Critical Immersion in Peru Highlights Importance of Justice, Awareness, and Georgetown’s Jesuit Values

This past summer, Dr. Shenita Ray, SCS Senior Associate Dean for Faculty and Academic Affairs, traveled to Peru with a group of fellow Georgetown faculty and staff as part of a Magis Immersion. The purpose of the 10-day trip was to connect more deeply with the university’s Catholic and Jesuit mission by being in solidarity with marginalized persons and communities throughout the country. With the help of the Peruvian Jesuit community, Shenita and colleagues saw first-hand the work of Jesuits and Jesuit-inspired organizations working to address injustice through a variety of education and economic development programs. In recent years, several SCS leaders have participated in the annual Magis Peru Immersion, including Dean Dr. Kelly Otter, who wrote about her experience in 2016.

“Mission in Motion” interviewed Shenita about her experience and its significance for her work at SCS.

How would you describe the immersion? What did you do? What was the purpose?

I did not know what to expect as I didn’t go in with a lot of background or expectation of what was going to happen. We essentially traveled to different cities and witnessed the work of different organizations throughout Peru, many of which were led by Jesuits or Jesuit-based institutions that were helping people in the community with education and economic development. We were able to talk to leaders of those organizations as well as the people in the community impacted by the work that these organizations were doing. It was more about being in solidarity with the people there: observing, listening, and soaking in the environment and the context of Peru. This was my first time in Peru, and my first time in South America. I did not have any context at all. It was a lot just to be present in this different environment than I’m used to. Being present in this way took a lot of emotional energy for me to soak it all in.


Dr. Shenita Ray, SCS Senior Associate Dean for Faculty and Academic Affairs, reflects on her immersion trip in Peru

What was challenging about this experience?

It wasn’t challenging from the perspective of paying attention or being present. It was challenging from the perspective of the injustices that I thought were so prevalent in the communities that we visited. We went to a hillside community where I saw women, men, and children living in homes that I have never seen in my life. There were no roads, no plumbing, and dogs roaming everywhere! I was captivated by the dogs. I kept on asking: why are so many dogs running around? It was hard for me to see people living in communities that lacked access to electricity, clean water, and safe roads. Throughout my stay in Peru, being an African-American woman, I found myself reflecting on how my ancestors were brought to the United States and the meager conditions that they lived in for centuries. I saw some parallels between what was happening in Peru and the legacy of African-Americans in the U.S. This was challenging for me.

What memories, either consoling or desolating, stand out for you?

There was a woman we visited in a hillside community who really stood out to me. We visited her store which was connected to her home, and she talked about her experience of getting to where she was at that point in time. She had been married to an abusive man and she said that often the abuse was carried out in the streets, in the middle of the community. However, she reached a point when she realized that she did not want her children, particularly her son, raised in a violent environment, so she decided to leave her husband. For many years, she worked in jobs where she was disrespected and dealt with a variety of injustices – injustices that I have never had to face in my life. But she had a plan in mind to open up her own store and create stability for her family where she could. She was so proud of the fact that she was able to save up enough money to open her own store, allowing her to create a safe and stable home for her and her children.

She shared that she wanted to teach her daughters, son, and granddaughter that love doesn’t mean verbal or physical abuse. I resonated with her story because it has a lot to do with the legacy of my family, too. That was the consoling part. The part that I still struggle with is that one of her daughters has a disability and does not have access to the services they need. In her mind, her son will assume the responsibility of taking care of the family when he is older. That’s hard for me as an American where we are often taught to believe that we should have control over our own lives and pursue our dreams. On some level, I agree that we should maintain relationships and obligations to our families, friends, and communities. However, I also believe that we should be able to direct our own lives however we want to direct it, and I get the sense that her son’s priorities will center solely around his sisters and his niece, instead of around what he wants to do in his life. This question tugs at my heart strings: What choices do you have in life when there are not services available to help your family?  

What were your impressions of Peru?

The Magis Immersion in Peru included visits to communities throughout the country

I was struck by the diversity of the geography: the jungle, coastal area, and cities were all absolutely beautiful. The food resonated with me so deeply – I appreciated the variety of spices and how the food was prepared. Even though I didn’t know the language, I felt so warmly embraced in Peru and not looked down upon in any way. People still tried to communicate with me in the market, for example. I thought it was so beautiful. The people seemed really invested in helping me understand their culture, their language, their history, and their values.

How does this critical immersion help you more deeply understand Jesuit mission and values?

I’m still working through that myself. One of the things I talked to someone about who went on the trip with me was the realization of my own privilege; the resources I have access to but don’t use to change circumstances in communities that I am a part of. I know I can do more, but I have to figure out what that looks like. I see this magazine cover from the Maryland Province of Jesuits sitting around SCS with Fr. Pedro Arrupe S.J. that says: “A Faith That Does Justice.” It feels now as if I have been seeing this magazine everywhere since I got back. This line – ‘a Faith that Does Justice’ – I have heard before. But it was only after Peru that I developed a deeper understanding of what it really means. I can now relate to and speak about what it means to have ‘a Faith that Does Justice’. I saw that in Peru – faith is not just a belief, it is what you are actually doing with that belief. Visiting the various Jesuit-based organizations in these communities and engaging in ways that improve the lives of people has helped me see how any one of us can influence change. I resonate with this Jesuit value more deeply now. 

How do you plan to bring this experience back to Georgetown and your communities in a tangible way?

That is a question that I am constantly thinking through. One thing I face daily is how the challenges that I think confront me in my work, or how I live, are not that big. They are really not that big. I don’t get frustrated or anxious as easily about challenges in my personal and professional life. Nowadays, I tend to turn every issue that comes up as an immediately solvable and doable opportunity. I’m not suggesting that there are not things that don’t make me anxious, but ever since my experience in Peru, states of anxiety and stress are short-lived because I can immediately see the abundance in the other facets of my life. The scale of the issues facing the communities in Peru are nowhere near the issues we face in this country.

I am much more conscious of being even more present to my work at SCS. I thought I was doing that before I left for Peru, but It feels as if I am even more present, and at a much deeper level. I am more intentional about being present in meetings with colleagues, and I ask myself if it’s absolutely necessary to bring my laptop to these meetings or if I’ll just be checking emails. I remind myself to be more present and learn from and hear what my colleagues have to say. I try not to check my phone as much throughout the day unless I am expecting an important call, and I focus more on what is happening right here, right now. In Peru, I was naturally present and attentive because of the foreign language and my heightened senses. I liked how that felt when I was there.

Anything else to share?

It is a real opportunity to invite people together who don’t know each other to come to this space. The gift in that is the chance to develop a shared experience together. We all saw different things and shared different perspectives, even though we were on the same trip. It was a beautiful thing to witness. I feel as if I received so many gifts from Peru – not the physical kind, but more from the spiritual sense. It is a gift to me to be exposed to diverse perspectives and I feel so grateful to be able to carry those images with me. At the end of each day, we would do an Examen reflection. To be a witness to other people changing, and how they were changing and expressing that change, was breathtaking. Some of us had real changes of heart relative to our expectations or understandings prior to the trip. Oftentimes, you have to witness the contradictions of injustice in order to know that it still exists in the world. After bearing witness to injustices, we are compelled to use our faith to do justice in the world.

Thanks to SCS Staff, Spirit of Georgetown Comes Alive for Future Hoyas

SCS staff greet admitted students and introduce them to the Spirit of Georgetown

When SCS opened its doors to admitted students in late spring for a series of special events, future Hoyas experienced the distinctiveness of a Georgetown education. Upon entering 640 Massachusetts Avenue, a team of friendly staff welcomed prospective students with signature Hoya hospitality. Some were probably not expecting the nature of their welcome to the downtown campus. Just outside of the main auditorium, staff enthusiastically introduced the “Spirit of Georgetown,” the nine values that Georgetown aspires to animate in its community. These values, grounded in the university’s Jesuit heritage, like People for Others, Cura Personalis, and Community in Diversity, come alive for students, staff, and faculty in unique ways across the university.

Admitted students spin the wheel of Jesuit values!

The SCS staff team, who came together in order to plan outreach and events that more deeply engage the student community, helped admitted students appreciate how to make these values their own by posting notes to publically displayed poster boards. By the end of the night, these boards were filled with a colorful arrangement of personal testimonies reflecting the inclusive and invitational way that Georgetown integrates its mission. To spark the imagination of future students, staff shared their own perspectives on the meaning of the Jesuit values along with printed statements from the student members of the Hoya Professional 30, an annual cohort of students selected in recognition of their outstanding accomplishments inside and outside of the classroom.

SCS students and alumni reflect on their Georgetown experience

Framed as “Start Your Student Story,” the introduction to Georgetown’s distinctive values-based education continued that evening during a panel discussion. Led by Global Hospitality Leadership Faculty Director Dr. Erinn Tucker, students and alumni from across the SCS degree programs reflected on how Georgetown inspired them to pursue holistic personal transformation in the course of study.  While individual alumni perspectives reflected the differences of professional discipline and personal experience, the alumni all expressed a similar idea: education at Georgetown SCS is about more than taking classes, earning grades, and growing as a professional. As a Jesuit institution of higher education, Georgetown is committed to purposeful and transformational learning that inspires students to seek justice, pursue the common good, and grow as whole persons attentive to their intellectual, spiritual, and emotional lives. Panelists described how their foundational course in Ethics, professionally-relevant Capstone project, program-organized community gatherings, service projects, and friendships all shaped a deeper experience of professional and continuing education. This well-rounded approach to the student experience was on full display during a joyful and spirited networking reception that followed the panel.

Admitted students enjoy each other’s company at a post-panel reception

All of us at Georgetown are invited to make our Jesuit heritage a meaningful part of our work. So what do the Jesuit values in the Spirit of Georgetown mean to you?

What does the Spirit of Georgetown mean to you?

Panel on Global Citizenship Addresses Shared Humanity, Mission of Jesuit Universities

Experts convene for SCS panel discussion: “Global Citizenship in Higher Education”

Earlier this year SCS convened an expert panel to explore how higher education professionals have a responsibility to promote global mindedness and prepare future global citizens. Titled “Global Citizenship in Higher Education,” the panel looked in depth at pressing issues that impact the ability of universities to effectively extend their mission to the global community. In particular, turbulent politics, nationalistic rhetoric, and the tightening of national borders all challenge the promise of educating students to become global citizens. The panel included global education leaders from Georgetown, including SCS Dean Dr. Kelly Otter, Dr. Stephanie Kim, Faculty Director for the Master’s in Higher Education Administration, and Amol Dani, Vice President and Chief Financial Officer of Georgetown’s Main Campus. Additional experts, Dr. John Lucas, President and Chief Executive Officer for International Student Exchange Programs, and Dr. Alfred Boll, Branch Chief for EducationUSA of the U.S. Department of State, provided educational perspectives from outside of Georgetown.

The discussion addressed some of the ways in which encouraging the formation of globally active citizens is a unique and defining feature of Jesuit educational institutions. Dean Otter called direct attention to this connection with Jesuit values in her remarks about how SCS approaches global education. Otter focused on four areas: global humanity, global society, global economy, and global workforces and the need for integration of these categories. Otter noted that effectively serving global education goals requires an awareness and sensitivity to the diversity of local contexts in which students learn. This awareness, which stems from a Jesuit worldview, invites educators to be conscious of their own biases, and inevitably leads to more complexity in the delivery of globally focused education programs. Otter welcomed the complexity as a responsibility of Jesuit education: “We need to listen, we need to observe, and we need to be willing to take on the challenges of those students, those faculty, those communities, those complex issues in various parts of the world.” SCS has committed to such locally sensitive global awareness, evident in a range of global programs and in a student body that is almost 13 percent international, representing approximately 90 countries.

The conversation became truly global in the post-panel reception thanks to this traveling band from Spain

The Jesuits as a global order have articulated a vision of global citizenship that links closely to some of the ideas that emerged in the panel. In a July 2018 meeting in Spain to inaugurate a new international body, the International Association of Jesuit Universities, Jesuit Superior General Arturo Sosa described the Jesuit university as a “source of reconciled life.” Sosa went on to describe global citizenship as a core component of Jesuit education, leading students to greater understanding of human diversity and commitment to the service of others:

Educating people for world citizenship involves recognizing diversity as a constitutive dimension of a full human life. This means experiencing cultural diversity as an opportunity for the enrichment of human beings … [Global citizenship] is one of the constituting dimensions of the individual, which we seek to foment and support during the educational process. It is also necessary in order to lay down the conditions to be able to listen to the call to provide a public service as a personal commitment.

Fr. Arturo Sosa, Superior General of the Jesuits

Sosa reinforced the Jesuits’ centuries-old commitment to global education, which Georgetown manifests in its own globally-engaged tradition of education. This long-standing commitment now entertains new challenges in light of the complexities of modern life. In the midst of a technologically-enabled digital revolution around the world, how do we remain focused on the local and global mission of Jesuit universities? As the panel conversation made clear, this question will continue to animate the work of SCS.

For more information about Georgetown’s commitment to global education, see the brochure “Georgetown University: Academic Excellence in Service to the World.”

Student Retreat Provides Opportunities to Relax, Reflect on Sacred Stories

Who are you? What communities in your life make a claim on you? What are your hopes and dreams as a student at Georgetown’s School of Continuing Studies?

SCS students enjoy the second annual student retreat at Georgetown’s Calcagnini Contemplative Center in Bluemont, Virginia

These were the questions that framed the second annual SCS student retreat from Saturday, March 9 to Sunday, March 10, 2019 at Georgetown’s beautiful Calcagnini Contemplative Center in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. Students were invited to answer questions about their identity, communities, and education in advance of the retreat to inspire a deeper reflection on their personal narratives. During the retreat, students pondered their answers about how they make meaning of the world as they progress through their time at Georgetown. Framed as an invitation to “Explore Your Sacred Story” and rooted in Ignatian spirituality, the retreat provided a welcoming space for people of any faith tradition or none at all.

The retreat attracted 16 SCS students from 11 different programs who made the journey to Calcagnini. According to Jamel Langley, master’s candidate in the Integrated Marketing Communications program, the short break from daily routines was refreshing and needed: “The retreat enabled me to take time away from the hustle and bustle of D.C. and provided me with an opportunity to reflect on my journey leading up to becoming an SCS student and how I will take my education with me after I leave Georgetown.”  Teresa Merz, master’s candidate in the Liberal Studies program, also affirmed the welcome rest and renewal that comes with a retreat: “Juggling graduate studies with a full-time job has been both exhilarating and exhausting; the retreat was a 24-hour immersion in peace and profound inspiration in an exquisite setting. Guidance, solitude, hiking, great company: what could be more renewing!”

During group reflection, students were able to hear from classmates in other programs, a welcome opportunity to celebrate the diversity of the SCS student community.  The space created on retreat also provided invaluable learning opportunities to practice active and empathetic listening, a key skill in any professional and continuing education discipline.

The SCS student retreat provided time for both individual and group reflection in the quiet of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Retreats are not only valuable for their focus on the past but also on how the reflective distance from one’s daily life encourages a constructive look to the future. Retreatants might ask themselves: How is this quiet time inspiring me to shape my resolve for tomorrow? In the silence of personal guided reflection, how am I being invited to make a change in my life?

Emphasis on action is a hallmark of Jesuit spirituality, which encourages reflection on our experiences in order to determine how best to use our gifts and talents in the world. Regina Bartonicek, a master’s candidate in the Public Relations and Corporate Communications program, noted how the retreat shaped her ongoing journey:

“It was significant to me in that it allowed me the opportunity for self-reflection and contemplation about where I am in life and in my spiritual path and where I want to be,” she said. “It also provided me some clarity on being more mindful and being more present in my everyday interaction with others.”

By giving students the chance during a busy semester to explore their interior lives in the quiet and calm of Calcagnini, the SCS retreat fulfills Georgetown’s commitment to “action and contemplation,” a core Jesuit value in the Spirit of Georgetown that helps ensure that our activity is grounded in intentional reflection. The retreat also advances SCS unique mission to “deliver a world-class, values-based education to a diverse array of communities and individuals through their academic and professional careers.”

SCS students interested in contemplative experiences should check out the variety of retreats offered by Georgetown’s Office of Campus Ministry and the spiritual life activities hosted at SCS.

Head and Heart Moved to Action: Reflections on a Critical Immersion to the U.S.-Mexico Border

For the inaugural post of Mission in Motion, a blog dedicated to reflections about efforts to animate Jesuit values at Georgetown University’s School of Continuing Studies, Jamie Kralovec, Associate Director for Mission Integration, offers a reflection about his experience on the U.S.-Mexico border through Georgetown’s Magis Kino Immersion.

“I will do anything to get back to my children.”

Photo of the Georgetown group walking along the Mexican side of the wall across from Nogales, Arizona

Hearing Ariel’s words firsthand forever changed my understanding of the issues surrounding migration on the border between the United States and Mexico. Ariel lived for years in the U.S. without legal documentation, before being apprehended by law enforcement, sentenced to 1.5 years in a federal detention facility, and then deported to Mexico, a country where she has no family or friends. She left behind two children in the U.S. and a career in health care as a Certified Nursing Assistant. Ariel shared her story with me and a group of other Georgetown faculty and staff at Casa Nazareth, a shelter in Nogales, Mexico run by the Kino Border Initiative (KBI) that provides safety, healing, and micro-enterprise opportunities for migrant women. We were in Mexico and southern Arizona in January 2019 through Georgetown’s Magis Kino Border Immersion, an intensive experiential trip with three goals: 1) grow and learn together about the reality of migration issues on the U.S. – Mexico border; 2) consider the implications of this reality for our individual and collective spheres of influence; and 3) reflect together on our roles and responsibilities as faculty and staff at Georgetown relative to the issue of migration.

Each woman at Casa Nazareth had a unique story, but all have been broken in some way by the immigration system, some crossing hundreds of miles of treacherous, uninhabitable desert in the hope of securing a better life. In painful and uncomfortable moments seated around an intimate circle, I ceased to be a distant and passive observer of a complicated policy issue. The unpleasant emotions I was feeling during Ariel’s retelling: sadness, anger, and shame, helped lead me into a deeper, more personal engagement with the persons and events of the immersion experience. With resilience and vulnerability, Ariel invited me into an intimate encounter with her as a person with a story that compels a personal response. As a father of three young children, I suddenly found myself grappling with the personally unimaginable: a life separated from my wife and children by a structure that imposes legal and physical barriers to family unification. This movement: from detached, rational analysis to growing in reverence and relationship with persons our society relegates to the margins, embodies our mission at Georgetown as a Jesuit educational institution committed to social justice. Fr. Greg Boyle, well-known Jesuit author of Tattoos on the Heart: The Power of Boundless Compassion, describes the mutuality that happens in these encounters as kinship:

Soon we imagine, with God, this circle of compassion. Then we imagine no one standing outside of that circle, moving ourselves closer to the margins so that the margins themselves will be erased. We stand there with those whose dignity has been denied.

Facilitated by Georgetown’s Office of Campus Ministry and the Center for Social Justice Research, Teaching, and Service, Magis Kino models Jesuit education and its interplay of experience, reflection, and action by asking participants to make a sustained commitment to justice as a result of engaging directly with the issues of migration. This approach to learning only works if groups make room for continuous reflection before, during, and after the experience. Reflection helps us make meaning of our experiences by getting in touch with the deeper sources of our sensations, allowing ourselves “to be challenged to change” in the words of former Jesuit Superior General Fr. Peter-Hans Kolvenbach. KBI’s approach to immersion trips, designed so that participants humanize, accompany, and complicate their experiences, helped spur our group’s deep reflections at the end of each day. In keeping with its commitment to complicate the issues, KBI also introduced us to a diversity of stakeholders, including law enforcement, the court system, and property owners and ranchers along the border. 

Fr. Peter Neeley of the Kino Border Initiative sharing “holy relics,” objects left behind by migrants along a trail frequently used by migrants near Arivaca, Arizona

One of the trip’s most poignant and physically demanding experiences was a two-hour guided walk of a portion of the migrant trail in Arivaca, Arizona. Jesuit Fr. Peter Neeley led the hike and encouraged us not to reproduce, but to visualize the immigrant experience. It was here that Fr. Neeley presented us with goods he has collected over time left behind by migrants on their arduous journeys. Referring to these objects as “holy relics,” Neeley invited us to grow in solidarity and love for migrants by imagining the people who had once held these objects. The baby bottle for a nursing infant stirred strong emotions and again, like Ariel‘s story, crashed my internal defensive barriers that deceive me into believing that migration does not concern me personally. It pulled me to recognize and affirm the inherent human dignity that I share with the mother and the child who had passed the trail beneath my feet. I will keep these holy relics in mind as I continue to discern the most effective ways that I am called to respond to this experience.

Georgetown faculty and staff eating with parishioners of St. Ferdinand church in Arivaca, Arizona

Pope Francis has encouraged the world to “show some concrete solidarity” with migrants and my immersion experience leads to me to consider ways to express such real solidarity. Four days in Nogales left me with many questions for which I do not pretend to have the answers. I am especially aware after this experience of my own privilege. I will never live on a daily basis with the regular fear and anxiety that migrants carry, or that of our own undocumented students at Georgetown. In spite of this privilege, I cannot proceed without acknowledging that my time in Arizona and Mexico claimed me in a significant way. While there are no perfect solutions to the multi-faceted issues of migration, the complexity does not excuse meaningful action. How might we respond to the needs of migrants and to the social justice implications as individuals and as university community? In the months that follow I will discern this question along with my colleagues at Georgetown. Mindful that individuals are called to respond in their own unique ways, I offer some suggested action steps for anyone interested in humanizing the issue of migration while recognizing its complexity and emphasizing accompaniment of people on their journey:

  • Support KBI’s critical work of education, humanitarian assistance, and advocacy with a financial donation. The organization especially needs in-kind donations of clothing, toiletries, and home goods.
The Georgetown group of faculty and staff on the Kino Border Immersion with hosts from St. Ferdinand and the Kino Border Initiative

The word Magis, rooted in the Jesuit virtue of magnanimity, invites all of us involved in educational endeavors at Georgetown to respond to the gifts of our own lives with gratitude and generosity for others. My brief time on the U.S. – Mexico border moved me to deeper sensitivity and awareness of the suffering experienced by migrants. Jesuit education inspires us at Georgetown to use all of our gifts, including our intellectual inquiry, to engage constructively with the suffering of persons on the margins. I will continue to discern my response to Ariel’s sacred story and her invitation to a deeper solidarity.

Please reach out to Jamie at pjk34@georgetown.edu with any questions or reactions to the post.