“Father, I don’t know what you see in me.”
Isaiah, a sophomore at Arrupe College, said those words to me a few months ago. I’m the dean at Arrupe, a college within Loyola University Chicago that enrolled its first class in 2015. Arrupe is a junior college; our students commute, qualify for federal and state aid, and are generally the first in their families to attend college. Our inaugural class graduated with their associates degrees in August 2017.
Isaiah is a member of the Class of 2018. He struggles academically, and he struggles under the burden of what my colleagues at Arrupe call the deficit narrative. For first gen, marginalized, students of color like Isaiah, the deficit narrative portrays him as needy, broken, vulnerable, a product of past failures. At Arrupe, we emphasize the asset narrative–our students’ strengths and possibilities, their successes, and their abilities to navigate a variety of situations that for other undergrads would be unimaginable. In short, we want our students to believe they contribute positively to Jesuit higher education–because they do.In this Sunday’s Gospel, John repeats the word “believe” five times. For John, unbelief is a sin. Whoever believes will have eternal life; whoever does not believe will be condemned.
The deficit narrative is sinful at Arrupe College because it prevents students like Isaiah from believing that they bring assets to our community–they are very much co-pioneering a new way of creating access to Jesuit higher education.
John tells us in the Gospel that God did not send Jesus to condemn the world. I am reminded here of the world-affirming theology espoused by Ignatius, who calls us to find God in all things. God is active in our communities and contexts. It is easy for me to find God present in the students and in the ways my colleagues and I accompany them during their first post-secondary educational experiences.
God was certainly present the other day when Isaiah appeared in my office. “Check this out, Father,” he said, and offered a paper for my review from his Shakespeare class. A-. Isaiah’s professor is demanding; this grade was no gift. Isaiah was over the moon. We celebrated his success, and he described how he had written the paper, a process I suggested he might want to repeat if applicable. We had moved a bit from Isaiah’s statement: “Father, I don’t know what you see you in me.” I believe God sees everything in Isaiah, a student who is beginning to believe what God knows–Isaiah is an asset to the Arrupe College community.
Fr. Stephen Katsouros, S.J. is dean and executive director of Arrupe College of Loyola University Chicago.