Educating for Solidarity

Director’s Overview

by Catherine Wolff |

Catherine Wolff has been director of the Pedro Arrupe, S.J. Center for Community-Based Learning since 1999.

This issue of explore magazine is devoted to the work of the Pedro Arrupe, S.J., Center for Community-Based Learning at Santa Clara University. We at the Arrupe Center are grateful to the Bannan Center, which fosters the Jesuit educational ideals that inspire and shape our efforts, for the opportunity to share with you the ideas and experiences of our student, faculty, and community partners.

The Arrupe Center began in 1986 as the Eastside Project, with the purpose of forming partnerships that would allow the University and the community to learn from each other. Almost two decades later, the Arrupe Center exists not so much as a physical space, or even as a campus program, but as a wonderfully diverse and lively group of people from different constituencies connecting to learn together through personal interaction, study, and reflection. We provide a wide variety of programs to foster this learning: community placements through academic courses, immersion experiences, student internships, and faculty research fellowships.1 A facts-and-numbers description of the Arrupe Center would not begin to tell the whole story. For that we look to the people involved—professors who incorporate community-based learning into academic courses, community partners who welcome SCU students into their agencies and schools, and students who have participated in course placements and immersions. In their articles and stories in this issue, all attest to the challenges they have undertaken, the work they have accomplished, the inspiration and even transformation that have come about in their lives as a result.

The Arrupe Center exists not so much as a physical space, or even as a campus program, but as a wonderfully diverse and lively group of people from different constituencies connecting to learn together through personal interaction, study, and reflection.

My own interest in community-based learning grew out of my many years as a clinical social worker at an inner-city outpatient mental health clinic. All kinds of people came there for help, from a wide spectrum of social and economic circumstances, not to mention pathologies. I had one client early on who taught me essential lessons that form the basis of my work as a social worker and as an educator.

Earl was a man of sixty or so, a laborer and family man who showed up at the clinic one evening in mid-January. He was having difficulties; he had never asked anyone for help before; but it had gotten so bad that he’d swallowed his pride and sought us out. He had been injured in a factory accident and the disability benefits had run out. There was supposed to have been a lawsuit, but his pro-bono lawyer had been too busy to file. His wife of many years had become increasingly anxious and angry at his inability to support the family and had decided, rightly or wrongly, that she could get more public assistance if he were out of the house. Only in our final session did Earl confess, ashamed, that she had thrown him out a month earlier, into the dead of an upstate New York winter. This man who showed up promptly for each session neatly dressed, who was making every effort to deal responsibly with his legal and health challenges, was living under a freeway overpass in freezing weather. I was stunned at this revelation, and realized immediately that I could not possibly have faced such a situation so courageously. I arranged for him to move into a faith-based shelter, and its staff was eventually able to assist Earl in getting back on his feet. I never saw him again, but not a week has gone by in the many years since that I have not thought of Earl and the lessons he taught me. 

Time and time again, returning from an urban plunge or an immersion trip to El Salvador, students and faculty express an urgency to do something in their lives here at home. The changes in their individual hearts lead them to act for the common good. They are becoming leaven for our community, and are growing in their understanding of the work they are called to do. They realize that they are God’s only hands on earth, and that there is much to be done.

The first was that people whose circumstances I considered to be meager, even impoverished, can be resourceful and resilient in ways that I could not conceive. This lesson was borne out countless times in my practice, when clients who had multiple deaths in the family, or a debilitating illness, or a series of economic calamities, developed support networks to rely on, and new ways of conducting their lives to meet their challenges. But perhaps more importantly, they found within themselves deep wells of strength and energy and perseverance.

The second lesson I learned from Earl was even more essential. I was startled by my encounter with him into a realization, one which I am still somewhat embarrassed to admit. At some unconscious level I had not fully understood that what looked to me to be a shabby, painful, pitiable existence was just as important to Earl as my comfortable, well-organized existence was to me. I understood that for all my solid Catholic background, all my ideal- ism and useful efforts as a social worker, I had never appreciated fully the radical equality of another human being. It was a glimpse of the preciousness of each individual life, not only to the person leading it, but to God as well. It has become for me a way of comprehending the way in which we are all sons and daughters of God, and thus brothers and sisters to each other.

These themes recur throughout the follow- ing accounts by Arrupe Center partners of various dimensions and experiences of community- based learning. For what we strive for goes beyond the service-learning that is being developed in schools and universities all over the country. Instead of “service-learning,” the term “community-based learning” is used at Santa Clara University in order to emphasize the con- text and resource for the learning, which is the community, rather than the service rendered by the student. For while students’ service is much sought-after and greatly appreciated by our partner agencies and schools, we are also seeking to provide the opportunity for students to encounter people facing the problems or struggling with the issues the students are studying in their academic coursework. We send them out to listen and form friendships and work together with groups as varied as undocumented workers, autistic children, and Alzheimer’s patients, all of whom live on the margins of our society. At the end of each placement, immersion trip, or summer project, we hear from the students that, whereas they may have gone into the experience with a sense of helping those who have so little, they come away with the sense of having been taught, and greatly enriched, by those whom they initially came to serve. This leads to a development described by John Haughey, S.J.:

"I think that what loving the marginal person will do is begin to stoke fire in your belly. And then I think you have to go from a relationship with your friend to a passionate concern about the particular policies, or their absences, that denigrate or ignore him or her. There is a direct continuum from those with whom you have in-depth friend- ship who are marginal to the system, to the efforts we take to change its policies. But you can’t stop at one. It has to move to the other.2"

they are preparing. And they return to the work enlightened by their research and reflection. This enlightened doing5 is the basis for the formation of whole persons in “well-educated solidarity” with all God’s children, as called for by the Superior General of the Society of Jesus, Rev. Peter- Hans Kolvenbach, S.J.6

It also propels those engaged in it forward towards a more just social order. Time and time again, returning from an urban plunge or an immersion trip to El Salvador, students and faculty express an urgency to do something in their lives here at home. The changes in their individual hearts lead them to act for the common good. They are becoming leaven for our community, and are growing in their understanding of the work they are called to do. They realize that they are God’s only hands on earth, and that there is much to be done.

 

Endnotes


  1. Please see Page 34 for a complete description of Arrupe Center programs, or visit www.scu.edu/arrupe for more information.
  2. John Haughey, S.J. Virtue and Affluence. (Landham, MD: Sheed and Ward, 1997), 87.
  3. Joseph Daoust, S.J. “Of Kingfishers and Dragonflies: Faith and Justice at the Core of Jesuit Education.” Santa Clara Lecture, Vol. 6, No. 1. (Santa Clara: Santa Clara University, 1999), 10.
  4. Ibid.
  5. Haughey.
  6. Peter-Hans Kolvenbach, S.J. “The Service of Faith and the Promotion of Justice in American Jesuit Higher Education” Santa Clara Lecture, Vol. 7, No. 1. (Santa Clara: Santa Clara University, 2000), 10.

 

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