Social justice, faith, leadership. These values are packed into the DNA of Emily Cohen, class of 2010, who in a short time is making a difference in the lives of women, children, and people of faith throughout the country.
Cohen came to Seattle University for its emphasis on social justice and its location in the heart of a city where she could volunteer. Already a leader of spiritual retreats and community service projects in her high school in Tacoma, Cohen quickly became involved in Campus Ministry and the Center for Service.
As the Student Campus Minister for Social Justice for two years, she helped students connect their faith and spirituality with the justice work they were doing locally and globally. Her participation in the Center for Service Student Leaders for the Common Good program for two years provided a solid framework for ethical engagement in one’s own community. She brought her work with Campus Ministry and the Center for Service together when she served as the residence assistant in the Peter-Hans Kolvenbach Community, an intentional living community that integrates the values of service, spirituality, solidarity, community, and simple living.
“Majoring in both Theology and Religious Studies and Liberal Studies gave me the skills and knowledge to approach issues of justice from many starting points, but more importantly, my professors and mentors showed me how to do it from a place of great depth and care,” she said. “My study in both majors was rooted in my commitment to feminist ethics and activism.”
Upon graduation, Cohen moved to Washington, D.C., to intern with the Sisters of Loretto. The Loretto Volunteer Program pairs volunteers with social justice organizations for a formative year of service. Cohen worked part time at both the Women’s Ordination Conference, whose mission is to advocate for the ordination of women into an inclusive Catholic Church, and the Women’s Alliance for Theology, Ethics and Ritual (WATER), which is an education center and network that combines scholarship, feminist liturgy, counseling, and resources for professors, clinicians, lay people, clergy, students, and social service providers.
“As a staff associate at WATER, I edited, maintained the website, organized teleconferences, and planned conference and workshop events that connected me to a national network of feminist theologians,” Cohen said. “WATER was my first experience with a small nonprofit.”
At the end of her volunteer year, Cohen moved back to Seattle to serve as program coordinator at FaithTrust Institute, a national, multifaith, multicultural organization dedicated to ending domestic violence and sexual abuse.
“We offer training and consulting on issues located at the intersection of violence and religion,” she emphasized. “We equip people in faith communities with the tools to prevent and intervene when situations of sexual abuse and domestic violence arise.”
At the institute, Cohen helps with curriculum development, including a recent series of trainings delivered to Navy chaplains on the topic of pastoral care in cases of military sexual assault. She organizes trainings for clergy, lay leaders, program directors, and religious school teachers who all need to understand the issues faced by victims/survivors in order to know what to say and what to do to provide safe places and resources for children, families, and women.
In September, Cohen will further her education at Harvard Divinity School where she is enrolled in the Master of Divinity program. Because of the program’s diverse student body, she is particularly interested in exploring how various religious traditions address issues of gender and violence and how those traditions can be fuel for social justice work.