This article originally appeared in Creighton Today.
Putting thoughts into deeds, words into action, lessons into practice, 46 Creighton University staff, faculty and students took part in the 20th annual Ignatian Family Teach-In for Justice earlier this month in Washington, D.C.
The cadre, led by students from the Schlegel Center for Service and Justice, also represented Creighton’s 20th appearance at the teach-in, which seeks to inspire young people and mentors to engage with elected and appointed officials to seek justice on the day’s most pressing social issues.
Following a day-long bus trip, Creighton’s teach-in participants joined with nearly 2,000 other representatives from 120 Catholic universities and colleges to spend Nov. 4 through 6 listening to speakers from across the nation address this year’s theme of acting on behalf of immigrants and refugees. They also met with members of the Nebraska and Iowa Congressional delegations to support DACA and legislation and the pursuit of racial justice in the criminal justice system.
“It’s an opportunity to explore all the realms of social justice and gain perspectives from people all across the country,” said Emily Reeson, a freshman from West Point, Nebraska, on her first teach-in experience. “Meeting people from all these different institutions and seeing that same passion for social justice and Jesuit values was extremely motivating. It was a motivational and learning experience, all rolled into one.”
The theme of this year’s Ignatian Family Teach-In for Justice, “Rowing into the Deep: Magis Meets Justice,” was a refrain echoing through the spoken lessons — provided by such luminaries as bestselling author the Rev. James Martin, SJ, executive director of the NETWORK Lobby for Catholic Social Justice Sr. Simone Campbell, and director of the Kino Border Initiative Joanna Williams — and also the reflection sessions participants used as a debriefing platform at the end of each day.
Speakers touched on all aspects of social justice surrounding immigration and refugee work, inspiring participants to go deeper with their convictions and to see them through different prisms: political, religious, spiritual, educational.
“The whole idea is to reawaken and renew people’s hearts for social justice,” said Jordan Malcom, a sophomore from Lincoln majoring in sustainability and justice and peace studies, who was on her second Ignatian Family Teach-In. “In my first teach-in, I wasn’t expecting that it would turn my entire life around. But that’s what it did. Coming back this time, I felt like everything that happened has taken me to an even deeper level of connection.”
With inspiration from keynote speakers, more than 50 breakout discussion sessions and a Teach-In Mass on Nov. 5, participants made their way to Capitol Hill Monday morning for talks with lawmakers on legislation regarding refugees and immigrants.
Given political landscape that’s undergone significant changes from the teach-in just a year ago, Malcom said she felt a greater sense of urgency in bringing the plight of refugees to the forefront of policymakers’ kens.
“I think we all felt that this is exactly where we were supposed to be,” Malcom said. “There was something concrete we could talk about, something real, where we could point to actual peoples’ lives being affected. We had testimonials and specific stories. With the DREAM Act, we could talk about exactly what we wanted to have happen, make a concrete ask and ask for concrete solutions. It was something where we felt we could ask for open hearts, open minds.”
Creighton Jesuit the Rev. Larry Gillick, SJ, sent the students off on Nov. 3 with the exhortation that they carry the University’s mission within themselves. Indeed, for staff and faculty involved with the teach-in, the Congressional conversations represented an opportunity to see Creighton education in action.
Richard Kenton, a Creighton alumnus and a project manager with the Division of Information Technology, joined the Creighton delegation and was moved by the heart demonstrated by students in their earnest discussions with Congressional representatives.
“I’m old enough to consider Fr. Schlegel a mentor and I think I can say that he would be exceedingly proud of the work this Center and these students,” Kenton said. “In terms of representing the University’s vision, mission and values, these students were so striking. They were professional, they were committed. They were young men and women willing to speak directly to power and not stand down from what their core beliefs and objectives are.”
The teach-in also provides teachable moments in other ways.
Faith Kurtyka, PhD, an assistant professor in the Department of English, was one of the faculty members on the trip. Making her second journey to the teach-in, Kurtyka said as a teacher of rhetoric, she is interested to see how students size up a rhetorical situation like speaking to Congressional leaders, and how they translate what’s learned in the classroom for conversations that are sometimes emotionally and politically charged.
“I’m always challenging students to think about what they want to say, how they want to get their thoughts across,” said Kurtyka, who also participated in the 2015 teach-in. “What I saw was a lot of spirit and energy around these conversations. The students found ways to make people care about social justice issues in a real, lived way. Capitol Hill can be an intimidating place. It doesn’t feel like a very spiritual place. But I think they went there and they had a powerful experience informed by their own beliefs and convictions.”
Returning from the whirlwind trip, the Creighton delegation felt like this year’s event had made a difference, and that they had learned new strategies and tangible steps to be taken in the social justice fight.
“The teach-in definitely exceeded expectations,” Reeson said. “It was so much more powerful than I imagined it could be. It encouraged us to think about our beliefs, to think about how we can affirm them and carry them out to do good. That’s something Creighton stresses, too. Having been there, I feel so much more passionate. I feel like there’s more fuel to go do something.”