Spring has almost sprung! With the first day of spring and the celebration of Easter just around the corner, the time for renewal and revival is upon us. As the academic year comes to a close, it’s also a great time to take stock of all the peace and justice initiatives your campus has participated in over the course of the year. But just because the year will soon end, those efforts don’t need to stop. Catholic colleges and universities across the nation are finding interesting ways to maintain momentum and keep their work moving forward.
In Iowa, St. Ambrose University is committed to fostering interest in service and justice on campus. One of its ministries is Ambrose Women for Social Justice, which seeks to identify and assess the ways that injustice affects women and men and devise interdisciplinary solutions that are responsive and sensitive to both genders. The female-led student group was created in recognition of women’s need to be more involved in issues that touch their lives. For 14 years, the group has hosted the Women for Social Justice Conference, an annual lecture series to highlight important social and economic justice issues affecting women and girls. Katy A. Strzepek, director of women and gender studies at St. Ambrose, said much of the conference’s success lies in its Catholic identity by showing how students “can enact Catholic Social Teaching, most particularly by standing in solidarity and asking what they can do to help.” She advised students to remember that “no one is voiceless and to go to the uncomfortable places … to foster fruitful and honest dialogue.”
Last year, the conference focused on how gender affects globalization and what students can do to advocate for better policies. Keynote speaker Catherine Tactaquin, co-founder and executive director of the National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, discussed the effects of migration by describing how immigrant and refugee women are often forced to leave their families and work abroad to be able to send wages to their families back home.
Saint Louis University is another Catholic institution that values continual engagement with the world and advocating for global change. Students at the Jesuit university attended the 20th Ignatian Family Teach-In for Justice gathering in November, to learn, reflect, pray, network, and advocate for solidarity and social justice issues. Members of the Jesuit body around the country meet annually to be supported by a like-minded community linked by faith and justice. The gathering also gives them an opportunity each year to honor their Jesuit companions who were martyred in El Salvador in 1989. Last fall, the conference focused on pushing students out of their comfort zones to heed the call that Pope Francis described as the “fire, the fervor in action, awakening those who have become dormant.” Students were encouraged to return to campus with a newfound passion to make a difference in the world and not to accept the status quo. They were urged to participate in the next Advocacy Day on Capitol Hill in February by sharing what they had learned with their elected officials and asking for more just policies. To watch speakers and plenaries from the conference, visit the Ignatian Solidarity Network. And be sure to mark your calendars for the 2018 Ignatian Family Teach-In for Justice, which will be held November 3-5, in Washington, DC.
SAnother annual occurrence that helps Catholic colleges keep their fervor going is the Catholic Social Ministry Gathering -Young Leaders Initiative in Washington, DC. In February, students from 24 Catholic colleges and universities attended the gathering, with the theme, “Building Community: A Call to the Common Good,” which stressed the significance of acting in solidarity with our marginalized brothers and sisters at home and abroad.
The four-day youth conference was an “opportunity for U.S. leaders in Catholic social action to network, advocate for social justice, and form emerging leaders in service to the Church and society,” according to the U.S. Catholic Conference of Bishops, which organized the event. Topics ranged from how climate change is affecting those in the Amazon, to the history of racism in the Catholic Church and how to combat it today.
About 500 people participated, with more than 100 college and university students in attendance. The students expressed gratitude for having the opportunity to be empowered to bring change back to their campuses. Senior theology student at CUA Julia VanConas observed, “Having the opportunity to listen and discuss issues with my peers on topics ranging from immigration to environmental justice, gave me space to develop a greater desire to advocate and bring what I learned back to campus.” Catholic colleges and universities are continuously discovering ways to reinvigorate their campus communities with fresh peace and justice initiatives because it spurs action. Students are investing time in conferences that emphasize peer-to-peer collaboration, keeping abreast of topical issues, and obtaining the necessary tools and resources for advocacy so that they return to campus ready to share the knowledge and make a difference. As the academic year comes to an end and spring begins, this rebirth period offers an opportunity for fruitful examination of what you can do on your campus to revive those around you and advance the work of peace and justice for everyone.