BY ISN STAFF | July 28, 2023
From July 18-21, 2023, 24 students from 10 Jesuit colleges and universities gathered for the Ignatian Solidarity Network’s Ignatian Justice Summit, held this year at John Carroll University in University Heights, OH.
The summit offered two tracks—migration and environmental justice—and provided formation and practical tools for students to take action as organizers on their college campuses and in their broader communities.
One of the most fruitful opportunities of the summit is for students to network with one another. When asked what aspect of the summit was most impactful, Ruhie Rapolu of Georgetown University shared that “being able to talk to the different student leaders and seeing what all they’re involved with on campus” was a powerful aspect of the experience. “I think when you’re doing organizing work, you can only see yours as … the best way to be involved. But with seeing all these different student leaders and seeing how they’re all really involved in different forms of activism, [I’m] able to see how it connects to other forms as well.”
The summit welcomed speakers Sr. Tracey Horan, S.P., associate director of education and advocacy at Kino Border Initiative, and Paul Campion, an organizer at Sunrise Movement, for training on community organizing.
The organizing training was highly practical and actionable in nature, covering everything from steps to have a canvassing conversation to mock meetings with congressional staffers. Over the three and a half days of the summit, university teams formulated and presented action plans for improving ecological and migration justice on their campuses, proposing a range of solutions from campus composting to support for immigrant students.
“The students were hungry for stories, skills, and better strategy,” reflected Campion. “It was meaningful to hear how each of them is facing the reality of the climate crisis and an unjust immigration system in their communities with plans to build the power they need to make the changes they want.”
“This is a generation of students who participated in walk-outs as high school students. They are eager to make change and aware that so many of the decisions we make today deeply affect their futures,” added Sr. Horan. “It was inspiring to see them asking tough questions, taking risks together and voicing their visions for their own campuses and the world to be more welcoming, more responsive to the cry of the earth and the poor. I was especially excited to hear about their plans to make their campuses more welcoming and inclusive in the midst of a dominant culture and structures that seek to exclude and divide.”
Additional presenters at the Ignatian Justice Summit included Brenna Davis, ISN’s director of integral ecology, who presented on Ignatian spirituality as a grounding force for social action; Jorge Palacios Jr, who gave a policy update on current events in migration; and Melanie Minuche, the climate justice organizer for Alianza Americas, who presented on the intersection between migration justice and ecological justice.
Students also engaged in ample opportunity for prayer and reflection, such as meditating on the life of St. Ignatius of Loyola and envisioning a world where their work for justice has been realized. Many found the connection between faith and justice enriching to the summit and their personal formation.
Nouran Alim of Georgetown University shared that the universality of Jesuit values makes them particularly relevant to organizing efforts: “I’m Muslim, so when I was coming to Georgetown, I was a little bit skeptical of what my experience would be here. But I saw that the Jesuit values really don’t single out a specific religious practice. It’s applicable to anybody who believes in something bigger than themselves. And I think that’s a huge emphasis of what we learned here: that this is all bigger than ourselves, and no matter what you believe, your faith really takes you a long way.”
“This summit in particular really taught me how to show God’s love and grace through everything that I do, and particularly in advocacy work,” said Isidora Djukic, a student at John Carroll University. “Throughout this whole week, I’ve been reflecting on, ‘How can I show God’s love and grace in the advocacy that I want to bring to my campus in the Cleveland community?’”
Another standout takeaway from the summit was learning how to sustain the work of organizing and avoid activist burnout.
“A lot of the self-care that we talked about was really important, too, because I think we have all this energy initially, and we’re so excited to bring things back to our campus and work on it,” added Djukic. “And I don’t think people realize that this is really tough work sometimes, and these are really deep complex issues that have a bunch of layers to them. So really taking care of ourselves, but also our community and the populations that we’re working with, too, is really important to me and something I took away from the summit.”
The Ignatian Solidarity Network also led students in brainstorming ways to remain in contact as a network of collegiate organizers throughout the upcoming academic year. The group came to a consensus to do so through an email listserv and group messaging so they can continually share best practices, successes, and mutual support.
When asked what has been most impactful from the summit, Alim said, “Realizing we have more power as a collective…We’ve been hearing about how to come together and put pressure on local politicians and map out how power works in your community and how to go about addressing issues in a way where you feel empowered instead of just begging for change and hoping something will change. Just going about it as a community effort and being able to demand the change that you want to see instead of just waiting for it to come around.”
Schools represented at the Ignatian Justice Summit include College of the Holy Cross, Creighton University, Georgetown University, John Carroll University, Loyola University Chicago, Saint Joseph’s University, Saint Louis University, Saint Peter’s University, Seattle University, and the University of Detroit Mercy.