj.georgetown.edu/

There is an amazing array of virtual programs to choose from next week. From “A Dialogue with Creative Educators” focused on uplifting the voices of marginalized youth, to “The Role and Importance of Community-Based Organizations in Education” addressing community-based efforts in DC to support social-emotional development of K-12 students, the events offer important insights about the challenges facing the field of education. There are even fun and relaxing ways throughout the week to lower stress and tension through meditative dance at a “Joy and Jam Session.” At a time when many are questioning the state and future of education, particularly higher education, there is much to learn from CSJ and its commitment to living out the university’s Jesuit values through programs like Education for Liberation Week.

Join Us on SCS Instagram Live for Mindfulness Meditation in the Midst of Midterms

In these past months, Mission in Motion has explored the emotional, psychological, physical, and spiritual benefits of meditative practice. We have invited the SCS community to join our ongoing Digital Daily Meditations hosted each day of the work week at 12 p.m. EST (see post here), presented on the relationship between mindfulness meditation and the work of racial justice (see post here), and surveyed SCS meditators about their experience in the daily gatherings (see post here). As we head into the mid-point of this virtual semester, and the associated challenges posed by many projects and exams, we are excited to share that SCS will host a daily 2-minute meditation on Instagram Live at 11:50 a.m. EST from Tuesday, October 13 through Friday, October 16. You can join us and experience meditation first-hand by visiting the SCS Instagram page @georgetownscs.

There are many kinds of meditative practice, which arise out of various traditions. Our focus next week will be on mindfulness meditation, which invites deeper awareness of one’s consciousness through conscious breathing and body scanning that calm one’s body and one’s mind. The hope of mindfulness meditation is that stilling the body and the mind enables us to enter more deeply into loving presence of our truest selves and into generous connections with others. Mindfulness meditation is an opportunity to pause, settle the mind and body, and proceed in our days with greater awareness of our interior movements. This practice is particularly helpful in these times, as we continue to navigate some difficult and challenging feelings surfacing within us. If you are looking for some calming pause in your day, join us next week on Instagram Live!

Importance of Civic Participation, Discernment Tools in this Election Season

Georgetown University’s mission statement makes clear that our education is to form “reflective lifelong learners, to be responsible and active participants in civic life and to live generously in service to others.” The university’s location in the nation’s capital and the multitude of programs at Georgetown dedicated to political engagement confirm this mission commitment. Georgetown celebrates civic participation in so many ways, and recently made voting easier for university students by integrating a voter registration portal into MyAccess, Georgetown’s course registration system, and partnering with The Andrew Goodman Foundation on a digital voter engagement website. These efforts have encouraged a culture of civic participation among students, alumni, staff, and faculty.

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 Georgetown has encouraged the community to engage in civic participation. To learn more about the “GU Votes” initiative, see https://politics.georgetown.edu/get-involved/gu-votes/

Political and civic engagement, especially in an election year, can be dispiriting and discouraging, however. Many people turn away from civic life and politics because of the negativity of election campaigns, incessant commercials and advertisements, and the potential that one’s political views can become a source of conflict among families, friends, co-workers, classmates, etc. Despite the messiness of civic participation, which includes voting, advocating for issues and candidates, and encouraging community participation in public policies, this participation is a great good to be pursued. Pope Francis, for instance, describes how “meddling in politics” is virtuous because it is a form of service to the common good. By not voting or engaging in civic life, we run the risk of abdicating our shared responsibilities. 

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The Jesuit Conference of Canada and the U.S. has created a guide to assist in discernment about political engagement. Learn more about the guide here https://www.jesuits.org/our-work/justice-and-ecology/take-action-2/civic-engagement/

This fall, as we enter more deeply into election season, I share a resource crafted by the Jesuit Conference of Canada and the United State. The document, “Contemplation and Political Action: An Ignatian Guide to Civic Engagement,” offers a framework rooted in the discernment tools of the Jesuits and their founder St. Ignatius of Loyola. There are good suggestions in this guide for how to approach the “messy, urgent work of politics” while remaining grounded in one’s personal values and convictions. Different examples of civic engagement from across the Jesuit network–including efforts to confront systemic racism, care for those most marginalized by the COVID-19 pandemic, and protecting the planet against environmental harm–illustrate the diverse ways that we can enter more fully into civic life. An Ignatian Guide to Civic Engagement is intended to be used either in personal reflection or in dialogue with others.

One of the most insightful takeaways of the guide comes from its encouragement to use two kinds of listening in discerning one’s political priorities. Based on the work of Ignatian-inspired author Margaret Silf, dual listening includes the listening of both the “mystic” and the “prophet.” To listen as a mystic is to get in touch “with the invisible currents under the immediate surface of society, and discerning, at this level, what is leading us towards a fuller humanity, and what is diminishing our human-ness.” The prophet, on the other hand, listens by addressing “what the mystic sees, challenging all that is threatening to undermine humanity’s journey towards life-in-all-its-fullness, and encouraging all that is nourishing and empowering that journey.” 

These two types of listening about civic participation invite all of us in the Georgetown SCS community to reflect and act on important questions:

  • As you live in the world, what social forces do you think are most damaging to human dignity today? 
  • How are you being called to address these challenges to human dignity, both in your own life and in your collaboration with others in your community? 
  • Do you take time in your day to notice beauty in the world around you? How does this noticing shape your choices to keep the good of humanity and of the planet in mind?

Contemplation in Daily Life Retreat and Wellbeing Workshops Support Students

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. 

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Contemplation in Daily Life is a unique virtual retreat opportunity for students to experience the contemplative practices of different religious traditions. The retreat is from October 4 to 9. Learn more and apply here by Sept 27.

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. 

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The Wellbeing Workshop Series this fall presents opportunities for students to support their wellness. Students can sign up at this site.

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. 

What’s the Connection Between Our Mission and the Work of Racial Justice?

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. 

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Photo of Archbishop John Carroll in front of Healy Hall on Georgetown’s Hilltop Campus. We ask this week: what does our university mission have to do with racial justice?

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.” (from Letter 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.