Saint Vincent will be holding a Peace and Justice Fair on Thursday, Oct. 26, from 7 to 9 p.m. in Saint Benedict Hall. The fair will introduce students to different offices and organizations from across campus, many of which share a passion for social justice.
The event is designed to create awareness of issues related to peace and justice within the Saint Vincent community. This event is connected to the recently developed peace and justice minor program at the college.
The peace and justice minor “…prepares students to build a more peaceful and just world,” according to the course description. The program was constructed by Dr. Timothy Kelly, professor of history; Dr. Christopher McMahon, associate professor of theology; and Ms. Kelly King, director of service learning & outreach.
The program is designed to connect ideas of social justice learned in the classroom to hands-on experiences through service learning.
Programs like this are already in place at other institutions, explained Kelly.
“There had been talk amongst faculty for a long time,” Kelly said. “There are over three hundred institutions with similar programs, and we got together and decided to finally pursue our own program.”
The minor identifies peace and justice through a theological and historical lens. All students completing the minor are required to take either “Peace and Justice from a Historical Perspective,” taught by Kelly, or “Peace, Justice and Forgiveness,” taught by McMahon. In addition, students must choose from five other designated courses. Nine of the remaining credits must be from different schools.
While forming the program, McMahon said that they intended to include disciplines outside of history and theology.
“There was a conscious attempt to make sure it included all disciplines,” McMahon said.
Students in Kelly’s course, Peace and Justice from a Historical Perspective, study the ideas of peace and justice as they relate to the United States by looking at social movements including: the Civil Rights movement, Catholic worker’s movements and peace movements. However, the content will vary across semesters.
Kelly intends for his course to provide students with information that has practical applications.
“I try to introduce ideas of peace and justice that students can then take to other classes and connect ideas further,” Kelly said.
Students in McMahon’s course, Peace, Justice and Forgiveness, study Catholic social teachings, and the ways in which faith connects to helping others.
“The course asks students to explore how their religious convictions require a particular engagement with the world, which is not always totally obvious,” McMahon said.
The program seeks to introduce students to the issues that are important in the world, and to begin to stimulate an interest in social justice issues.
In addition to in class reading materials, students in both Kelly and McMahon’s classes are required to complete a service learning component as a part of the course.
King works to align students with community outreach programs that match the curriculum being covered in their classes.
“Relating the social issues discussed in class to local issues in our area brings the big ideas closer to home. We try to help students recognize the real people affected by these issues,” King said.
Sites students can be assigned to for the service learning requirement include a state prison, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the food bank and the Blackburn Center.
One of the materials McMahon uses in his course, “Hope for Common Ground,” written by Julie Rubio, emphasizes the importance of local contact to understanding social justice issues.
Similar to Kelly, McMahon is also hoping to present practical applications of service learning within the community.
“The hope is that students will take what they are learning in class and relate it to issues in the community,” McMahon said.
Naomi Burke, senior marketing major, discussed her service learning experience from the fall of 2016.
“I loved the service learning aspect of the class. I thought it helped make connections of what we were learning in the classroom to real world injustices,” Burke said.
Once students complete the service aspect of the course, they are required to reflect on their experience. Kelly’s history students write journal reflections, while McMahon’s class gives presentations on their community involvement.
While Service Learning experiences are a required part of classes and are rewarding for students, they are not always easy to establish, mentions King.
“It can be difficult to find a clear alignment between every social issue discussed and a community program in our area. Sometimes this forces students to ask, ‘why are these not here?’” King said.
The office of service learning also occasionally runs into issues within an organization that can delay student participation at a community site.
King describes certain sites as “resource poor,” as there is not always enough staff or space needed at the sites students attempt to visit.
Burke also discussed the restrictions her service learning site required, when she took Peace, Justice and Forgiveness her junior year.
Burke said, “My service learning was going to the Laurel Highlands Correctional Facility. We had to fill out a lot of paperwork, and had certain things we could or could not wear. We went through security at the beginning and end of each visit.”
Kelly, McMahon and King all encouraged interested students to consider the peace and justice minor.
McMahon also emphasized that students must be committed to these classes, as they require time.
“They are action based courses. The more passive you are, the less you will thrive and enjoy them,” said McMahon.
King reminded students that the minor is great for students interested in social justice programs to become involved.
“Students aren’t just learning about the civil rights movement; they then become engaged and invested in events happening right now, affecting people in our own community,” King said.
Students curious about the minor, related courses or service learning programs are encouraged to visit the Peace and Justice Fair on Oct. 24 to learn more. Representatives from offices and campus organizations will be present to answer any questions students have.
Full disclosure: Burke currently serves as the media manager for The Review
Photos: SVC Flickr