Last weekend, I attended the Ignatian Family Teach-in for Social Justice in Washington, D.C. with 12 fellow University students and three chaperones. The themes for this year’s event, which is held at the Crystal Gateway, Marriott in Alexandria, VA, were racial injustice and mass incarceration. The conference hosts around 2,000 people whom are affiliated with Jesuit universities and institutions across the U.S., making it the largest social justice in the nation.
Before the group made our way down to D.C., we made a stop at Scranton Prep to hear Senator Casey of Pennsylvania speak. We spent about an hour asking him questions about his career path, policies, and experiences as a senator in today’s political climate. Senior Luis Melgar enjoyed having the chance to meet with the Senator at his high school alma mater.
The University’s Campus Minister for Social Justice, Cathy Seymour, was glad to see students have the opportunity to listen to Senator casey reflect on his life and career.
“[The students] got to ask questions about immigration policy, how racism factors into the issue of mass incarceration in our country, and what legislations Sen. Casey is advocating or opposing on these issues,” Seymour said.
“There are certainly many challenges that need to be addressed in today’s world, and it was interesting to be able to shed some light on some of the issues that we believe need to brought to his attention,” Melgar said. “I think what I took away was that we can make a difference by writing to our congress people, and letting them know what’s going on in the places and people they represent.”
After taking group photos with the senator and grabbing a quick meal at Wendy’s next door, we hopped into the 12-person vans and began driving to our hotel. After checking in, we had plenty of time to wander the exhibits and hotel ballrooms before everyone gathered in the grand ballroom at 6 p.m. for the start of the Teach-in.
There were three keynote speakers at this year’s social justice conference, all of whom spoke on the central theme of the conference, which was “rowing into the deep” with a focus on racial justice and mass incarceration. The first of the three keynote speakers was Rev. Bryan N. Massingale, a Professor of Theological and Social Ethics at Fordham University. Rev. Massingale, a racial justice scholar and motivated speaker and author, gave a moving speech on the history and current realities of race relations in a theological context. José Sanchez, the assistant director of the Cross Cultural Centers, particularly enjoyed Rev. Massingale’s challenging and insightful address.
“He taught us so much about our current racial relations through events that have shaped and impacted the lived experiences of the “Senior” Class of 2018. Attending the Ignatian Teach In conference as a first year attendee was an empowering experience and reaffirmed my commitment to do more, get involved and engage Scranton students in dialogues and action about social justice issues,” Sanchez said.
A larger group of Ignatian Solidarity Network speakers addressed the entire crowd preceding and following the keynote speakers. Among these speakers was Laura Bopp,
who graduated from the University in the spring. Laura was interviewed by ISN last semester for her work in creating the LEAP Program here at the University. She is now in her first year of post-graduate service with Operation TEACH in Baltimore, MD where she teaches high school English while pursuing her Master’s degree in education. Laura has attended the teach-in for three years now and led her own breakout session on the refugee crisis at last year’s conference.
“The energy in the room was palpable and made me even more excited to speak,” Bopp said. “The Teach-in has made such a significant impact on my life and I’m glad I was able to take part in it this year. For the past few years, I’ve used the inspiration I’ve gained from the Teach-In to work for justice in my own life.”
There were three breakout sessions attendees were able to pick from, covering a variety of topics and attend a lecture, activity, or discussion of their choosing. Senior Psychology major Laura Manrique was able to share her passion for advocacy and teaching this year through her own breakout session on the importance of inclusive language in social justice.
“For me, giving a breakout session at the ignition family teach in was an opportunity to share the experiences and the lessons that I’ve learned both throughout my life and through working in the Jane Kopas Women’s Center. To me, leading a group discussion meant that I could share my passion for social justice in a way that other people could understand,” Manrique said.
In addition to Laura’s breakout about inclusive language, I sat in on three other breakouts with a variety of topics. The first breakout I attended was a talk given by Father James Martin, SJ, the editor at large of America Media, a Catholic ministry based in New York, NY. Father Martin is also the author of multiple New York Times bestsellers, including his most recent work, “Building a Bridge: How the Catholic Church and the LGBT Community Can Enter into a Relationship of Respect, Sensitivity and Compassion”.
The talk he gave at the teach-in was a product of his latest publication. He eloquently argued two main points in his address that I attended. His first point was that if the Church is going to use the Bible as reason to exclude members of the LGBTQ
community, then the Church should at least be consistent; those who have had divorce, have had a child out of wedlock, or who have cheated on their spouses should face equal punishment. Of course, this argument of Fr. Martins was said moreso to prove a point than to encourage implementing. His second point was that the Catholic community has an obligation to treat members of the LGBT community with the same inclusivity, acceptance, and love that they would treat anybody else.
The second breakout I sat in on was called “Feminism, Social Justice and the Catholic Church” which sadly fell short of expectations. Instead of weaving the often polarized topics together using feminist theory and Catholic Social Teaching, it was a poorly presented series of unrelated facts and references which left me more frustrated than empowered.
Luckily, the last breakout I attended was both enjoyable and interactive. I was able to sit in on a live taping of the podcast “Jesuitical”, which is a product of America Media. There were three co-hosts of the segment who covered recent news in the catholic church, offered individual reflections, and opened the segment up to the audience for a Q&A.
The Teach-in ended on Capitol Hill in D.C. on Monday, where students were able to meet with their state representative to have their voices heard on the topics they learn about during the teach-in. Junior Angela Coen was one of the few student who was able to stay for advocacy day and attend the rally held beforehand outside of Union Station.
“Advocacy day was my way of putting passion into action,” Coen said. “it really empowered me to take charge and make a change it really empowered me to take charge and make a change as a result of all that I learn while at the Teach-in.” University Political Science professor, Dr. Mike Allison, Ph.D., accompanied students on Monday to put their faith into action.
“Students met with staff members from Senator Kirsten Gillibrand’s (D-NY) office to advocate for more just immigration and criminal justice policies,” Dr. Allison said. “The Ignatian Family Teach-In for Justice is a powerful opportunity for students, staff, and faculty from across the Jesuit network to come together to learn about some of the most pressing issues confronting our country and our world. Every Scranton student should make it a point to attend the teach-in at least once during their four years here. They won’t regret it.”