- A Reflection from JASPA President-Elect Michele C. Murray
- A Reflection from JASPA Past President Todd Olson
- A Reflection from JASPA President Dave Johnson
- More from the AJCU Network
A Reflection from JASPA President-Elect Michele C. Murray
My Dear Colleagues,
Like you, our students, and so many in our nation, I am angry and heartbroken. And yet, days of coast-to-coast protests allow me--even in the midst of anguish--to hope that we are motivated to change. The perniciousness of racism and racial prejudice that has plagued our nation from before its founding is exposed for all to see, except for those who willingly choose blindness. It is in the seeing that people begin to believe--to believe the stories that people of color share about their lives, to believe that there is something more going on behind the statistics and news headlines we know so well, to believe that there is another way. Therefore, we choose sight.
We choose sight, not only for ourselves but also for our noble work to educate our students. For ourselves we want to unlearn old ways of thinking that are as invisible to us as is the air we breathe. For our students we want to unlearn and learn anew so we can prepare them to lead with justice and humility. To do any of this well, or even at all, we must recognize and acknowledge the ways in which systemic racism has informed each of us on conscious and subconscious levels, so we can actively reject the visible and invisible forces of racial prejudice that have formed us and continue to infect our campus and larger communities. We must also learn new ways of being that honor the God-given dignity of each person we meet and help us to see our fellow human beings as worthy of love and respect.
This work belongs to all of us. Our shared Jesuit mission and values require us to own this work. Yes, we have colleagues who have content-area expertise with regard to diversity, equity, and inclusion. And, yes, we have colleagues whose life experiences have much to teach us. That said, we all have responsibility and response-ability.
Our students need us to do the work of learning and unlearning, so we can help them do the same. They are depending on us, as we lean deeply into our call to stand with those on margins as people for and with others, to walk with them along the way. We, in turn, are depending on them to forge a new path that is worthy of the highest ideals of our nation.
In reflecting on the protests of the late '60s, one New York Times journalist rightly noted the number of leaders who emerged from that tumultuous period to change the national conversation and trajectory in very important ways. In the most hopeful statement I've seen in weeks, this journalist asked readers to imagine the leaders who will emerge from our current struggle. I wonder how many of these leaders of tomorrow will be the students we educate today.
May God grant us the eyes to see and the courage to act, and may our hearts be filled with gratitude for the opportunity to effect change.
Michele C. Murray, PhD
College of the Holy Cross
A Reflection from JASPA Past President Todd Olson
I am a child of Minnesota. I grew up in a small town there, and through most of my life, I have viewed the city of Minneapolis as a model of progressive civility and innovation – as a place that usually “gets it right” in terms of human rights and justice. I would often hear of racial violence or strife in other cities and think fleetingly “That wouldn’t happen in Minneapolis”. The past few weeks have opened my eyes, in a long-overdue way, to see that the kind of city Minneapolis is, has a great deal to do with the identity and experiences of the observer. For a white middle-class kid, and later an adult, I experienced the City of Lakes while riding on a blanket of privilege that I barely noticed. In recent weeks, I have listened to old friends who have different identities and different experiences, and I have watched and listened to people who have suffered in targeted and insidious ways. That blanket I enjoyed has grown painfully visible to me. I have been jarred into wakefulness and to a sense of desolation. Of course, Minneapolis is not that different from a hundred other cities – a lot to celebrate, and a lot of structural racism still firmly in place.
In the midst of all this desolation, I have been searching, and have been invited and pushed by my colleagues, to re-imagine our roles. We are professionals, we form Student Affairs divisions, and we contribute to our Jesuit universities – and we can either do so in a way that is blandly adequate and generally non-racist, or we can do better. We can seek to actively push against racism and hatred and discrimination, and seek to actually change our own hearts and our organizations. We can strive for transformation.
In the summer of 2018, Father General Arturo Sosa addressed leaders of Jesuit universities from around the world at their gathering in Loyola – the hometown of Ignatius. Father Sosa asserted that the university could be a source of a reconciled life, and spoke about transformation in this way:
When the university is conceived as project of social transformation, it moves towards the margins of human history, where it finds those who are discarded by the dominant structures and powers. It is a university that opens its doors and windows to the margins of society. Alongside them comes a new breath of life that makes the efforts of social transformation a source of life and fulfilment.
As we consider the discarded, the marginalized, and the oppressed – in Minneapolis and in our own neighborhoods – Father Sosa calls us to be active in the work of transformation. We are called, as Jesuit educators, to contribute to that new breath of life. And, we do not and cannot contribute to that breath on our own. Our strength and our power lie in our common commitments and our common work. The American poet Gwendolyn Brooks put it this way:
"We are each other's harvest; we are each other's business; we are each other's magnitude and bond."
During this season of strife and pain and uncertainty, I wish you solidarity with one another, and I wish you peace.
Todd Olson, PhD
JASPA Past President
A Reflection from JASPA President Dave Johnson
Breonna Taylor’s murder, Ahmaud Arbury’s murder, George Floyd’s murder, and the false accusations against Christian Cooper have yet again laid bare the painful realities that characterize our country and the dangers of being Black in America.
I am shaken and uncertain of what to say. Which, it occurs to me, is exactly appropriate.
This is a time for me, and for other white senior administrators across our Jesuit PWIs, to listen. We are called to listen to the experiences of our black students, to listen to the stories of our colleagues of color, and to listen to the demands from community leaders and activists. We must look anew at the disparities and pain on our campuses. We must look anew at the injury and violence associated with anti-Blackness in our communities. And we must take an unflinching look at the lack of progress our country has made in the promotion of racial justice. We must also sit with the tormented cries of those who suffer because of the color of their skin. In the words of the Jesuit liberation theologian, Jon Sobrino, S.J., we must be real about the real.
And we must act. Looking across the long history of Jesuit higher education, our institutions have been purveyors of injustice and we have been catalysts of change. We been voices of moderation and we have trumpeted the call for justice. As we move into the future, we must be clearly and consistently committed to, and invested in, the work of becoming antiracist colleges and universities.
JASPA has an important role to play in this work. Together we are better positioned to address our country's original sin and to contribute to the promotion of racial justice. Together we can do what student affairs professionals do, we can challenge and support one another and inform and sustain one another. We can together lean into our Jesuit tradition, and call upon the many resources it offers. And we can lean on one another, as we doggedly pursue justice—together.
Dave Johnson, PhD
More from the AJCU Network