On Suffering and Hope

A letter to Faculty, Staff, Students, Alumni, and Friends from the Dean of the College of Nursing.

Written by Kristen M. Swanson, RN, PhD, FAAN
July 11, 2016


Dear Faculty, Staff, Students, Alumni, and Friends:

These last few weeks and months have been marked by one tragic act of inhumanness after another. This toxicity and irrational cruelty, be it expressed as local, national, or international terrorism, are both shocking and sad markers of the level of anger and fear in our world. Moreover, these hate-filled acts have left many individuals and groups feeling targeted, vulnerable, and unsafe. The interplay of racism, fanaticism, heterosexism/homophobia, uncensored political rhetoric, and relentless access to social media fuels a level of vitriol that is hard to escape. As the tension mounts, we find ourselves unsure of what to say and to whom. Our words can come across as uninformed, uncaring, clueless, or cutting. We can find ourselves paralyzed, shut off, and fearful that we, too, might be judged or perceived as judging another.

Within this College we are committed to social justice, educating men and women to transform healthcare for a just and humane world, and to creating a safe environment where people can learn.  Learning, of course, takes many forms – not the least of which is how to know oneself in a brutally honest way that acknowledges, owns, and monitors one’s personal biases. In our classrooms and across this University we have students, staff, and faculty from many diverse backgrounds, who ascribe (or not) to many different religious traditions, and whose lives, loves, dreams and aspirations frame their version of what matters most. While our diversity is multi-rooted, our unity lies in being a part of a learning environment that is fueled by a Jesuit tradition. If we are to truly follow the Ignatian expectation that we ‘get our sandals dirty’ (meaning get out and about in the world to be men and women in service of others) then we are challenged to grow together in that incredibly hard work of self-knowing – while being and becoming in service to others. In health care, our service as professionals is driven by an ethical imperative to ‘first do no harm’. This means our hands must not cause suffering, our words must not cut, and our averted glance must not dismiss anyone entrusted to our care.  

Within our College, I ask that we work together to build an empathetic community where we can come to know ourselves safely, where our clumsy words can be gently redirected towards inclusiveness, and where we can talk about our differences with respect.  While we do not have to agree on our personal positions – we do have to ‘get on with the business’ of teaching, learning, and working alongside of each other. It is my hope that through this time of uncertainty, darkness, and social unrest that we will choose to lift each other up through our respectful gaze, active listening, and thoughtful responses. I once heard it said that the universe sends a teacher when you are ready to learn the lesson – let us each be a gentle teacher to the other as we come to know ourselves, our brokenness, and our gifts.

With you in sadness for the suffering in our world and in hope for greater compassion. 

Kristen M. Swanson, RN, PhD, FAAN