A Faith That Does Justice: Arrupe Leaders Summits Form Leaders for Social Justice

BY KELLY SWAN | April 25, 2017

During three weekends spanning February and March, the Ignatian Solidarity Network was on the road, spending time with high school students from Jesuit and other Catholic schools at three Arrupe Leaders Summits in the San Francisco, Cleveland, and Baltimore areas.

At each Summit, emerging student leaders and faculty chaperones were invited to deepen their understanding of “a faith that does justice,” share ideas and resources for social justice programming, and become empowered to enact positive social change locally and globally.

Students at the Arrupe Leaders Summit Midwest build relationships while engaging in leadership formation for social justice.

Throughout each three-day program, students engaged in leadership formation for social justice through examples from Pedro Arrupe, S.J.’s life and leadership texts including The Student Leadership Challenge: Five Practices for Exemplary Leaders and Heroic Leadership: Best Practices from a 450-Year-Old Company That Changed the World

By combining leadership theory, real-life examples, and space for students to dialogue and practice concepts shares Michael Neilis, a student at Fordham Preparatory School, the Summit helps students feel “more confident in thinking about social justice and . . . more open to growth.”

Michael Nielis (right), a student at Fordham Preparatory School, participates in opening prayer at the Arrupe Leaders Summit East. Each school is asked to bring an item that represents their school’s commitment to social justice. The social justice table remains present for the duration of the weekend to remind students of their communities’ commitments.

While each Arrupe Leaders Summit is similarly structured, each individual gathering brings a distinct atmosphere, dictated by the schools in attendance, the issues being addressed at those institutions, and the passions of each individual student.

Students participate in the Arrupe Leaders Summit “Social Justice Round Robin,” engaging in dialogue with a partner school, analyzing whether schools’ current programs are charity or justice-oriented. The schools continue their partnership throughout the year after the Arrupe Leaders Summit.

A student dialoguing time—Social Justice Round Robin—is consistently a popular aspect of the Summit for students, but the 2017 Summits saw a significant increase in engagement. Students were provided with an open mic space to share anything on their mind related to a social justice topic. Participants shared personal stories of how social injustices are currently impacting themselves and their families, offered words of encouragement to their peers in the room, pitched ideas for new approaches to addressing justice issues, and, in a new twist this year, asked questions of each other. In a span of 60 minutes, dialogue topics encompassed immigration, racial equity and identity, LGBTQ rights, making service programs more justice-focused, and brainstorming ways to more frequently collaborate with other schools. “I always walk away from this part of the weekend deeply moved,” shares Kim Miller, program director for ISN. “There’s great power in students being willing to be vulnerable together, to support each other, and to bring together their curious minds and creative thinking to start weaving together ideas. I consider it to be one of the strongest components of the Summit.”

Naiem Woolfork, a student at Boston College High School, shares during a Social Justice Round Robin open mic. Woolfork initiated a unique twist to the exercise, asking questions of his peers rather than exclusively sharing his own thoughts, deepening dialogue between participants.

While large-scale dialogue and brainstorming is central to the Arrupe Leaders Summit experience, dialogue between students from the same school can be equally transformative. When school communities experience tension between students of different backgrounds, students themselves often feel a disconnect between their own experiences and those of their peers. One student shared that through the weekend he “learned about issues around me that I haven’t noticed due to my own situation and who I am; the problems that minorities at my school are dealing with on a day-to-day basis. There is frustration and yearning to help solve those problems. There are responsibilities to find a better solution for others.”


Students engage in discussion about how they will personally commit to deepening their work for justice at the culmination of the Arrupe Leaders Summit East.

At the Arrupe Leaders Summit East, action planning at the end of the weekend played a primary role for students, who joined their school peers to outline steps for engaging in work for justice in their own schools and communities, and then presenting those plans to the larger Summit group. Nicol Rodriguez, a student at Cristo Rey Jesuit High School in Baltimore, shares that the creative space provided at the Summit was ideal for group brainstorming. Through their school’s Social Justice Club, Rodriguez and her classmates are addressing environmental issues by revamping a recycling program. Personally, as a direct result of her Summit experience, Rodriguez plans to participate in the school’s Cura Urbi program, focused on “care for the city,” working for forward change in Baltimore through social justice education, immersion and service experiences, and Ignatian spirituality.

“We all had conversations that we do not often have,” shares Rodriguez of her experience at the Arrupe Leaders Summit. “We spoke about personal experiences and . . . issues we were most passionate about.”

Nicol Rodriguez (second from left) discusses social justice action plans with her peers at the Arrupe Leaders Summit East.

Rodriguez also spoke of an exercise, “The Privilege Walk,” during which, with eyes closed, participants take steps forward or backward to illustrate how systemic privilege and marginalization can create benefits and obstacles in individual lives. “For many, I could see it was a humbling experience, but I still remember the shock on my face and my two classmates’ when we opened our eyes and saw ourselves standing in the very back. Everyone participating was around the same age and we all came from awesome schools, but it was surprising to see how in some aspects some groups have more power than others. It was a reality that I could tell some were uncomfortable, sad, or angry with. All these feelings are okay, but what truly matters is how we use those feelings to help us do good.”


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