Fairfield Now - Spring 2007
Jesuits & Feminists: Unlikely allies
By Nina M. Riccio
They're certainly not the most obvious of comrades, but Jesuits and feminists share more common ground than you might think. Both ideologies, for example, have humanistic roots, integrate reason and emotion into their teaching, and promote social justice with the aim of ending oppression. Ignatius himself had a respectful, though often complicated, relationship with women. Many of his strongest benefactors were women and he relied on them spiritually; they were among the first to whom he gave the Spiritual Exercises. It's also clear that he did not want them to become Jesuits. Emphasizing the commonalities between Ignatian and feminist pedagogies, while acknowledging their obvious areas of conflict, was the premise behind the two-day Jesuit and Feminist Education conference held on the Fairfield campus last October.
|"It was our intention to complicate the issue of diversity by infusing it with gender," said Dr. Boryczka (right), shown here with Dr. Petrino.|
The conference, spearheaded by Dr. Jocelyn Boryczka, assistant professor of politics in the College of Arts & Sciences (CAS), and Dr. Elizabeth Petrino, associate professor of English (CAS), brought together 125 people from 19 colleges and universities across the country. "It was the first conference of its kind, and it really focused the lens of a Jesuit campus on gender issues," says Dr. Boryczka.
Panel topics included global perspectives on Jesuit and feminist education, the challenges of foreign-educated women faculty, sexual orientation and Jesuit pedagogy, and the similarities between the Jesuit idea of social justice and the feminist quest to end oppression. Keynote speaker Dr. M. Shawn Copeland, a professor of systematic theology at Boston College, set the tone by detailing the commonalities of Jesuit and feminist ideals. Dr. Copeland is widely recognized for her role in drawing attention to issues surrounding African-American Catholics.
"When we first dreamed of this conference, we hoped to initiate a dynamic dialogue," says Dr. Petrino. "We wanted to take the discussion out of everyone's comfort level." And that they did. Conference participants did not shy away from hot-button topics. The issues that emerged - female ordination, academic freedom, reproductive rights - reflected the challenges inherent on today's campuses.
A panel discussion with three Fairfield students who are working on a proposal for a gender studies program was very well attended. "I was prepared for controversy after our presentation, but we were received wonderfully," says Frank Fraioli '08, the president of Fairfield University's Alliance, a student group for those interested in issues of sexual identity. "We got the sense that the audience was very engaged with what we were presenting and that we really had an impact."
The students were particularly pleased that a University trustee approached them to present at a Board meeting this spring. Dr. Petrino noted that Fairfield's administration was "tremendously supportive" of the conference. "We had several people comment that a conference such as this one would never have been supported at their institutions."
Indeed, University President Jeffrey von Arx, S.J., called the two-day event 'ground-breaking.' "We have loosened the soil of hard-packed habits of thinking ... it will result in a more fertile ground for all our campuses," he said. He also noted that the conference emerged from discussions related to the University's strategic plan, the Jesuit tenets of open-mindedness and respect for human dignity, and the need to increase opportunities for students to interact with those of different backgrounds.
So often, says Dr. Boryczka, the issue of diversity is narrowly defined as race, but class and gender are important elements. "It was our intention to complicate the issue of diversity by infusing it with gender," she says. The conference was not meant to solve any problems in just two days, but to influence the way these issues are handled going forward. There has been interest in continuing this discussion on a national level, says Dr. Boryczka, and several universities have offered to host a return engagement on an every-other-year basis.