In April, I was fortunate to be among hundreds of Jesuit educators from five continents to attend an international conference in Mexico City – “Networking Jesuit Higher Education: Shaping the Future for a Humane, Just, Sustainable Globe.”
It was the largest gathering of its kind in the history of Jesuit higher education, and a tremendous opportunity to experience how vast and complex our mission has become. It is remarkable that over 450 years since the early Jesuits embarked on their mission of education that the Ignatian global educational framework continues to thrive and evolve.
Indeed, with the increased interdependence of our world we may only now be ready to take full advantage of the breadth of our network. During the conference, we were fortunate enough to hear an address from the Rev. Adolfo Nicolás, Superior General of the Society of Jesus, and he expressed the hope that we take greater advantage of our international character, to engage with the world as a unified entity. (I urge you to read the full text of his address at our website.)
Universities like Fairfield should be places where religious faith can engage with the gritty realities of our age – poverty, displacement, climate change, the disparity in education between the haves and the have-nots, to name only a few. Fr. Nicolás also called for us to work together to preserve and enhance the human imagination, fighting against the “globalization of superficiality” that has also accompanied the rise in new technologies. The Jesuit network, with its global reach, is ideally suited to meet these challenges.
This coming academic year, we have determined to make “global citizenship” the area of focus for our students. It is clear that the future will be profoundly multicultural in nature. As we go forward, global thinking will inform all that we do.
One area where Fairfield is taking a leadership position within the 28 Jesuit universities and colleges in the United States is in finding ways to apply our dedication to serve the common good, to the host of issues that surround human migration. There are millions of refugees and undocumented migrants living in our country, but the language with which the matter is discussed is so often clouded by assumptions that are dehumanizing and compound the suffering for many of these people.
Our Center for Faith and Public Life (CFPL) has made the study of migration and the public discourse around these issues the focus of its work. It’s study of this issue was supported by a grant from Carnegie Corporation of New York, and has led to the publication of a white paper entitled “Strangers as Neighbors,” which you can access at www.fairfield.edu/cfpl. In June, we learned that an initiative led by the CFPL, in partnership with Santa Clara University and Loyola Chicago had received a grant of $200,000 from the Ford Foundation for a two-year period to study the education of undocumented students at Jesuit universities. Fairfield will be the principal investigator. The Rev. Richard Ryscavage, S.J., professor of sociology and the director of the Center, will be the project director, while Dr. Kurt Schlichting, professor of sociology and anthropology and E. Gerald Corrigan Chair in the Humanities and Social Sciences, will lead the research team from all three institutions. The point of the study is to understand the social and legal contexts, attitudes, and current practices in Jesuit schools of higher education regarding undocumented students, which will hopefully lead to a collaborative model through which all our Jesuit universities can help these students to realize their full potential.
We will keep you up-to-date with the Center’s project as it develops. It is through important, transformative work like this that Fairfield will find its unique role in the global network of Jesuit higher education.
Jeffrey P. von Arx, S.J.