In January 2016, Chestnut Hill College responded to the current national dialogue about race by initiating A Path Forward plan. We seek to further cultivate a campus environment marked by equity, diversity, inclusion, and racial justice.
Ceclia J. Cavanaugh, SSJ, Ph.D, the Acting College Office for Diversity and Inclusion and the Dean of the School of Undergraduate Studies reflects on the year.
Where Do I Begin and From What Perspective?
By Cecelia J. Cavanaugh, SSJ, Ph.D.
When I was asked to write “Last Word” about our work this past year toward diversity and inclusion, which we articulated in a working document titled, “A Path Forward,” I readily accepted. As I begin this reflection, I find that I don’t want to write a “last word” (more on that later) and I’m struggling to find the “first word.” Where do I begin and from what perspective?
This year’s efforts have been about those two questions. We have sought to listen and learn about others’ perspectives and find a place where persons with varied perspectives and experiences can begin anew together. The process has been filled with much pain and struggle as those who have experienced discrimination and injustice in their histories, communities, families and individual lives raised their voices and asked for their stories to be heard. Many of us whose lives have been shaped in a context of white privilege have struggled with shame and frustration as we tried to be open and receptive to those stories. Many members of our College community have grieved at how much institutional and structural racism still exists, and we have been challenged to examine our present reality while strengthening our roots in our historical commitment to accessible education for every person without distinction.
From a personal perspective, I have experienced the challenge of this urgent, renewed call to diversity and inclusion in light of two statements in the Constitutions of the Sisters of Saint Joseph of Philadelphia. First, “to make Christ visible in the world, we embrace our contemporary situation at that moment of salvation history in which God makes us responsible for participating in the life and mission of the Church.” [Mission of the Congregation, 24].
While I treasure and draw from my Congregation’s history of ministry among persons who are marginalized, participation in the Civil Rights movement and presence in communities of color and my own years of ministry in service with those communities elsewhere and here at the College, I am challenged that I must embrace our contemporary situation – our current reality – not just our past efforts and not only the goals toward which we strive. At this moment of salvation history – academic years 2015-2016 and 2016-2017, how am I responsible in a particular way for every brother and sister without exception? I accepted the interim role as Officer for Diversity and Inclusion precisely because of its interim, urgent nature — hoping to be a bridge between our present and the future when we will welcome a full-time colleague into this important position. Staying open to painful stories and even honest critiques has been one of the greatest stretching experiences I can remember. Seeking to move together past misunderstandings and toward greater union is hard work, but it is the work of our Mission, which I embrace with determination.
Much of the work begun this year could be understood as living out the second injunction: “as we experience our individual and corporate call to mission, we become both giver and receiver, persons in need of being evangelized even as we evangelize.” [Mission of the Congregation, 23] We have come together as students, faculty, staff, alumni and administrators to learn from each other.
Our community members who are persons of color have become our teachers. We have learned why “Black Lives Matter” matters; we have been reminded that good relationships embrace the totality of each person’s identity; and how decisions involving any group of persons are best made in consultation with those whom the decision will affect. Our hearts have been broken and our sights adjusted. As much as we have done, there is yet so much more to do.
These experiences open up our community to real learning together in respectful, open dialogue. We have been challenged, enriched and encouraged as we participated in listening sessions and training opportunities, reviewed policies and practices, and strengthened or created structures for communication and collaboration. The work is far from over. But we are on A Path Forward and our openness and honesty with each other will keep us moving.
And what is “the last word?” In the spirit of “Magis” that we have inherited from our Jesuit founder, our last word is “MORE.” We have only begun.
Cecelia J. Cavanaugh, SSJ, Ph.D., is the Dean of the School of Undergraduate Studies, Acting College Officer for Diversity and Inclusion and Professor of Spanish.