An anti-racism examen for Jesuit universities
Editors’ note: As colleges and universities across the country address the realities of systemic racism, two administrators at Jesuit universities have each wrestled in their roles as part of the unfolding story of anti-racism efforts at Jesuit institutions. Jennifer Abe is a professor of psychological science and former vice president for diversity, equity and inclusion at Loyola Marymount University. Cheryl Moore-Thomas is the interim provost and vice president for academic affairs at Loyola University Maryland.
Jennifer Abe: As the daughter of Japanese immigrants, I learned from a young age to translate and bridge languages, cultures and identities. From this space of in-betweenness, a sense of invisibility and ambiguity has been an all-too-familiar part of my life. Drawing on all I have experienced, I ask myself now, how can I be more fully in solidarity with others to help change our institutions? How can we help our Jesuit, Catholic educational mission express our commitment to anti-racism?
Cheryl Moore-Thomas: As a Black woman who is not Catholic, how do I work with students who are, in this moment, challenging Jesuit colleges and universities to live the mission more fully regarding anti-racism? How do I navigate a system—including the system of Jesuit higher education that did not have me in mind at its inception—and work to not only support but shape that system? How do we move forward in clear paths that are anti-racist and that fully embody our Jesuit, Catholic educational mission?
How do we move forward in clear paths that are anti-racist and that fully embody our Jesuit, Catholic educational mission?
Abe and Moore-Thomas: We have found that a process of institutional reflection is critical to the work of anti-racism, in which each department or unit takes responsibility for honestly and courageously examining its own infrastructure, policies and practices. As we turn our gaze inward to our own systems, Jesuit institutions must rise to the challenge of addressing racism—to unlearn, relearn and learn anew.
For example, what are the unexamined everyday practices and policies that pose significant barriers to student access and success? What about the assumptions we make about students’ intellectual promise and academic achievement in the use of standardized tests, eligibility criteria and selection protocols for our programs and awards? Do we take seriously aspects of our organizational culture that undermine relationship building and a sense of community—for instance, how race and ethnicity intersect with hierarchies of power on our campuses for students, faculty, staff, and administrators?
Perhaps the true work of anti-racism can only begin through a critical examination of how fully we embody our mission. Here, the anti-racism examen developed by the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities provides a resource for helping institutions work towards racial justice. The A.J.C.U.’s anti-racism examen offers a critical, contemplative space to acknowledge and recognize the corrosive effects of racism. It can also strengthen links between personal reflection and institutional actions in service of creating a better society.
The anti-racism examen developed by the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities provides a resource for helping institutions work towards racial justice.
The anti-racism examen begins with a video created from interviews with students, staff, faculty and leaders from Jesuit institutions in the United States as part of the racial reckoning following the murder of George Floyd on May 25, 2020. Within the framework of Ignatian spirituality, this introductory video serves as a “composition of place” to provide a context and set the tone for subsequent reflection. The goal is to help participants open their hearts so that they can have the “eyes to see” the reality and impact of racism not only in society but on our Jesuit university campuses and in our individual lives.
Upon viewing this video, Patrick Furlong, the director of LMU’s Pam Rector Center for Service and Action, responded, “What resonated most with me was the call to face uncomfortable truths and to thrive on feeling uncomfortable. I mean as educators I think we are called to question our own training continually.”
Mary Kay Brennan, a faculty member in social work at Seattle University, agrees: “The anti-racism examen has remained with me, deeply challenging me in its queries of what have we done, what are we doing, and most urgently what ought we be doing to become a more anti-racist Jesuit university.” Following the video, a series of questions and resources are offered to facilitate small-group reflection and discussion.
Finally, follow-up resources provide support and recommendations for institutional actions. Dr. Brennan said that “as a faculty associate for mission integration, our team is seeking to continually grow in our understanding and articulation of anti-racism work and then consistently employ an anti-racist lens in formation content and programing, allocation of resources, and development of partnerships.”
Jesuit colleges and universities can and must embrace anti-racism efforts by drawing from our mission.
The work of unlearning racism and dismantling its structures—reinforced by an ideology of racial hierarchy that violently distorts the fundamental relationship we have to each other as human beings—is central to our educational task as Jesuit institutions. The anti-racism examen has been used with groups of faculty and staff, board and cabinet members, as well as deans and other administrative leaders, both within and across our universities. This commitment to face ourselves within our Jesuit institutions has the potential to strengthen the collective discernment we so need to address the challenges of our time. The anti-racism examen helps create a space that encourages a practice of listening and seeking wisdom from marginalized communities, toward personal and institutional transformation.
Developing greater self-understanding and critical consciousness in response to racism may be one of the most important things we can do in becoming, in the words of Pope Francis, more “painfully aware” of the complex realities of our world and our place in it. It can also help lead us to a deeper awareness of what Pope Francis calls in “Laudato Si’” an “integral ecology”—the sense of the inextricable bonds that connect the personal, institutional and collective realities of our lives. This awareness can equip us to take actions that help to heal and renew our world, socially, ecologically and spiritually.
Jesuit colleges and universities can and must embrace anti-racism efforts by drawing from our mission. Our Ignatian tradition offers us rich resources for cultivating the capacity to see, so that we are better able to identify racism and other forms of oppression in their varied manifestations and consequences. Our work can sharpen minds and open hearts to respond to this call for racial justice with wisdom, discernment and actions that will transform not just our campuses but our society and world. Such efforts, however, must be anchored and mirrored in the very structure and character of our institutions. We are called to strive for nothing less.