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.
Students and faculty from Santa Clara University are pioneering a new initiative called “No produce Left Behind,” which seeks to change how the food and agriculture business is operated. This project began by students visit numerous California farms and learning about the system as a whole, “their goal was to identify the potential of salvaging wasted fresh vegetable and fruit produce and diverting it to local food banks that need it.” Because the market standard for fresh produce is so strict and rigid, produce that does not meet the standards is left in the field to rot and then is tilled back into the soil of used a low-value animal feed. As students visited different farms, they documented by plot the amount of food wasted. This is a long complicated process that takes into account a variety of stakeholders.
One of the main hurdles of the “No Produce Left Behind” project is that “the system right now doesn’t pay for what’s left to go to the food banks. Growers would need to cover their costs in order to harvest and pack food destined for food banks.” The Food and Agribusiness Institute is taking the first step to change the system in order for food banks to receive the fresh foods they desire. This is one of many steps that will hopefully lead to a more just and sustainable food and agriculture system that seeks to serve.
It has been a little over two years since Pope Francis released his encyclical Laudato Si’, “Care for Our Common Home,” which urges Catholics to follow in the footsteps of St. Francis of Assisi as he “invites us to see nature as a magnificent book in which God speaks to us and grants us a glimpse of his infinite beauty and goodness.” October 4-the Feast Day of St. Francis of Assisi, presents the perfect opportunity to reflect on our call to care for our common home.
One of the ways in which care for the Earth manifests itself is through our dependence upon it for nourishment and growth. Since the release of Laudato Si’, Catholics across the world have responded by making changes that positively affect the world around them. Progress has been made but, according to World Hunger one in every eight people worldwide remain undernourished, leading to the death of about 3.1 million children annually. Catholic colleges and universities are responding to this issue and the call from Pope Francis by creating initiatives that promote food justice and sustainability in their local communities.
Stonehill College has been responding to the food crisis in its local neighborhood since 2011. Stonehill recognized that the neighboring city of Brockton, Massachusetts lacked access to fresh produce due to several social, economic, and geographic barriers. The Farm at Stonehill came about as a solution to this issue. The two-part mission of the Farm is: “to make available, fresh, nutritious, locally grown food to Brockton-area food pantries and meal providers to address food desert conditions, and to enrich Stonehill students’ academic and service endeavors by educating and actively engaging them in local and global food justice issues.”
Most recently, the Farm at Stonehill launched its Mobile Market. Using a $10,000 grant from the Vela Foundation, a $5,000 grant from Project Bread, and a $1,250 grant from Inner Sparks Foundation, the Farm is able to sell organic produce at or below market cost in the parking lot near the Brockton community center. Bridget Meigs, the Farm manager, says “A partnership with Project Bread specifically is exciting because we share their vision of implementing both immediate and long-term solutions to food access issues in Massachusetts. Together, we are taking steps to have a significant impact on food accessibility and personal empowerment for a diverse community of people seeking to make healthier choices for themselves and their families.”
One of the goals of the Mobile Market is for Brockton residents who do not live near a grocery store to easily access healthful food options. The Mobile Market also partners with other organizations in order to increase general wellness in the community by offering cooking demonstrations, providing recipes and nutritional information, and focusing on the relationship between healthful eating and the dignity of the human person.
Another Catholic university that has dedicated time and resources to addressing food justice and food sustainability issues is Walsh University. Walsh is incorporating these themes into its course curriculum by partnering with local Canton, Ohio non-profits on various service-learning projects. According to the university, service-learning enables students [to] learn and develop through active participation in thoughtfully organized service that meets actual community needs, is integrated into the students’ academic curriculum, and that fosters civic engagement and person development through structured reflection. Several business, English, and leadership courses partner with local non-profit StarkFresh and aid in its mission “to help break the cycle of poverty by increasing people’s consumption of fresh, locally-sourced foods through equal food access and educational opportunities for everyone.”
Abigail Poeske, the director of service-learning at Walsh University, explains how an English course titled “Professional Writing” and a business course titled “Global Information Systems” collaborated to create new marketing and outreach materials for StarkFresh. StarkFresh came to class to speak about its mission and what the organization is looking for in terms of new marketing tools, she says. In addition, students received a tour of StarkFresh and its urban teaching farm. From there, students broke off into groups to create marketing and outreach tools designed specifically for StarkFresh. Poeske adds that working with StarkFresh has helped make “students aware of the issue of food insecurity globally, locally, and even on campus, and has inspired and empowered students to do something about it.” The work of food justice and food sustainability, she concludes, is part of Walsh’s mission to “educate leaders in service to others through values-based education in the Judeo-Christian tradition.”
Santa Clara University (SCU) is another Catholic institution taking initiative to fight for food justice and community development. The Forge Garden is the university’s organic garden that acts as a hub for sustainable food education. Since the 2008 opening of the Forge Garden, 900 pounds of produce have been harvested and 232 pounds have been sold to SCU Dining Services. The Forge engages the community to promote food justice through a series of workshops, events, and programs. One of the most successful programs is Bronco Urban Gardens (BUG), which is SCU’s food justice outreach program. According to the university, BUG works in “solidarity with marginalized neighborhoods, supporting their urban garden projects and spaces in order to create hands-on learning experiences for students of all ages and backgrounds.” This work is accomplished through partnerships with underserved schools and marginalized communities in Santa Clara County that create engaging learning spaces and inclusive garden-based curricula. Students from SCU volunteer at the schools by hosting garden clubs and workshops for students to increase their knowledge about gardening and healthful eating, delivering fresh produce to schools, and supporting teachers in their goal of providing hands-on lessons. Bronco Urban Gardens gives students the opportunity to show how they can make a difference in their communities and the world by recognizing how what they eat affects their environment.
By focusing on food justice and food sustainability, students as Catholic colleges and universities are living the call “to care for our common home.” These colleges and universities hear both the cry off the earth and the cry of the poor and are responding to this call by putting their faith into action. They embody the mission of Laudato Si’ through their work of helping people receive proper nutrition and educating people on the benefits of locally sourced produce.
Ten Catholic colleges and universities were featured as 2016 Cool Schools in Sierra Magazine. This list measures colleges in their sustainability efforts in energy, investments, co-curricular, food, innovation, academics, planning, purchasing, transport, waste, and water. Colleges reported their programs and initiatives through the Sustainability Tracking, Assessment & Rating System (STARS), a program of The Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE).
Schools included are Loyola University of Chicago (featured in the Top 20 Cool Schools), Aquinas College, Creighton University, Gonzaga University, Loyola Marymount University, Saint Louis University, Santa Clara University, Seattle University, St. John’s University, and Villanova University.
Congratulations to the colleges on their sustainability initiatives!
The upcoming one-year anniversary of the release of Laudato Si’ has inspired reflection on the impacts it has had on Catholics around the world, especially institutions of Catholic higher education. In the April 2016 issue of Connections, the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities’ (AJCU) monthly newsletter, several institutions were featured as having responded to the encyclical with fervor:
Laudato Si’ was a “Game-Changer” for Creighton University, where professors of theology, biology, environmental science, cultural and social studies, and communication studies, and sustainability studies have experienced renewed interest and and energy in their studies and coursework.
Gonzaga University has taken a “Multidisciplinary Approach” to responding to the encyclical with “deep academic engagement around Catholic social teaching,” encyclical reading groups, inter-departmental panel discussions, lectures, documentary film screenings, and a renewed commitment to sustainability on campus.
Food justice and social justice have been major themes for Loyola University Chicago‘s response to Laudato Si’, as well as “eco-education” through conferences focused on poverty and climate justice, lectures, and assisting in the development of a new free online environmental textbook.
Marquette University has made a renewed commitment to “Going Green” through participating in research at the Global Water Center in Milwaukee, the hiring of the University’s first sustainability coordinator, assisting in the development of the above-mentioned textbook, the LEED certification of two campus buildings, and the focusing of Mission Week on care for creation and sustainability.
A reflection on the call to promote and fight for environmental justice, as inspired by Laudato Si’, written by Clint J. Springer, associate professor of biology at St. Joseph’s University.
According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, that is the estimated number of people currently affected by the conflict in Syria. As Professor Neha Agarwal of La Roche College commented during a campus activity focused on the refugee crisis, “It’s easy for us to picture 100 of something, but wrapping our heads around a number as staggering as 12 million is very difficult.”
Helping people in the United States imagine the sheer magnitude of the problem is only the beginning of what Catholic colleges and universities such as La Roche are doing in response to the Syrian refugee crisis.
During the 2015–16 academic year, ACCU member institutions have demonstrated their deep commitment to welcoming the stranger and educating their students, faculty, and staff on the importance of doing so. One manifestation of this commitment can be found at Niagara University. In conjunction with Catholic Charities of Buffalo and New York’s Immigration and Refugee Assistance Services, the university’s College of Hospitality and Tourism Management recently graduated its third cohort of 15 students from a program specifically for refugees. The eight-week Hospitality and Tourism Training Institute trains participants in skills that help them “pave a sustainable career path,” says Niagara University president Rev. James J. Maher.
Deborah T. Curtis, CMP, director of Niagara’s Edward A. Brennan Center for Language, Culture and Leadership, has been the energy behind the program since its inception. Under her direction, the program has graduated 37 refugees—women and men from around the world, ranging in age from 19 to 60. The program consists of morning lessons in hospitality and afternoon English language courses, as well as excursions to local hotels and tourist attractions. The students also engage in a two-week internship at a partnering hotel, after which they are offered positions either at the internship site or another local hotel. The Institute helps the students combine their new skills in hospitality and in the English language to create “an opportunity to move up,” Curtis says. Because the students all come to the United States as refugees, she adds, “by definition . . . they’ve had some serious hardships.”
Other Catholic colleges are doing what Catholic colleges do: educating students about issues and grounding them in faith-based values. Last November, the La Roche College Office of Global Engagement collaborated with the college’s Design Division to focus part of International Education Week on the Syrian refugee crisis. The Refugee Experience event also was incorporated into the La Roche Experience (LRX), a required course sequence that introduces students to Catholic principles of peace and justice, diversity, and conflict prevention.
Asking students to imagine an equivalent to 12 million was one activity during the week. After design students drew selected visual representations of 12 million on a large poster, participants engaged in small-group discussion on the refugee crisis. Finally, all participants strung together a chain of 12 million pre-counted beads, each representing one person affected by the Syrian conflict.
Agarwal, chair of the La Roche graphic design department, explains that the goal of the program was to “come up with several equivalents to 12 million and visualize them in order to help viewers really understand the enormity of the situation.”
In addition to helping La Roche students grasp the magnitude of the refugee crisis, the program allowed participants to process the situation, as the students “opened up and felt confident enough to share their thoughts” in the discussion groups, she says. “In line with the college’s mission to promote peace, justice, and global citizenry,” Agarwal adds, the Refugee Experience program at La Roche has grown out of a commitment to preparing the college community to more actively and knowledgeably welcome the stranger and serve its neighbors.
Change of Plans
After a month of what should have been a two-month backpacking trip in the Mediterranean, Colleen Sinsky, a recent graduate of Santa Clara University, did something unexpected.
Her trek had taken her to Lesvos, a small Greek island where Syrian refugees had been stopping on their perilous journey to Europe. Sinsky decided to leave her traveling companion and travel to Lesvos after noticing Syrian refugees sleeping under a bridge, according to a university news article.
For the remainder of her time in Europe, Sinsky volunteered with A Drop in the Ocean, a rescue group from Norway. According to the article, Sinsky spent her days “helping refugees off boats… manning a lookout tower for boats in distress; providing tea, warm clothing, and a compassionate ear to refugees in the camp; cleaning beaches of castoff belongings,” and more.
After returning home, her experience in Lesvos inspired Sinsky to write about the experiences of the refugees on a blog titled, “I’d Rather Be Here Now.” Her goal is to “advocate for a more compassionate refugee resettlement program in the [United States] by humanizing the victims” of the Syrian conflict, Sinsky writes. She credits her education at Santa Clara with helping her “better understand the problem of labeling, scapegoating, and demonizing Muslims” and allowing her writing to “come to life with details and drama.”
Looking forward, she says, “I would like to incorporate storytelling for social justice into whatever it is that I do.”
Her time at Santa Clara University clearly shaped Sinsky’s ability to share her experiences living with refugees. And, as all these examples show, Catholic higher education is uniquely positioned not only to change students’ thinking about humanitarian crises, but also to help improve the lives of individuals around the globe.
Justine Worden is an undergraduate student at Georgetown University and the Peace and Justice Intern at the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities.
Wondering how your campus measures up in sustainability and energy conservation? Perhaps your school was one of the eleven Catholic colleges and universities featured in a recent Sierra Clubranking of the top ‘cool schools’!
To determine the rankings, the Sierra Club administered a survey to a wide range of higher education institutions in the U.S. The responding schools were then ranked according to a long list of criteria, including co-curricular activities, energy, investments, innovation, academics, and more:
Depending on their responses to the questionnaire, schools were then given a score in a 1000 point system and ranked accordingly. The eleven Catholic colleges ranked included:
Based on the criteria for the rankings, these eleven schools are officially ‘cool schools’! The Sierra Club reminds us that it is both important to celebrate success but remember that there is more work to be done:
“Our results suggest that while many universities are making admirable progress, no school has yet attained complete sustainability. In 2015, the top-rated university scored 859.75 out of a possible 1,000 points, indicating much work completed but also room for improvement.”