After eleven years of Jesuit education through high school and college, I had no idea my transition to an institution that is not Jesuit affiliated would be so difficult. Immediately after completing my undergraduate studies at the College of the Holy Cross, I made the decision to attend the University of Vermont (UVM) for graduate school. I chose to attend a non-religious school because I wanted to be challenged in a setting that was different from what I had grown accustomed to. Without a doubt, I was challenged. Despite the difficulties of my transition, I was able to complete my first year of graduate school because of my Jesuit experience. Holding on to core Jesuit values such as compassion, shared responsibility for creating a fair and just world, cura personalis, and reflection all helped me to survive my first year.
Being a member of a cohort and working in residential life has helped me to understand and appreciate the value of compassion. Compassion aligns with the core Jesuit value of “being men and women for and with others.” For me, this meant realizing that life is not just about me, and that I must be mindful of the impact I have on the folks whom I interact with daily. It also means I cannot focus solely on my own journey and success, but that I must take into consideration the journeys and successes of those around me. Compassion allowed me to recognize that my journey is innately connected with the hopes and dreams of all those I serve and support throughout my daily life. This past year, it meant actively building relationships with my students, peers, and colleagues, and being in solidarity with those who are fighting for equity and just change. This work was not and will never be easy, but as student affairs professional, we need to work to build trust with those with marginalized identities and then make a commitment to fight for justice. Most importantly, I learned that being compassionate meant loving my students, peers, and colleagues unconditionally because manifesting hate only leads to anger, sadness, and despair.
A phrase often mentioned during my time at Holy Cross was “go forth and set the world on fire.” I have always interpreted the phrase to mean that everyone has a shared responsibility for this world we live in. In terms of higher education and student affairs, we as student affairs professionals all have a shared responsibility for ensuring that our students are successful, healthy, and engaged during their time in college. In order to do this, I had to ensure that I was not just fulfilling my responsibilities, but that my actions would create a lasting and meaningful change in this field. With my passion for serving and supporting students with marginalized identities, this commitment has meant taking the most of every opportunity to speak up and advocate for these students during my first year. Accepting this shared responsibility does not require student affairs professionals to be at the front of a student protest or to walk around with a “Black Lives Matter” poster. Rather, it asks us to lead with purpose and have the courage to create more inclusive environments for marginalized communities on our campuses. At the end of my first year, I have come to realize that this shared responsibility means coming together to transform this world for the betterment of ourselves and others.
Whenever I hear the phrase self-care, all I can think of is “cura personalis,” a value clearly espoused by Jesuit institutions. Cura personalis resonates deeply with me because it posits us to take care of our whole selves. During my first year, acknowledging and knowing the meaning of this phrase allowed me to go beyond just taking care of myself physically and mentally. Embodying this value meant being mindful that my mind, body, spirit, abilities, identities, faith, and desires all needed to be cared for equally, which led me to the realization that there is no such thing as work-life-balance. Instead, I have found that channeling cura personalis means working towards work-life-spiritual harmony. My overall goal has been to strive for intellectual, physical, psychological, social, and spiritual health for myself. Not only is it important to take care of myself, but I must also care for those around me. Caring for my students, peers, and colleagues allowed me to acknowledge their dignity and value, which helped me to further to see value and worth in myself. Caring for the whole self is hard, but by making this value a priority, it will become a core part of my daily life.
With the hustle and bustle of being a full-time student and a practicing professional, I found myself resorting to some of the reflective practices I learned at Holy Cross. Through daily reflections, I was able to stay grounded, revisit my daily actions and moments of vulnerability, let go of the things I could not change, find peace during times of trouble and despair, and draw wisdom and inspiration from the people I had interacted with during the course of each day. I found that developing a habit of reflection helped to center and strengthen my personal, professional, academic, and spiritual life. It can seem difficult when life gets busy, but I have learned that without reflection and wholesome discernment, I will lose sight of my journey, passions, and goals.
As I prepare for my second year at UVM, I will stay committed to these Jesuit values. I will forever use them to inspire me to learn, grow, and serve in our diverse and changing field. I hope to dig deeper into these values in order to examine my own values and beliefs, so I can live a more authentic and meaningful life. Most importantly, I am grateful every day for the gift of a Jesuit education, because this gift has given me the hope and passion to “go forth and set the world on fire.”
Chris Campbell is a second year graduate student in the University of Vermont’s Higher Education and Student Affairs program. He currently serves as an Assistant Residence Director in the Department of Residential Life at UVM. He is a proud alumnus of the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts, and the St. George’s College in Kingston, Jamaica. His professional interests include residential life, social justice education, and supporting historically marginalized communities in higher education.