But in West Virginia, there was Bill and Bob and Jim and Crystal. In Nebraska, there was Brian and Kathy and Logan. New Orleans brought Burnell. Montgomery, Alabama is home to Mary Louise.
These names and more ushered from the lips of eight Creighton students the morning of Nov. 14 as they shared their experiences as part of a contingent of 238 students on 30 week-long Service & Justice Trips around the nation. The trips exist as an extension of the Jesuit pedagogy at Creighton, giving students a real, lived experience to join to the academic, classroom learning they do daily.
“I can learn a lot in books, but it’s not the real thing,” said Emma Munger, a senior who led a trip to Axtell, Nebraska, to work with developmentally disabled people. “Going on a trip like this is what makes what I learn in a classroom stick.”
In Wheeling, West Virginia, senior Carly Kenney and junior Kurt Sierra experienced life on the margins with people living in a food desert and subsisting on $1.31 per meal through the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.
As part of their week-long experience living with the House of Hagar Catholic Worker intentional living community and working with the Grow Ohio Valley food justice initiative, students took that $1.31 and tried to eat lunch on it. At a local convenience store, the options for a nutritious meal were limited.
“Some brown bananas, bruised apples,” Kenney said. “Anything of nutritional value, like some black beans, were $1.33. We learned a lot about food insecurity talking with the people we saw every day and the simulation brought that home for us.”
During nightly reflections, Sierra said he realized the mission was clear.
“We were not in Wheeling to fix anything or anyone,” he said. “We were there to be open and receptive, to listen to the most important person there. And that person is the one in front of you.”
Giving voice to the voiceless took on new meaning for another set of students in West Virginia. Chris Torres Lopez, a sophomore, was part of an environmental and sustainability immersion trip in the state’s coalmining region. Witnessing the environmental degradation of mountaintop removal, Lopez said he was, like the very rocks, trees, plants and animals around him, mute in the face of such devastation.
“It was a graveyard of thousands of trees, plants and animals,” he said. “The biodiversity of Appalachia is second only to that of the Amazon, but I saw no trees, no grass, no life. This trip taught me that nature, too, can suffer from poverty. Not the poverty that we typically think of, but the poverty of not even having a mouth with which to voice its pain and loss.”
A packed hall of staff and faculty in lower St. John’s Church lauded the students for their courage in undertaking the trips and in sharing their experiences as a demonstration of the Creighton mission in action.
Angela Maynard, assistant director for clinical support in Student Health Services, said she always looks forward to what the SCSJ students share.
“It’s a big dose of reality,” Maynard told the students. “I heard a lot of different things about what constitutes a blessing. And that you gave up your fall break to do this is, I think, always inspirational for us. Please continue to share your stories with whomever will listen.”
Being able to take the measure of Creighton’s values out in the real world, the students agreed, was a blessing in itself.
On the U.S.-Mexico border in El Paso, Texas, junior Anna Ziola said her group spent the early part of the week familiarizing themselves with the circumstances of undocumented people crossing the border in search of work and refuge.
“And then it was time to faces to the people we were learning about,” she said. “We helped out at a church that received people from a detention center. A detention center without restrooms so that many of the people had soiled their pants. At the church, they got fresh clothes, showers, a chance to contact family in the U.S. And I thought, I’ve been sitting at Creighton, safe and warm, I was learning. But to now see what the realities were, to be with people undergoing this process, I recognized how much Creighton has helped me learn about social justice in the world and how to go out and do it.”
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.