For the second year, Alvernia University students and the school’s department of Campus Ministry facilitated an interactive event aimed at offering participants a glimpse of what refugees might experience. “To Be a Refugee” is a simulation in which participants receive an identity card that lists the name, country of origin and background of a typical refugee. The students assume this role for the experience and move around the quad to learn about common problems refugees face when emigrating. Student participants were told disease, inadequate shelter, lack of nutrition and insufficient education for school-age children often riddle refugee camps. To raise awareness about these experiences, the facilitators offered interactive activities. In one of these activities, participants were encouraged to lie down on a tarp the same size as the tents many refugee families might occupy while in resettlement camps. The tarp, 5 feet wide and 7 feet long, could barely fit three people and when told that families with multiple children will often have to inhabit a tent this same size for months at a time- many students were struck.
“To Be a Refugee” was developed by an Alvernia alumna, and hosted for the first time, last year. One difference in this year’s program was that it incorporated a prayer vigil for all those affected by the recent violence at a Pittsburgh synagogue. Those gathered prayed for all who face religious violence and discrimination. This impactful event proved successful again and prompted students to think critically about what they can do to support refugees in their struggles.
Carroll College hosted its second “Sun Run” on October 6th in an effort to increase the size of a planned solar array that will soon be installed on the roof of the Campus Center. The 38 kilowatt solar array installation is made possible through a grant received from NorthWestern Energy. This grant offers its recipients a $48,000 incentive to bolster their renewable energy sources. The solar panels that will be installed are approximately equal to eight residential solar arrays and will supposedly generate $6,000 worth of electricity per year. In recent years, many Catholic colleges and universities have taken up the role as “stewards of God’s creation” with a renewed vigor, especially in the wake of the publishing of the encyclical “Laudato Si.” The encyclical offers insight pertaining to caring “for our common home.” Eric Hall, Associate Professor of Theology, and Archbishop Raymond G. Hunthausen Professor of Peace and Justice at Carroll College says of the solar initiative that “Such a project could create a strong witness to a Catholic vision of higher education and the value it places on the natural world.”
The new on-campus solar array will be the largest of its kind in the state of Montana, but the Carroll College community hopes to make their impact even bigger, by attempting to increase funds for the project. The “Sun Run” 5k race was hosted for a second year to raise money for the solar project with the goal of hopefully increasing the size of the solar array to 50 kilowatts. The race brought in over 300 participants from the Carroll College community as well as members of the greater Helena community. To learn more about the solar project at Carroll College, or to consider making a donation to boost their efforts visit https://www.carroll.edu/solar.
In 2015, Santa Clara University partnered with a group of San Jose immigrant mothers and formed The Madres Emprendedoras: Mosaicos de la Communidad- Spanish for Entrepreneurial Mothers: Mosaics of the Community. On September 21, 2018 a mural symbolizing two years of tireless work was unveiled at Washington Elementary School. The “Madres” initiative aimed at solving, what the community identified as their three largest social issues- public safety, housing insecurity, and special needs education. The program was supported by SCU sociology professor Laura Nichols and ethnic studies assistant professor Jesica Fernandez, who headed a group of students in researching and investigating solutions to the problems identified by the mothers.
Through this program the mothers and students and faculty at SCU were able to work together to compile useful resources for tackling issues in the community. SCU students also helped connect members of the community to school administrators and officials who could provide additional support in responding to the needs of the community. One recent graduate from the Jesuit university, Alma Orozco, who worked on the “Madres” initiative, stated that the program validated the importance of empowering community members to be “the leaders of their own change.” The recently unveiled mural is filled with vibrant colors and imagery that depicts the mothers’ vision of hope for the future.
You can read more about Santa Clara University’s work in the San Jose community here.
On September 25th, University of St. Thomas hosted a public forum on immigration titled “The Gospel Transcending Borders.” The event, which was cosponsored by Catholic Charities and the Texas Conference of Catholic Bishops, shed light on the current issues facing migrants. The Houston university hoped to offer a better understanding of “how to answer the Gospel call to welcome the stranger” in such a broken immigration system, a system which Cardinal Daniel Dinardo sought to understand better when he recently visited the border himself. The forum featured a diverse panel of speakers, including a representative from Catholic Charities, who shared her experience as an attorney for a center that provides legal assistance to immigrants. Other speakers included a woman who immigrated herself and now advocates for those with undocumented status. There was also a former refugee on the panel, who shared her insight from serving in both the Houston community as well as the community of Sierra Leone.
To learn more about this forum and other similar events happening at University of St. Thomas, click here.
Their legacy is felt in the practices inspired by their charism at their founded schools. Sisters are finding ways to incorporate their charism into the character of the institution, by appointing mission officers dedicated to the charism, making the priorities of the religious community an integral part of the institutional structure, and involving students in visiting retired sisters or praying with the religious community. Additionally, many sisters are focused on working on justice issues, a vital part of many religious communities’ work and charism.
Currently, there are 104 colleges and universities founded by women religious in the United States. To learn more on the status of women religious-founded colleges and universities, read the full article on Global Sisters Report.
More than 80 Catholic college and university presidents have signed the ACCU statement on the recent executive order by the President of the United States released on January 29, 2017. The statement reads:
“As the voice of Catholic higher education, the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities expresses its strong opposition to the Executive Order signed by President Donald J. Trump concerning U.S. immigration policy. We stand in solidarity with other Catholic and higher education organizations that recognize the moral obligation of our country to assist migrants, particularly those who are fleeing any kind of persecution.
In referring to the order’s halt of refugee admissions, Bishop Joe S. Vásquez of Austin, Texas, chairman of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Migration, stated, “We believe that now more than ever, welcoming newcomers and refugees is an act of love and hope. … We will work vigorously to ensure that refugees are humanely welcomed in collaboration with Catholic Charities, without sacrificing our security or our core values as Americans, and to ensure that families may be reunified with their loved ones.” (Read Bishop Vasquez’s full statement online.)
Pope Francis has said that “authentic hospitality is our greatest security against hateful acts of terrorism.” As ACCU gathers this weekend in Washington, DC to celebrate the value of diversity within Catholic higher education, we reaffirm the commitment of our institutions to creating inclusive, welcoming campus environments that embrace people of all faiths and cultures. Catholic higher education was founded precisely to serve the children of Catholic immigrants who in their own time were excluded from higher education. This is a legacy that we proudly pledge to continue.”
Download the news release about this statement, which includes the names of ACCU member presidents who have signed to express their support.
Seattle University was recently featured in the Washington Post for their Challenge Grant Program. Challenge Grants are financial aid awarded to students with a high financial need for strong academic performance. Students that earn at least a 3.0 GPA in the fall semester have $1,000 added to their aid package for the winter and spring semesters. If a student maintains a GPA above a 3.0 for the remainder of the year, they keep the grant as a permanent addition to their aid. In connection with this program, Seattle University provides students with resources to support academic success and to create plans to avoid the loss of aid.
Loss of financial aid, even a small amount, can be a reason for students to discontinue their education. Seattle University considers it a worthy endeavor to support students in finishing their education, stemming from a rich history of Catholic higher education caring for the needs of a diverse student population. Read more on the program here.
In summer 2016, the White House took a stride forward in removing barriers to participation in society for individuals returning from prison or returning citizens by launching the Fair Chance Pledge. Meant for businesses and institutions of higher education, the pledge commits signatories to committing to reducing barriers to a second chance at societal participation, to acting on this commitment in their local communities, and being an example for peer institutions and businesses.
Among institutions of higher education, taking the Pledge means “adopting fair chance admissions practices like going ‘Beyond the Box‘” by reconsidering whether questions related to criminal history are necessary for admissions applications. Additionally, the Pledge symbolizes a commitment to continue “supporting professors or students who want to teach or are teaching in correctional facilities and ensuring internships and job training are available to individuals with criminal records.”
Just over 2 million people in the United States are currently incarcerated. According to the Sentencing Project, the U.S. incarceration rate has increased by 500 percent in the last 40 years, making the United States the largest incarcerator in the world. It is not difficult to imagine the near impossibility of pursuing a college degree while incarcerated and the significant barriers to higher education that exist once released.
To help combat the hurdles to attaining an education during and after prison, Catholic colleges and universities have implemented programs such as Hudson Link @ St. Francis College (SFC). Hudson Link for Higher Education in Prison is a nonprofit organization that seeks to restore and strengthen access to higher education for those in prison. As one of the organization’s college partners, St. Francis subsidizes tuition for students to pursue a degree from the college after their release from a correctional institution, according to SFC’s website. By working with a population at significant risk of recidivism, or returning to prison, Hudson Link @ SFC uses its resources to help returning citizens transition back into society, with the hopes of “decreasing recidivism while increasing employment opportunities and earnings potential” for the Hudson Link students.
According to Richard Relkin, director of media relations and adjunct professor at SFC, there are ten faculty members who “are actively involved with formally and informally supporting Hudson Link students.” After three years of being involved with Hudson Link, Relkin reports that SFC will have its first graduating class in spring 2017. Hudson Link @ SFC has made deep and lasting impressions on the students, faculty, and even administrators at the college. Two years ago, a student learned of Hudson Link and worked with administration to have the question regarding criminal history removed from SFC’s admissions application. Relkin shared that students and faculty in contact with the Hudson Link students “begin to understand the concept of rehabilitative justice, and the importance of giving people a second chance.” By enacting forgiveness and mercy, Hudson Link @ SFC embodies the college’s Franciscan mission.
Another example of prison education programs is found at Donnelly College, which runs the Lansing Correctional Program, bringing a liberal arts education to offenders in the Lansing Correctional Facility. Established in 2001, the program has taught 420 students and has awarded 20 associate degrees. Nationally, about 68 percent of returning citizens are rearrested within three years. Conversely, Donnelly’s program boasts a 2 percent recidivism rate for its graduates, an indication that a college education contributes to lower rates of returning to prison.
Steve Jansen, Ph.D., professor emeritus of Donnelly College and director of the program, explained that since 2001 Donnelly has been providing classes at Lansing despite the facility being a significant distance from campus. Jansen expressed that faculty are drawn to Lansing because “the students are not better skilled but in general they’re better motivated because they want to prove to themselves and to their families that they’re not what society says they are.”
At the program’s roots is the human dignity of the students, rather than their criminal history. With its deep respect for the humanity of its students, the Lansing Correctional Program realizes Donnelly’s mission “to provide education and community services with personal concern for the needs and abilities of each student, especially those who might not otherwise be served.”
Another example of a program that brings education to prisons is found at Holy Cross College (HCC). Started in 2013, the Westville Education Initiative (WEI) is a collaboration between faculty at HCC and the University of Notre Dame that allows incarcerated students to earn an associate’s degree at HCC and transition to a HCC bachelor’s degree program. Alesha Seroczynski, Ph.D., director of college operations for WEI, expressed that they seek “great minds with the potential to be outstanding students.” Stressing that the program is very rigorous and not designed to simply offer time-cuts to offenders, Seroczynski says the WEI students “genuinely want to be better people and they believe a college education is one of the ways for that to happen.” WEI has awarded twelve associate’s degrees to incarcerated students, with a first cohort of students beginning in the bachelor’s degree program this fall.
Aligning with the missions of Holy Cross College and the University of Notre Dame, WEI educates “the heart and mind,” as Seroczynski puts it. The Initiative is also hoping to expand in the future. HCC was recently awarded one of 67 Second Chance Pell Grants, a pilot initiative of the Obama administration to offer grants to incarcerated students pursing higher education. Modeled after the Bard Prison Initiative and already participating in the Bard College–based Consortium for the Liberal Arts in Prison, WEI hopes to create a network of its own with other small liberal arts schools in Indiana.
A final example of prison education can be found at La Salle University in Philadelphia. Distinct from the aforementioned programs, La Salle’s Inside Out Prison Exchange Program has been offering La Salle students the opportunity to join an equal number of incarcerated students in taking a course inside local prisons since 2014. The courses have centered on questioning mass incarceration and how best to move forward from the phenomenon.
Caitlin Taylor, Ph.D., is one of the first professors to teach a course for the Inside Out program. A professor of criminal justice, Taylor explains that “Inside Out courses tend to be very different from traditional college courses in that the faculty member is there to facilitate the learning experience as opposed to provide direct instructions.” By learning from one another, Taylor continues, “most students are transformed by the collaborative learning experience.” The Inside Out program lives out the university’s Catholic identity and mission, as Taylor expresses it, “to meet students where they are at and to educate traditionally underserved populations.”
Educating incarcerated individuals and returning citizens is one way Catholic higher education has taken steps toward reducing recidivism, creating safer communities, and building bridges between unlikely friends. Examples such as Hudson Link @ Saint Francis College, the Westville Education Initiative at Holy Cross College and the University of Notre Dame, the Lansing Correctional Program at Donnelly College, and the Inside Out Prison Exchange Program of La Salle University demonstrate the unique ability for Catholic colleges and universities to educate the forgotten and to rehabilitate the forsaken. By supporting and implementing such programs, these four institutions embody their Catholic mission and help create opportunities to respect the human dignity of those who are incarcerated.
Justine Worden is an undergraduate student at Georgetown University. She was the Peace and Justice Intern at the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities during the 2015-16 academic year.