Connecting Headlines to Hearts and Minds
January is a time for making new plans and setting goals for the semester and year ahead. Looking forward in 2015, how can your campus use Catholic Social Teaching as a tool to educate students’ minds while touching their hearts? What insight does our Catholic faith provide into the events of the previous year?
Many events throughout 2014 could have inspired the hearts and minds of students on your campus. The killings of Michael Brown, Eric Garner, and Tamir Rice and the protests that continue to occur around the country called attention to the reality of life in the African-American community and may have led to an important discussion of racial injustice. Additionally, the refugee crisis at the border that intensified over the summer remains on many minds. As thousands of refugees, including unaccompanied children, entered the United States, many were detained in inhumane conditions in detention centers. Other undocumented immigrants remain in society, but live in fear that their world could be torn apart at any moment. Students also may have been inspired by Pope Francis’ teaching on climate change, and news of his upcoming encyclical focused on the environment. Perhaps other events occurred in your community that gave rise to an opportunity for incorporating the Catholic tradition into discussion of current events.
Many traditional-age college students live at a crossroads—they are leaving behind childhood, and moving into adulthood. For many, this process includes realizing society’s failures. The American ideals they were taught as children suddenly do not seem as shiny and bright as they once were. A second version of America emerges—one where social issues faced by those living on the margins—racial injustice, poverty, hunger, among others—are not adequately addressed.
As Catholic colleges and universities, we have a special mission not just to teach young people their chosen disciplines, but also to invoke in them a sense of the Catholic worldview. In Ex corde Ecclesiae, Saint John Paul II called Catholic universities to be engaged with society, read the signs of the times, and act courageously to speak the truth, even when uncomfortable, for the common good (32). Catholic Social Teaching provides the tools to bring students into dialogue with the Church and to engage them on important issues that may have already captured their hearts.
Many of our students come from more fortunate backgrounds, and may not fully understand the “other America” as it exists. We, as Catholic colleges and universities, should seize this moment to speak courageously: Racial injustice persists, and the civil rights movement is history not yet finished. However uncomfortable this idea, we are called to engage and challenge our society: if America is the land of immigrants, how do we justify the treatment of our immigrants today? Although others may hesitate to act, Catholic colleges and universities are called to work for environmental justice, teach care for creation, and promote sustainability initiatives. As educators in the Catholic tradition, we are called to teach the truth, and challenge and support students as they come to realize that the world is different from what it once seemed.
How do educators aid students in processing the complex situations and myriad responses they see on a daily basis from friends, media personalities, or on Facebook? The texts of Catholic Social Teaching, combined with service experience or classroom activities, can serve as powerful witness to our call to work for a common good that respects human dignity and life. As educators, we should reflect on a few important questions: How do we ask students (and the wider campus community) to view and engage with the world? Do we create enough experiences for our students to meet people on the margin, those that experience injustice in America firsthand? How do we assist students in discovering their own personal role in improving society and working for the common good?
As you and your colleagues on campus discuss these important questions, and implement new courses, programs, workshops, and events to address peace and justice topics, we hope that you will find inspiration in one another, the students you serve, and the people on the margins whom you encounter in your work.
Please consider sharing any resources or success stories with ACCU over the next year—we would love to feature you in our promising practices database or through this blog. We will continue to post news, resources, and upcoming events on the blog to assist you and your students in working for the common good.
Alexandra Weber Bradley is Member Services Associate at the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities.