The question was perhaps the most simple, basic one a person can ask: “How are you feeling?”
When facilitators posed this question to a small group of Boston College faculty and staff members at an Office for Institutional Diversity-sponsored event this month, the hope was that it would spark a conversation participants and organizers believed was sorely needed.
The event, “National Tragedies and Their Impact: An Opportunity for Reflection and Dialogue,” gathered faculty and staff to talk about how incidents of violence and other controversies have affected them and their work.
“Our job as faculty and staff is to help our students deal with these and other issues, but what do we do for ourselves?” said OID Executive Director Patricia Lowe – a facilitator at the event – in a recent interview. “In an age where we are constantly barraged by information, it’s almost impossible to shut out what happens in the world, and we can be affected in ways we might not even realize. And in our discussions, people talked not only about the impact on themselves but on their colleagues and the community as a whole.
“As a Jesuit, Catholic institution built around Ignatian principles – the care of the individual, reflection into action – we should expect to come together, whatever our faiths and beliefs, and help ourselves and one another.”
Since the OID was established in 2004, as a successor to the Office of Affirmative Action, it has framed its task of promoting diversity and inclusiveness squarely in the University’s Jesuit, Catholic mission. “National Tragedies and Their Impact” – the first of a three-part “Reflection and Dialogue” series – and an upcoming program, “Living Out the Jesuit Mission,” as well as last summer’s first-ever Diversity and Inclusion Summit, are emblematic of the OID’s “come together” approach.
“As an alumnus [Class of 1991], I can say that I experienced first-hand the Ignatian philosophy at BC, and I felt enriched by it,” said Lowe, who is also the University’s Title IX coordinator. “Faculty and staff alike have indicated they want to have a better understanding of Jesuit and Catholic thought, and integrate it into their life and work at BC. Given the importance of diversity and inclusion in our world, it is critical for us as a community to examine them through an Ignatian lens.”
At the “National Tragedies and Their Impact” event, after an introduction by Faculty and Staff Assistance Program Director Patricia Touzin, audience members split into small groups for discussions led by Lowe, Touzin, University Counseling Senior Staff Psychologist Yvonne Jenkins and Walter Conlan, S.J., staff and alumni minister for University Mission and Ministry.
“People want to talk, but don’t know how to start a conversation,” said Lowe. “Starting off with something simple – ‘How are you feeling?’ – helped to break the ice. People just took a moment to think, and said what was on their minds.”
As it turned out, there was plenty on participants’ minds: the divisive election campaign, mass killings such as those in Orlando and San Bernardino, and national discord over police-involved shootings. They also cited incidents on campus they found troubling, including a case involving a sign vandalized with a homophobic message.
The breakout sessions were not simply open-ended catharsis, however: Lowe and her fellow facilitators sought to guide the discussions, to give all participants a chance to speak as honestly and candidly as possible, and offer them ideas for further consideration.
The second part of “Reflection and Dialogue” will focus on reflection and learning how to move “to a place of healing,” said Lowe, and the third will help participants integrate the Jesuit, Catholic mission for social justice in addressing issues represented by current and recent events.
“Some people had come with concerns, like ‘I want to ask or say this, but I don’t want to offend anyone.’ They were able to do that,” said Lowe. “And at the end, when we came back together, the message was that this is just a start. We are all in this together, and if you need to reach out to others for more conversation – even just over a cup of coffee – this is a community where that can happen.”
The “Living Out the Jesuit Mission: Diverse Perspectives Series” focuses on how employees of various backgrounds – race, ethnicity, gender, ability, sexual orientation – and faith traditions incorporate the Jesuit tradition within their work at BC and into their personal lives.
“Ignatian tradition sets the climate and culture at BC,” said Lowe. “Jesuits have a longstanding commitment to and appreciation of diversity and inclusion, and our hope is that this and other programs will bring that wonderful legacy – and its connection to BC – to light for faculty and staff.”
On Nov. 3, from 4-6 p.m. in Gasson 100, the OID and Campus Ministry will hold the event “Celebrating the Global Jesuit Community,” where attendees can learn about the global reach of the Society of Jesus, and have an opportunity to engage in meaningful conversation with the international Jesuit community at Boston College.
For more information, visit the Office for Institutional Diversity website.
—Sean Smith | University Communications