Donnelly College has been recognized as the most ethnically diverse college in the Midwest by U.S. News and World Report. Donnelly College is a small Catholic school located in Kansas City, Kansas, founded by the Benedictine Sisters of Mount St. Scholastica.
For 2017, the student population is 92 percent students of color and 79 percent first-generation college students. “Donnelly’s diversity reflects the college’s commitment to providing affordable education to students who might not otherwise have access and [reflects] its status as the regions only federally-designated Minority-Serving Institution and Hispanic-Serving Institution.”
To read more about Donnelly College, visit National Catholic Reporter.
For degree completion, some students – especially those who are first-generation college students – need encouragement and support in setting a path to higher education. Donnelly College’s Gateway to College program is designed for high school students who have fallen behind in their studies because of family issues, language challenges, or other reasons. The free program helps motivated students earn a high school diploma while amassing college credits.
Each summer, Duquesne University hosts its Project SEED program, which provides economically disadvantaged high school students an opportunity to define a STEM-related research project and work in a campus lab alongside a faculty supervisor and graduate student mentor. “Project SEED provides these students with the support, encouragement and mentoring that they need to pursue a career in the sciences,” said Dr. Jennifer Aitken, director of Project SEED and associate professor of chemistry and biochemistry at Duquesne.
Over the next few weeks, we will release short examples of diversity at Catholic institutions of higher education as part of a series called “Inclusion on Campus”. Stay tuned to hear how Catholic institutions are promoting diversity as an expression of God’s grandeur!
ACCU recently released the fall edition of Update, our quarterly newsletter. Read Update in full here. Peace and Justice highlights include:
Global Solidarity Grants Increase Awareness of Catholic Social Teaching at Benedictine University, Cabrini College, Dominican University, St. Norbert’s College, and the University of St. Thomas (TX).
Catholic Colleges Bring Higher Education to the Incarcerated: Saint Francis College, Donnelly College, Holy Cross College, University of Notre Dame, and La Salle University implement programs to bring higher education to those incarcerated.
Spring Hill Alumni Participate in Inaugural Service Trip to Belize where they worked building homes.
Loyola Chicago Students Donate Care Packages to Soldiers serving in Iraq through a partnership with Aramark by using the remaining balance on meal plan to purchase care package materials
Loras Student Wins Interfaith Leadership Award- Recent graduate Samantha Eckrich was awarded the Mike Hammer Interfaith Leadership Award, which recognized her effort in promoting interfaith cooperation on campus.
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.
Approximately 3,000 men and women are currently sitting on death row in prisons across the country. How can we build a culture of life when our justice system sees death as an answer? As Boston Cardinal Seán O’Malley affirms, “We cannot teach killing is wrong by killing.”
In October, Catholics are called to dedicate time to prayer and dialogue in celebration of Respect Life Month. At Catholic Mobilizing Network (CMN), we are taking time to reflect on the words of our past and present Holy Fathers, who call us to defend all life, even the lives of those who have done great harm. As Pope Francis has said, “Although the life of an individual is a terrain full of weeds and thorns, there is always room for the good seed to grow, and we must trust God.’’
We also reflect on Pope St. John Paul II’s challenge to followers of Christ to be “unconditionally pro-life” in his encyclical The Gospel of Life. He reminds us, “The dignity of human life must never be taken away, even in the case of someone who has done great evil. Modern society has the means of protecting itself, without definitively denying criminals the chance to reform.”
Likewise, we take to heart Pope Benedict’s words of encouragement to those working for death penalty repeal. In 2011 he declared, “I express my hope that your deliberations will encourage the political and legislative initiatives being promoted in a growing number of countries to eliminate the death penalty and to continue the substantive progress made in conforming penal law both to the human dignity of prisoners and the effective maintenance of public order.”
Above all, we are energized by the outpouring of love Pope Francis has shown for our brothers and sisters in prison. His Holiness has encouraged us to make room in our hearts for the Gospel messages of love and mercy. He has urged us to reject a throwaway culture that sees certain human lives as disposable and instead to “struggle not only for abolition of the death penalty… but also to improve prison conditions, out of respect for the human dignity of persons deprived of their liberty.”
A Window of Opportunity for a Pro-life Victory
This year has been full of success for the death penalty repeal movement. Nebraska repealed the death penalty, Pennsylvania instituted a moratorium on executions, and the Connecticut Supreme Court ruled capital punishment to be in violation of the state’s constitution.
As national momentum continues to grow, judicial repeal of the death penalty in our country is a real possibility within the next few years. Ending the death penalty would be a historic step on the journey to build a culture of life. This is an opportunity for us to send a clear message that all life is a gift from God that must be respected and defended, from conception to natural death.
Your voice is essential for such a victory to take place. Catholic Mobilizing Network is humbled by and grateful for the faith, energy, and passion with which students, faculty, and administrators at Catholic colleges and universities across the country are embracing the USCCB Campaign to End the Death Penalty. Examples include:
Students and faculty at Mount St. Mary’s University in Maryland are working to educate their community on the death penalty through courses, workshops, guest speakers, and theater.
Msgr. Stuart Swetland, president of Donnelly College in Kansas has recorded radio interviews and podcasts on this topic, reaching countless hearts and minds.
The Catholic University of America in Washington, DC, has collaborated with CMN to host conferences (the next one on November 6) that open new space for academic dialogue on the theological and practical arguments against the death penalty.
CMN’s fantastic student interns work tirelessly to help us promote our efforts.
Whether you are a veteran of the movement or looking to learn more, Catholic Mobilizing Network has the resources to support your education and advocacy efforts.
For an in-depth discussion on the death penalty, consider our book Where Justice and Mercy Meet, authored by Mount St. Mary’s University faculty and other experts in the field.
If you are looking to start a conversation with your campus ministry office or student group about the death penalty, download CMN’s free Journey of Faith Death Penalty Workshop. This interactive workshop includes a Prezi presentation, presenter script, and participant packet.
Catholics are playing a critical role in ending the death penalty in this country. We are in the home stretch, but there is more work to be done. As you join us in our work to end the death penalty, I leave you with the commissioning words from a 2005 homily given by the former Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio: “Caring for life from the beginning to the end. What a simple thing, what a beautiful thing… So, go forth, and don’t be discouraged. Care for life. It’s worth it.”
Karen Clifton is the Executive Director of the Catholic Mobilizing Network.
New Death Penalty Workshop: A Journey of Faith – With the new Prezi Presentation, Facilitator Guide and Participant Packet, individuals can explore the Church’s teaching on the sanctity of all life and the social justice issues that surround the death penalty.
New Restorative Justice Workshop: From Harm to Renewal – The new Prezi Presentation, Facilitator Guide and Participant Handout will provide an overview of restorative justice philosophy and explore the issue of how we address crime in our communities through the lens of Catholic Social Teaching.
CMN has many other resources available to help educate others on Catholic teachings on the death penalty, as well as resources for advocacy work and prayer.