Through the Office of Community Engaged Learning, Teaching and Scholarship, Loyola University New Orleans students partnered with Families and Friends of Louisiana’s Incarcerated Children (FFLIC), a Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD) funded organization. FFLIC advocates for children incarcerated in the juvenile system, gives a voice to parents when their children are taken from them, and works to reform the practices and culture in juvenile facilities to provide a nurturing and rehabilitative environment for incarcerated children. Members of FFLIC utilize collective action and solidarity to reform the system as they are directly involved in the justice system. The Office of Community Engaged Learning, Teaching and Scholarship shares this model for social change and strives to work “with and for” its communities. Students volunteered 842 hours of service in total as a part of a capstone course on Public Relations and Advertising. The ten students enrolled in this course produced a comprehensive strategic communications plan for FFLIC. Students were able to capitalize on the skills they learned in class to meet the needs of those in their community. Incorporating working for justice into courses is one way that the University lives its Catholic identity and involves students in issues affecting the local community.
Inspired by their mission, Catholic colleges and universities serve their local communities in many ways, including building partnerships to work for the common good. Since 2010, ACCU member institutions have partnered with community organizations funded by the Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD) to collaborate on initiatives that help people in their local communities who are living in poverty. These organizations are dedicated to empowering people to create change in their local community through solidarity and education. Saint Joseph’s University, the University of Dallas, and Marquette University are just a few of the institutions addressing local issues of poverty through these partnerships, providing a concrete way for students to live out the principles of Catholic Social Teaching.
At Saint Joseph’s University, students have the opportunity to work with Urban Tree Connection, a non-profit organization funded by CCHD that works with people living in Philadelphia’s most disadvantaged neighborhoods to develop community-based greening and gardening projects. Urban Tree Connection (UTC) empowers members of the local community by training people in farming and other agricultural skills and making fresh produce more widely available. Their projects are created on vacant land to create safe and functional spaces that promote positive human interactions. Saint Joseph’s University’s Sustainability Committee and Institute for Environmental Stewardship work with UTC to provide access to the Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program at UTC to faculty, staff, administrators, and students at the university. Subscribers to the CSA receive vegetables from UTC’s urban farms, supporting their efforts to transform abandoned lots into community gardens.
In addition to promoting the CSA program, students at SJU are also encouraged to work with UTC in their community gardens through the Philadelphia Service Immersion Program and the Magis Program. The Philadelphia Service Immersion Program is an optional early move-in experience for first-year students. This four-day program introduces incoming freshmen to the Jesuit values of social justice, service to those on the margin, moral discernment, and intellectual inquiry through community service learning. This past fall, six students volunteered with UTC through the program. Each evening, the students reflected on what they learned and experienced that day in a small group discussion led by incoming sophomores. Another opportunity available to connect students to UTC is the Magis Program, a semester-long service and social justice program for first-year students. Students meet weekly in small groups for community service, social justice education, and reflection. UTC is one of the sites where students can serve for the semester as part of the Magis Program.
Like St. Joseph’s, other Catholic campuses are finding that partnerships with CCHD-funded groups provide mutual benefits for all the partners. For example, the University of Dallas partnered with the local diocesan CCHD staff to educate students about the reality of poverty in the United States. Working with students and staff, together they created the Journey to Justice Retreat (J2J) to teach students about the issue of poverty in the local area and throughout the country. Using resources from CCHD such as Poverty USA, participants learned about the effects of poverty on people all over the country.
The J2J Retreat featured a focus on the CCHD-funded group Texas Tenant Union (TTU). TTU is a community organizing group dedicated to securing more and higher quality low-income housing by advocating for legislation, providing free legal counsel for low-income tenants, and offering rights education and counseling for tenants. Former diocesan CCHD intern Colleen McInerney, an alumna of the University of Dallas, says the retreat showed students the importance of CCHD in that TTU “wouldn’t have been able to do nearly as much without the CCHD resources” available to it, which inspired many students to get involved with anti-poverty organizations. The retreat was well-received and students hope that the university will be able to host the retreat again in the future.
In addition to hosting service opportunities and working together on educational programming, Catholic colleges and universities can partner with CCHD-funded organizations to learn more about advocacy within the nation’s political system. Marquette University offers students a way to become involved in advocacy through courses that incorporate service learning and through an internship. Project Return assists men and women who have experienced incarceration in making a positive reentry to the community. Each academic year, students work at Project Return for ten hours a week , helping clients find jobs and housing, work through personal issues, and celebrate accomplishments. They learn about the process of reentry by visiting a prison, meeting parole officers, and witnessing a reentry court run by a federal judge. In addition to learning more about the issue, students most recently advocated with community leaders, canvassed neighborhoods on issues surrounding criminal justice reform, and organized a community mental health day.
The project also enables Marquette student interns to work with a mentor on a variety of tasks and to incorporate their own academic interests into the internship. One student intern during the past year worked to launch a mental health initiative to accommodate clients in need of psychological services. Ed de St. Aubin, Ph.D., the director of the internship program, commented, “The social justice mission of our Jesuit university is completely aligned with the mission of Project Return.” De St. Aubin noticed how the experience opened students up to more growth than a classroom could have afforded, exposing them to numerous human factors connected to criminal justice reform, such as race relations, ethnic disparities, and faith development. Recently, de St. Aubin, as well as interns Max Hughes-Zahner and Alex Krouth, were guests on RiverWest Radio Milwaukee’s show, Expo: Ex-Prisoners Organizing. Hughes-Zahner, a junior at Marquette, noted on the show that this internship “was very important for me to experience it from that side because previous to that I had really only experienced classroom learning about incarceration and prison.”
Saint Joseph’s University, the University of Dallas, and Marquette University are working with local organizations to create community-based solutions to issues of poverty and inequality. Their partnerships with CCHD-funded groups enable them to live the values of Catholic Social Teaching and have a visible effect on the surrounding neighborhoods. Students are able to work alongside those living the issues they are working to resolve, giving them an experience of solidarity. Through a partnership with an organization funded by CCHD, Catholic universities make a difference in their communities and give students experience in what it means to have a faith that does justice.
Camilla MacKenzie is an undergraduate student at The Catholic University of America and the Peace and Justice Intern at the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities.
Diocesan Catholic Campaign for Human Development staff in Dallas, TX partnered with the University of Dallas to educate students about the reality of poverty in the United States. Working together, they created the Journey to Justice Retreat (J2J) to teach students about poverty in the local community and throughout the country. Participants learned about local and national poverty through resources such as Poverty USA, CCHD’s online poverty resource.
To increase awareness of CCHD and give concrete witness to its work, CCHD-funded organization Texas Tenant Union (TTU) was featured throughout the retreat. TTU is a community organizing group dedicated to fighting for more and better low-income housing through legislation, free legal counsel for low-income tenants, and rights education and counseling for tenants. The 2015-16 CCHD intern Colleen says the retreat showed students the importance of CCHD in that TTU “wouldn’t have been able to do nearly as much without the CCHD resources” available to them, which inspired many students to get involved with anti-poverty organizations. Journey to Justice is just one way in which the University lives its Catholic identity and increases student awareness and involvement in social justice in their local communities.
Learn more about CCHD and other successful campus partnerships here!
As a Vincentian University, Saint John’s University (SJU) has long been committed to the pursuit of justice and charity, and has successfully combined the two in its three-year long partnership with the Don Bosco Workers (DBW), a Port Chester, NY based organization funded by the Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD). DBW is a ground-up community organizing group that advocates for worker and economic justice.
Thanks to the leadership of Meghan Clark, Ph.D., assistant professor of Theology and Religious Studies at SJU, the campus-community partnership has blossomed into a fruitful relationship where DBW representatives visit Clark’s students in her course on Catholic Social Teaching. The representatives engage with students around issues of wage theft, local worker justice and the DBW-CCHD relationship.
This year the class presented their research on fair trade initiatives and forced labor in Brazil in SJU’s inaugural Solidarity Festival. The Festival entailed a full day of presentations, featuring DBW, the social justice artwork of Sol Aramendi, SJU Fair Trade, SJU CRS Ambassadors, and GLOBE, SJU’s academic program on microfinancing. DBW participated in a panel on wage theft, and the day ended with a Mass for worker justice celebrated by Fr. Patrick Griffin, the director of SJU’s Vincentian Center for Church and Society.
Dr. Clark comments that the partnership flows from the Vincentian concern for charity and justice, and helps students conceptualize the answer to the Vincentian question “‘What must be done’ with respect to wage theft and exploitation of day laborers.”
Read more about Saint John’s University and other CCHD-campus partnerships here!
How does your college or university work to alleviate poverty? Let us know!
Do you know a young Catholic leader dedicated to fighting poverty and injustice in the United States? The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) invites you to nominate individuals between the ages of 18-40 to receive the Cardinal Bernardin New Leadership Award.
The Bernardin Award is meant to:
- Recognize new and future leadership against poverty and injustice
- Promote young people as leaders in our communities
- Honor outstanding young leaders and their organizations/ parishes
- Strengthen the Catholic community’s participation in CCHD’s anti-poverty mission
In the past, the award has been given to individuals who are dedicated to fighting against injustice, fighting for immigrants, and working towards fair housing. Learn more about the award and download the nomination form here! Nominations should be submitted no later than July 31, 2016.
Solidarity is sometimes understood as the bedrock of Catholic Social Teaching. In a 2014 address to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Pope Francis noted that “solidarity is the attitude that enables people to reach out to others and establish mutual relations on this sense of brotherhood that overcomes differences and limits, and inspires us to seek the common good together.”
One way to live this attitude is by promoting initiatives related to the dignity of work and workers’ rights, poverty alleviation, and economic justice, all themes ingrained in Catholic Social Teaching. Many Catholic colleges live solidarity through partnerships with the community to address these themes, including through relationships with groups like the Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD), the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ domestic anti-poverty program.
One example of living solidarity with the local community can be found at St. John’s University (SJU) in its partnership with the Don Bosco Workers (DBW), a local “grassroots community-organizing group” funded by CCHD. The group advocates “for full and fair participation in the labor market” through the leadership of “Latino immigrant day laborers and other low-income workers.” For three years, SJU has partnered with DBW to bring an example of fighting for worker justice directly to students.
Under the leadership of Meghan Clark, Ph.D., assistant professor of theology and religious studies, the partnership has become a fruitful relationship. Each semester, DBW representatives visit Clark’s students in her course on CST. According to Clark, “DBW has shared their stories with around 150 students over four campus visits.” The visits have led to the creation of the Solidarity Festival, which flowed from a desire for “a bigger conversation,” Clark notes. In April 2016, the festival entailed a day of on-campus presentations, including one that featured DBW in a panel on wage theft, as well as a display of social justice artwork, SJU Fair Trade, SJU CRS Ambassadors, GLOBE (the university’s academic program on microfinancing), and economics students’ research on forced labor in Brazil. The day ended with a Mass for worker justice celebrated by Fr. Patrick Griffin, the director of SJU’s Vincentian Center for Church and Society.
Clark emphasizes that the partnership flows from SJU’s Vincentian identity: “The Vincentian question is ‘What must be done?’ Through conversation with DBW, students see both how the worker center asks, discerns, and pragmatically answers the question, ‘What must be done?’ with respect to wage theft and exploitation of day laborers.” The DBW-SJU partnership is a locus of real-life applications of CST.
Another example of a CCHD-campus partnership can be found at St. Thomas University in Miami, FL which works with People Acting for Community Together (PACT), a local coalition of faith-based organizations and church communities that focuses on social and economic justice. According to Darrell Arnold, Ph.D., secretary of PACT, professor of philosophy, and interim dean of the Biscayne College at the university, the organizations and their representatives hale mostly from underserved and disadvantaged areas of Miami. Through his courses, Arnold brings his ethics students on a yearly immersion trip through the university’s Center for Community Engagement to Immokalee, FL, where they spend time with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers. The coalition is a ground-up, “worker-based” organization known for its work in “social responsibility, human trafficking, and gender-based violence at work,” according to its website. When students go to Immokalee, they tend to “walk away shocked,” Arnold says, by the injustices endured by the community. Many students return to Immokalee and participate in activism and advocacy with the coalition.
In addition to the Immokalee immersion trips, Arnold reports that students participate in three immersion trips to Haiti, where they continue to promote worker justice, as well as fair trade initiatives. In Haiti, students have the choice to work with a fair trade coffee company, a women’s artisan group, or a solar panel project. Each of these projects and the work with PACT and the coalition are unique in that they are mutually beneficial to the students, organizations, and the communities. Arnold says that the immersion trips and the work with PACT flow from a “subculture of professors and scholars that are interested in social justice,” which helps St. Thomas engage with CST in various disciplines, so that students, faculty, and staff might more fully live their values.
At the Seattle University School of Law, students are invited to use their legal skills in solidarity with the local community. A Jesuit institution, Seattle University takes very seriously the call to promote and work toward social justice. The School of Law does so in a number of ways, such as the Frances Perkins Post-Graduate Fellowship, sponsored by the Access to Justice Institute (ATJI) and the Unemployment Law Project with support from private donors. The institute “creates opportunities for law students to work in non-profits and organizations that really do try and serve the most needy” in the local community, according to the 2015 Perkins Fellow Andrés E. Muñoz. Muñoz has been working full time for the past year at the Unemployment Law Project, a not-for-profit law firm that “represents unemployed workers for little to no cost.” He says that the not-for-profit nature of the project “allows us to really represent people who need it and who otherwise would not have an attorney by their side at their hearings.” Through the Perkins fellowship, Muñoz has been able not only to gain invaluable “legal practice that can transfer well,” but also “to provide outreach to immigrant and refugee communities.” He says the Unemployment Law Project “recognizes that those groups of people are even more disadvantaged in many ways when it comes to any aspect of the legal system. Unemployment is no exception.”
The associate director of ATJI and director of postgraduate fellowships Jennifer Werdell believes that “the school’s Jesuit identity informs our commitment to social justice.” She continues, “Our work at ATJI and where we steer students within that is largely driven by community needs.”
Muñoz echoes the organic, ground-up nature of the institute’s work in his work at the law project. He says the populations of people he serves “need a voice,” a voice that he has been amplifying for the past year. Through their work, Werdell, Muñoz, and the School of Law exemplify what it means to extend the work of a university far beyond campus to the margins of society, where the need is most intense.
These examples show that Catholic colleges and universities are no strangers to working with marginalized and disadvantaged populations. Through the work of St. John’s University with the Don Bosco Workers, St. Thomas University with PACT, and Seattle University School of Law with local non-profit organizations such as the Unemployment Law Project, Catholic higher education clearly exemplifies ways in which the Church can be in solidarity with others in the community and work together to advance the well-being of all. In so doing, Catholic higher education not only upholds the long history of Catholic Social Teaching and Catholic commitment to justice, but also the commitment to, in the words of the Holy Father, “seek the common good together.” These examples have shown what it means to truly be the body of Christ manifest.
Justine Worden is an undergraduate student at Georgetown University and the Peace and Justice Intern at the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities.
From January 23 – 26, 2016, students, faculty and staff from Catholic colleges and universities participated in the CSMG 2016 Young Leaders Initiative, along with hundreds of other ministry leaders. We have a lot of pictures to share with you–check them out on the CSMG 2016 Storify! To see what our YLI participants and other attendees thought of CSMG, check out our Twitter feed at #CSMG2016!
For some more resources, be sure to take advantage of the following:
- Catholic Campaign for Human Development Intern Program
- Catholic Climate Covenant
- CRS University
- Global Solidarity Grants from ACCU-CRS
- Society of St. Vincent de Paul
Finally, be sure to plan ahead! While there is no CSMG in 2017, we will be having Virtual CSMG District Visits on February 20-24, 2017, with a preparatory webinar on February 7. Fortunately, there will be a CSMG in 2018! We hope to see you on February 3-6, 2018 at the Omni Shoreham Hotel in Washington, D.C.!