I had the honor and privilege this past weekend of representing SJU at the Alpha Sigma Nu Centennial Triennial Conference at Marquette University, located in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Alpha Sigma Nu is the international Jesuit honor society, with a chapter at every Jesuit university in the United States, as well as in Canada, Korea, and now Spain. Membership in Alpha Sigma Nu is based around three tenets: scholarship, service, and loyalty to Jesuit values.
As Chapter President for Saint Joe’s, I and two other members of our executive board of the SJU chapter were able to attend the conference this weekend. We did so in order to more fully understand the impact of Jesuit values in higher education, to collaborate with other student leaders and faculty, and to learn how we could bring these Jesuit values back to our own Alpha Sigma Nu chapter on campus—and also to celebrate 100 years of Alpha Sigma Nu’s existence!
This week, I’m coming down from a sort of “conference high”—we went through two and a half days jam-packed with Jesuit values, presentations, and panels that went above and beyond any initial expectation I held for the weekend. We came together as leaders from Jesuit universities who are living these values, and who are committed to making an impact on this world.
Some notable speakers included Fr. Greg Boyle, SJ, founder of Homeboy Industries in LA; Charles Geschke, founder of Adobe Systems, Inc.; Fr. Michael Sheehan, SJ, President of the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities; Chris Kerr, Executive Director of Ignatian Solidarity Network; Tim Shriver, President of the Jesuit Volunteer Corps; Michael Lovell, President of Marquette University, and Fr. John Fitzgibbons, SJ, President of Regis University, among many others.
These select individuals and so many more honed in on principles that circulate so often at Jesuit schools such as Saint Joe’s, providing concrete examples of why an education in the Jesuit tradition is important for our world. As former Superior General of the Society of Jesus Peter-Hans Kolvenbach, SJ, said, “The real measure of our Jesuit universities lies in who our students become.”
My Jesuit education has ripped me apart. My exposure to those different from me, and who are struggling because of those differences, has torn me to shreds. My classes have frayed new perspectives in me, leaving me in a perpetual state of questioning in regards to the world around me and how it all works, splitting me in so many different directions. My Jesuit education, though, has stitched me back together with the hope of making the world a more just place. It has patched me up in places where my own inner fabric has weakened, reminding me of my own spirituality and its sheer strength. My education has sewn me indelibly to the world around me, forever searching for the hope and the goodness that can come from even the direst of situations. My education has permanently rendered me unable to view the world without questions about social justice, and has guided me to live my life in search of building those answers.
My Jesuit education has taught me that when talking about other people, there is no “other”—there are just people. And the people I met at the conference this weekend were absolutely incredible: student leaders with a strong sense of scholarship, loyalty, and service exemplified in their own lives through the Jesuit tradition. Jesuits who work in refugee camps in Jordan, and have started a higher education system there because these refugees are not eligible for public education. High school freshmen at Cristo Rey Milwaukee excited about books that have inspired them, and also excited for their homecoming dance. Jesuits who run gang rehabilitation programs. Students who started a center for undocumented students at their school; faculty members who live and breathe the Jesuit mission; executive directors whose passion for their organization sounds in every syllable.
These people weren’t gathered in this room because they plan on changing the world; they were there because they are already doing it.
Alpha Sigma Nu has introduced me to an incredible community of the “best and brightest” of Jesuit schools—but apart from any academic factors, these individuals excel in who they are as people and how they impact the world around them. It is so humbling to be associated with such a group of humans who are moving and shaking things up by their very existence.
When President of the Jesuit Volunteer Corps Tim Shriver spoke on one of the panels during the conference, he talked about the expansiveness of social justice: “In college, so much focus is placed on your academics, and you have a lot of time in your head. But this message no longer fits in your head. It is now in your heart, and in your hands.”
The Jesuit message—of being men and women with an for others, of finding God in all things, of loving people simply for who they are as people, of striving for change in this world—it can be understood with the head. It can be studied in the classroom. The Jesuit traditions of spirituality and social justice can be placed into the confines of theology, philosophy, history, sociology, psychology, economics, and so many other fields that can be scrupulously studied.
But there is no amount of studying that can prepare someone to feel what these situations are like in this world. No textbook can tell the story of Iphra, who has had death threats made against her in a refugee camp in Jordan for educating others about the practices of female genital mutilation. No article can explain the desperation of a mother who brought her three children into a homeless shelter in New York, talked to a case manager (a Jesuit Volunteer), and said: “There is no food left in my cupboards. What can you do for me?” No periodical can publish the gratitude of first-generation, immigrant college students who are forced to translate documents, to undergo the college process for the first time, to grow up so much faster than their peers—students I met this weekend who I now call friends. No class will ever be fully able to put a face to an issue, a story to a policy, a lived experience to one discussed on a PowerPoint slide.
These are just a few of the stories I have heard this weekend, but these stories and so many others are why I and my peers in Alpha Sigma Nu have taken them into our own hands. This is what membership in Alpha Sigma Nu is about. It is up to us to share these stories with our communities, so that we can bring justice to corners of our world that never see it.
It is up to us to take those emotions and translate them to action, so that refugees won’t see death threats and mothers will be able to feed children and first-generation college students will be fully supported in every action.
It is up to us, as members of Alpha Sigma Nu, to promote these values in our lives and in our careers, to use our very own hands to do so.
I am overwhelmingly proud to be a student leader in an organization that fosters these values, and brings together people who are just as passionate about Jesuit perspectives as I am. I am grateful to have exchanged ideas with other chapters, so that our own SJU chapter may become active in ways it isn’t currently. I am glad to have made connections with my peers and with people in our world whose paths might cross with mine again, some day into the future.
I’m also glad to see how this plays out at another Jesuit school, Marquette—to see how the school integrates into the community of Milwaukee, especially when we all visited with Cristo Rey Milwaukee students during the conference. Milwaukee, like Philly, also faces issues of socioeconomic stratification. It was truly amazing to see that so many values fostered on our SJU campus are equally alive and well at 27 other schools across the country… and, of course, to taste cheese curds that are notoriously delicious in Wisconsin!
Because of this conference, our executive board members and I have a renewed sense of purpose for carrying out the Jesuit ideals on our own campus. We have returned to Philly with ideas to make our chapter stronger, and to make ourselves stronger as people, as well.
I have loved seeing how scholarship, loyalty, and service has been lived out this weekend by my peers in the Jesuit sphere, and am excited to see where it takes our SJU chapter—and other chapters across the country and world—in the future.
(P.S. Check out our chapter’s Facebook page to see how we’ll be carrying out all of these exciting new ideas and inspirations!)