Fairfield Now - Fall 2009
Transforming the World & Being Transformed
Fairfield hosted the AJCU's 2009 Jesuit Justice Conference
By Carolyn Arnold
In response to a mission given to the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities (AJCU) in 2000 by the Rev. Hans Kolvenbach, S.J., then the secretary general of the Society of Jesus, educators recently gathered at Fairfield University to discuss the promotion of justice in higher education.
The Rev. Jeffrey P. von Arx, S.J., president of Fairfield University said, "We have a rare opportunity to reflect upon how far we have come in the service of this mission," in his opening remarks on June 18. He added that promoting justice is not something Jesuit universities can split from "our obligation to serve the faith; it is rather something we are called to do as a consequence of our faith."
Nine years ago, Fr. Kolvenbach charged the 28 Jesuit colleges and universities in the U.S. to make justice issues around the world a priority.
In response, a permanent National Committee on Justice in Jesuit Higher Education was created which is committed to meeting every few years. "Transforming the World and Being Transformed," the third conference since its inception in 2000, focused on working together to strengthen the tradition of social justice - the hallmark of a Jesuit education.
"This year's meeting was particularly meaningful because we had representatives from several South and Central American colleges, who presented the issues from their perspective," said Dr. Winston Tellis, who represented Fairfield University on the National Steering Committee.
Fr. Kolvenbach asked Jesuit institutions to "raise our Jesuit educational standard to educate the whole person in solidarity for the real world." Keeping this idea in mind, Fr. von Arx stated that a priority among AJCU institutions must be to enable students from low-income families to attend colleges despite increasing tuition costs. Higher education that is just for the wealthy is an injustice that must be addressed "because our American Jesuit Universities were originally founded to serve the educational and religious needs of poor immigrant populations."
Clockwise from top, left:
1. The Rev. Charles Currie, S.J., president of AJCU speaks with the Rev. James Bowler, S.J., Fairfield's Facilitator for Catholic and Jesuit
Mission and Identity. 2. The Rev. Charles Onyango-Oduke, S.J., keynote speaker from Boston College and Dr. Winston Tellis, Fairfield University. 3. Kathleen Orange of Spring Hill College in Mobile, Ala. addressed the group. 4. Kelly Orbic of Creighton University in Omaha, Mary Elsbernd of Loyola University in Chicago, and Ken Reed-Bouley of the Creighton University Center for Service and Justice.
He suggested that higher education institutions consider shifting their financial aid away from "merit-based" aid towards "need-based" aid to alleviate the disadvantage to lower-income families.
Participants were eager to hear from those with different world experiences, such as the Rev. Charles Onyangu-Oduke, S.J., assistant professor of philosophy at Boston College. Fr. Oduke is a Luo-Kenyan-African formally trained in both Western and Indian philosophical traditions.
Fr. Oduke spoke about the importance of teaching students about social justice while having them experience it firsthand. "The Jesuit mission does not take place in a vacuum, but in the human experience," he noted.
When asked about the "brain drain" that results when skilled students and workers from the developing world leave for opportunities in the United States, Fr. Oduke responded that it is necessary for a "true exchange" among people in Africa and other institutions for growth on both sides to occur. "That's the proof that we live in a global world." He also said that he sees the exchange as an eventual "brain gain" due to the fact that many who emigrate often return to their home countries with new skills and ideas.
Rev. Richard Ryscavage, S.J., director of the Center for Faith and Public Life at Fairfield University, spoke about the long history of Catholic social teaching and the Jesuit promotion of justice. "Justice is a virtue - meaning it is a habit acquired through practice," said Fr. Ryscavage. "It has to become a habit of the heart and mind."
Fr. Ryscavage also noted the importance of spirituality while doing good works. "Community service is not enough," he said. "Religion matters!"
After three days of sharing ideas, attendees left with new perspectives and partnerships for the future. The next conference, scheduled for 2013 at Creighton University, will continue the discussion. Fr. von Arx noted that the path for AJCU schools and its partners was clear: "The service of faith and promotion of justice is the road that we are called to follow as Jesuit institutions."