Entering New Communities

This is a speech given by SCSJ alum, Adrienne Pyle. She shared her experiences of being a guest in a new community with Service & Justice Trip coordinators and participants on October 5, 2017.

Do not go in with assumptions

In the past 4 years, I’ve been as far away as El Paso and as close as North Omaha on these Service & Justice Trips, and what I have learned to be true is that we have no inkling of the complexity of an issue until we are waist-deep in it, trudging through its density alongside the community members themselves.

My very first trip to Albuquerque New Mexico put me face to face with individuals experiencing homelessness. In this particular area of the country, methamphetamine is a problem, and its grips are particularly strong around the poor and vulnerable and option less.

Notice I said “option-less”—my very first day I found myself in the same room as several people that openly admitted that they had done meth that very morning, because if they didn’t, they would find themselves subjected to horrendous withdrawal side effects. Here I was, fresh out of high school and still running off of the DARE program that we might all be familiar with. My whole life, I had had this perception of drugs and of homelessness as two issues that could be chosen, that could befall a person if they were not motivated enough or strong enough or even educated enough. Looking back, I feel sickened that I thought that. But I have to be honest with you about these true, intrinsic assumptions that I had, just because of how I was raised, how I was educated.

Thank God for Jesuit education.


Now, I am certainly not here to advocate for the use of illegal drugs (I am in medical school, of course), nor am I here to tell you about the physiological effects of methamphetamine. What I AM here to tell you is that, over the next 6 days in Albuquerque, the human connections and relationships and unbelievably meaningful conversations that I had with these individuals experiencing homelessness opened my eyes to a horrifyingly complicated world of political, economic, and social injustices that inherently target the most vulnerable and the most marginalized, putting them at nearly impossible odds to escape these cycles of homelessness and addiction. In fact, it wasn’t until I had completed numerous sociology courses and my major in Medical Anthropology that I began to unravel these issues engraved within society, which I had never been privy to understanding simply because of my inherent privilege as a Christian, heterosexual, middle class white woman from the Midwest of the United States. I’m telling you, at the end of the week in Albuquerque, because of these personal interactions and the relationships that I built, I was able to recognize these individuals not as the homeless, or as addicts, but first and foremost as HUMANS that were also experiencing homelessness and addiction. Humans that were just as deserving of the same dignity and respect owed to me as a member of the human species.

Recognize your own biases

—>Show picture of elementary textbook

In case you can’t read it, it says “When the European settlers arrived, they needed land to live on. The First Nations peoples agreed to move to different areas to make room for the new settlements”

Pleasant view of the settling of America but also totally erases violent resettlement of Native American populations and small pox and mass genocide of indigenous peoples and the trail of tears and displacement from holy grounds and completely whitewashes history and more.

This photo just is to show you how wrong we really can be about a situation that has never effected us. You see, we have no capacity —and certainly not the authority—to fathom the realness of a social injustice until we are sitting across the breakfast table from it, calling it by its name, and taking in every scar and wrinkle on its face. We all have inherent biases simply because we were all raised in a certain way. We all are have different levels of privilege, and yet we all are privileged because we attend Creighton University—on scholarship or not. What I’m saying is, we must leave our bags of assumptions and expectations in our dorm rooms before we step into the role of being guests in our service and justice communities. We must allow these communities to express themselves in their own words and in their own contexts. And by letting ourselves to be open to all that these communities have to offer, we are lowering our personal walls that may shield us from the risk of change.

These trips allow you to step beyond the boundaries of our inherent biases, our upbringings, our skill sets, our familiarities and to tread the no-man’s land in which we can meet people where they are at, and expand our potential for stewardship.

This is not a tourism trip

—you didn’t apply for these trips to see the Las Sandias mountains of New Mexico, or to see the border fence, or to travel through historical and lively cities like Nashville and Chicago. While these are fun perks, you guys apply for Service and Justice trips because of the people you intend to encounter. As such, be very intentional in the way in which you engage in the community—no half-assing it. Put aside your phones and your cameras and your journals if someone is speaking to you. Be present. Look them in the eyes. Use respectful language and body language at all times. Utilize your time for the purpose of being witness to the incredible information that will imparted to you.

This experience is a gift to be respected and accepted in full

-you are merely sharing time and space with the reality that is their lives. Acknowledge and respect this gift of their experience

So: two pieces of action—1) actively identify your assumptions and expectations, and rid yourself of them. Rather than making yourself a blank slate, make yourself into a ball of clay that can be easily molded and shaped by the people you will meet.

1. Inform yourself about the forthcoming new environment—its contexts, its history. By educating yourself of this crucial information, you can better cultivate your soil for being ready to accept the many seeds that these communities will sow in you. And don’t forget to continuously water these seeds in you into something beautiful, something productive, and something that will honor these communities and their messages. Bear fruit that you can share with others.

Adrienne Pyle
Service & Justice Trips Core Team member – 2016

The SCSJ blogs are meant to be a place for Creighton students, faculty, staff, alumni/ae, and friends to reflect on their experiences with programs sponsored by the office or related to its mission. The views expressed in these reflections, and all other blogs found on or linked to from this website, are those of the individual authors and are not necessarily those of Creighton University, the Schlegel Center for Service and Justice (SCSJ), or any of the University’s affiliates. The University and the SCSJ are not responsible for the actions, content, accuracy, or opinions expressed in these blogs.