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Written by Scott McClellan, Vice President for University Affairs
October 22, 2019
How do we be an inclusive and progressive Catholic and Jesuit university?
This is a central commitment of the draft vision for the university’s new strategic plan. It is also the central issue at play amid a recent decision that has stirred controversy on campus.
It would be hard to argue that being “one of the world’s most innovative and progressive Catholic and Jesuit universities” that “will live our commitment to diversity, justice and sustainability in ways that foster the belonging and success of students from all backgrounds”—as the strategic plan’s vision calls for—is anything but how our campus community envisions ourselves, who we are in many ways already and who we aspire to be in the fullest And, yes, we still have a long way to go.
Our faculty and staff are deeply committed to this vision. Our students live it. Our mission and values affirm it. Our teaching and Jesuit ethos espouse it. And, yes, our leadership embraces it.
So how do we realize this commitment?
We engage in dialogue. We reflect. We deliberate. We keep talking to—and especially with—one another. The Socially Responsible Investments (SRI) Advisory Working Group is a great example of how. I know because I served on it and witnessed how we came to a consensus that led to the university making the decision to divest from fossil fuels. Its formation started with a recognition that the voices of students needed to be heard and considered.
When the SRI working group began meeting, some members may have had hopes that the university would divest from fossil fuels, but I do not think any of us could have predicted where we would end up. The working group was not stacked with members of one pre-set way of thinking. It was truly representative of various stakeholders including faculty, staff, students, alumni and administration. The outcome was a good one—aligned with our mission and values while making progress and building upon a pretty strong record when it comes to taking steps to address climate change and foster environmental sustainability.
Good outcomes follow when we engage in open dialogue with a commitment to walking into the tension, keeping an open mind and always starting by putting a good interpretation on the views of others—the Jesuit idea of presupposition. And, just as importantly, we must listen to students and consider their voices.
Many students felt their voice was neither heard nor considered in the recent decision on Planned Parenthood. Some felt they do not belong and do not count because of it. Yes, we have work to do to be an inclusive and progressive Catholic and Jesuit university in the fullest. Until every student feels a sense of belonging and that they count, we have work to do. I do not have the answers, but I know how we can get to them.
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