Engaging with Mission in a Time of Crisis
Introduction to Fall 2020 explore
By Aaron Willis
Director of Bannan Forum,
Ignatian Center for Jesuit Education,
Santa Clara University
Engaging with Mission in a Time of Crisis
When planning for this issue of explore began at the beginning of 2020, we could not have imagined what the year would bring. From the intense focus on long-standing issues of racial injustice brought about by the murder of George Floyd to the economic and public health crises of the COVID-19 pandemic, this year has been a call to examine the meaning of Jesuit education in a time of crisis. The essays in this issue of explore exemplify the work of six scholars across a range of divergent topics, but they cohere around a common desire to better understand how we can use critical inquiry and our mission as a university to bring about transformative actions.
What we hope you find in the following pages are thought-provoking and accessible essays that generate conversation on issues of contemporary importance. We also hope they foster a desire to explore and reflect upon the Ignatian tradition and its relationship to contemporary culture. In that context, the essays in this issue aim to respond to a pressing question: How can our mission address the contemporary challenges of a global pandemic, social polarization, technological disruption, and racial injustice? No small task for any institution’s mission, but it is a question that we must fully consider in order to bring about a world that is centered on the flourishing of all of humanity.
The essays that follow emerged out of conversations during the 2019–2020 academic year, which took place as part of the two central initiatives of the Bannan Forum. During that time, our public events centered on the Technology and the Human Spirit initiative developed by former executive director Fr. Dorian Llywelyn. The initiative aimed to foster an inclusive discussion of technology’s impact on human flourishing and to engage with the Jesuit intellectual heritage in answering questions of technological innovation. In addition, the first five essays are written by 2019–2020 Bannan Fellows. As part of their yearlong commitment to explore the intersection of their work and the Jesuit, Catholic tradition of Santa Clara, fellows engaged in a series of conversations centered on shared readings on the mission of Santa Clara. These two initiatives frame the questions and themes at the heart of the essays in this issue.
Julie Rubio opens this issue with a search for common ground in the context of our current COVID-19 pandemic. From her position as a Catholic ethicist and theologian, Rubio examines the case for and against seeking common ground with those with whom we disagree. Through various contexts for debate she makes plain that, while never easy and open to critique, there is virtue in working to find common ground in moments of crisis. Our Jesuit mission calls us to dialog and conversation across our differences, and Rubio’s essay offers us a thoughtful consideration of the value of answering that call.
Rohit Chopra’s essay touches on the themes of our Technology and Human Spirit initiative to examine Gandhi’s rejection of Western science and technology. Rather than a simplistic wholesale rejection, however, Chopra outlines Gandhi’s concern with the flourishing of the human spirit and technology’s detrimental influence. Given the contemporary worries about the destabilizing nature of social media and the separation of action and accountability, Gandhi’s critique stands as a critical intervention in our conversation on human flourishing in the digital age.
Claudia Rodriguez-Mojica calls us to think more critically about the language used to talk about our mission and its impact on students, staff, and faculty of color. In exploring the implications of discussions of encounter and transformation that normalize whiteness and the middle-class experience, Rodriguez-Mojica makes plain that to construct a more inclusive and welcoming vision of Jesuit education we must speak to and incorporate the lived realities and experiences of everyone in our institutions.
In her essay on spirituality and business leadership, Jennifer Woolley discusses how in the context of Silicon Valley a strong spiritual grounding can help leaders respond in moments of crisis and drive innovation. As Woolley argues, Jesuit education is uniquely positioned to foster the spiritual attentiveness and development of leaders—in Silicon Valley and beyond—who can help make the world a better place. Rather than a vestige of the past, Ignatian spirituality can help people flourish even in the world’s most innovative places.
Laura Norris reflects on how after years of working in Silicon Valley, her work in the law school felt out of place in the context of Santa Clara’s Jesuit mission. After reflecting on and discussing the texts that served as the foundation of the fellows’ shared conversations, she found that Ignatian values actually complemented her work and could be applied to legal education in ways that enhanced student experiences and outcomes, reminding us that the mission and values of the Jesuit educational tradition are broader than we often assume.
Our issue closes with an essay by the former executive director of the Ignatian Center, Dorian Llywelyn, S.J. In reflecting on how we answer the question of what we do next Monday morning in a time of pandemic and disruption, Fr. Llywelyn weaves together many of the threads from the preceding essays. Santa Clara’s mission and tradition offer many lessons, but what he leaves us with is the call to love.
The question posed at the start of this introduction can’t be answered in a single issue of any journal. Instead, what follows is an attempt to inspire reflection on the questions raised and challenges issued. I hope these essays will lead you to have meaningful conversations with your family, friends, and colleagues inspired by the depth and breadth of a living and evolving tradition. Ultimately, what the Ignatian tradition calls us to is action. We should never stop exploring our evolving tradition and contemporary realities, but all of those explorations are wasted if we don’t act to heal a broken world.
AARON WILLIS has served as the director of the Bannan Forum since June 2018. Willis received his B.S. in political science from Santa Clara and earned his doctorate in history from the University of Notre Dame. Prior to joining the Ignatian Center, he taught in the history department at Santa Clara.