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Living what she teaches

Written by Mike Thee
April 5, 2010

Jeanette Rodríguez will receive the Distinguished Teaching Award at the 25th Anniversary Alumni Awards Celebration on April 15. The professor and chair of theology and religious studies will be honored alongside four other awardees, including Alumnus of the Year General Peter Chiarelli,’72.

Since her arrival at SU in 1990, Rodríguez has impressed students and colleagues alike with her extraordinary intellect and passion for social justice. She is an internationally recognized expert on Latin American theology and religion, gender and cultural diversity. Rodríguez founded SU’s Center for the Study of Justice and serves on the national council of Pax Christi as well as the editorial board of the Journal of Hispanic/Latino Theology.

“Jeannette is the epitome of what a Jesuit educated and inspired scholar/teacher ought to be because her pedagogy begins with a deep faith in the Catholic tradition that is informed by her tremendous love for human beings,” says Ted Fortier, associate professor of anthropology. Rodríguez’s teaching and scholarship, he says, go hand in hand with her “accompaniment of the communities of the marginalized. She translates those experiences through her involvement of students and colleagues in her work, and with her writing and presentations. Anyone who has seen Jeanette teach knows what it means to be passionate about a subject; one does not dare remain uninvolved or uncommitted to the material that she brings to the classroom.  

“She inspires others because she lives what she teaches, and places her life on the line with those who are most at risk.  Perhaps her most valuable asset is that she is transparent in who she is: a Latina theologian, and a mother who takes very seriously the Jesuit ideals to be a person of action and of prayer.  Jeanette leads her students into a depth of being human that challenges, transforms, and develops hearts and minds in ways that all of us who teach alongside of her wish we could do as well.”

Gabriella Gutiérrez y Muhs, associate professor of Modern Languages and Women Studies, calls Rodríguez “the bridge, the translator of culture, the spiritual bi-sensitive entity, the pearl inside the shell that lights up this community.

“I have seen and heard many stories about Dr. Rodríguez, especially from Latino/Chicano students.  These were most often stories of how she did or said something positive about or to them that changed their lives.  I have seen her publicly validate the traditions and celebrations important to these students and especially to young women through her professional presentations open to the community. I have also seen her include Chicano students in these presentations, inscribing in them self-esteem about their culture that in many instances has been lacking.  

“Not only does Dr. Rodríguez teach undergraduate and graduate students through life-changing experiences while diligently exposing them to the lived realities of immigrants and Latinos in the United States, but she also teaches professors, staff and Jesuits through the Guadalupe experience, a one week immersion program in which most of us  who are interested in Latino life and culture  from the SU community have participated.  This is one of her great contributions to Seattle University, by creating spaces for our community members to learn about the Latino world, a world that will soon represent a third of the population of the United States. 

Click here to read more about this year’s Alumni Awards recipients and the April 15 celebration.