As someone who specializes in experiential learning, I understand where Thomas is coming from in yesterday’s readings. Sometimes, it’s only those first hand encounters that are the moments when an issue becomes real to us and begins to matter in a way that has implications for our daily lives. Sure, data is important, but seeing a melting iceberg in Alaska for yourself will quickly make you understand the incredible danger of climate change and its immediate seriousness. The power of encounter and how it can transform our minds and hearts is at the core of Jesuit education’s commitment to service and praxis.
At the same time, as Jesus reminds Thomas that “Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed,” I begin to wonder if there’s a danger in lionizing a Thomas approach to educating for justice. In the work that I do around service-learning, we try as best as we can to prioritize the needs of the community partners we’re working with and ensure the respect that they deserve as co-educators. At the same time, there is a constant worry in the back of my mind. Are these partnerships really mutual? Are we using them as a means to the end of our students’ learning or “salvation?”
Especially as a white and cis-gendered identified person who carries a great deal of privilege, I have to ask myself—are the experiences of oppressed folks somehow less real if I haven’t been there to witness them first hand? As we are bombarded by accounts of how Black and Brown bodies are continuously endangered, do we demand proof that their experience is not just “a fluke?”
As I reflect on the challenges of when I have demanded that “Thomas moment” before I believed in the reality of white supremacy enough to act, I pray that the hearts of my fellow privileged white Christians will respond to the call to act for justice without a demand for proof that their reality is not the only one.
Susan Haarman is the associate director at Loyola University Chicago’s Center for Experiential Learning, facilitating faculty development and the service-learning program. She has degrees from Marquette University, Loyola University of Chicago, and the Jesuit School of Theology at Berkeley, and previously served as the faith and justice campus minister, also at Loyola University Chicago. In addition to having a Masters in Divinity, she also holds a Masters in Community Counseling, a certificate in directing the 19th Annotation of the Spiritual Exercises, and is currently in a doctoral program. Her research focuses on the intersection between social justice education, civic identity, and imagination. She is also an improviser storyteller in Chicago.