Reminiscing about my experience as a graduate of a Jesuit high school, my thoughts gravitate to the joy and gratitude for the tremendous personal, academic, and spiritual growth that Ignatian education gave me during those formative years. Still, I also remember the internal struggles I experienced as a student of color in a predominantly white institution to find my place amid an environment so different from where I came from. My closest friends became other students like me: Latino, Filipino, Indian, Persian, and African American. While we never discussed it openly (in hindsight, I realize that we simply lacked the awareness and vocabulary to articulate our lived experiences), it is clear to me that we found each other because we were going through similar situations.
Years later, when I returned to Bellarmine as a faculty member, I was pleasantly surprised to see how it had become a vastly more diverse, equitable, and inclusive institution. Nevertheless, it became apparent to me that many students of color and those from low-income backgrounds continue to struggle to feel like they belong. As a response, four years ago we created the Unity Council, which is a group of representatives from the various affinity groups on campus. Together, the Unity Council has collaborated to organize deep and meaningful conversations about race during our Summit on Human Dignity, monthly Diversity Weeks, and the celebration of the wide array of cultural heritages and identities in our school through the Unity Assembly and Global Village. These events have become one of the most anticipated school activities for our community.
When our school closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Unity Council members were devastated. Suddenly, all the events they had worked tirelessly to organize for months, including the Lunar New Year, Filipino Cultural Night, and Nazaara were cancelled. In the weeks since, we have adapted and held virtual meetings in which students have checked in with each other, offering words of encouragement and laughter and even discussing ways that the group can still carry on its mission through new forms of communication with the rest of the school community.
Witnessing the companionship and the bonds that have been created across lines of difference in the loving Unity Council community has been one of my greatest joys as an educator. In these uncertain times, I have been inspired by their resiliency and determination to not let this situation harden their hearts. These students embody Ignatius’ call to find God in all things, even in times of despair and fear. They have been a great example for me, filling my own heart with hope for the future.
In times of widespread desolation, how can we find consolation in our relationship with God, with ourselves and with our brothers and sisters?
Carlos Jiménez is the Director of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion at Bellarmine College Prep in San José. A graduate from Santa Clara University, where he obtained a B.S. in political science and a single subject teaching credential in social studies, Carlos has more than 13 years of experience providing support and advocacy for first-generation, low-income students and their families.