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Vatican Radio roundtable:Jesuit higher education reaches out to margins

Graduates of JC:HEM's program at Dzaleka Refugee Camp, Malawi in 2013 - RV

Graduates of JC:HEM's program at Dzaleka Refugee Camp, Malawi in 2013 - RV

16/06/2015 14:46

(Vatican Radio)  Can getting a higher education benefit entire communities and even countries ?  Jesuit Fr. Michael Garanzini, Secretary for higher education worldwide for the Society of Jesus, thinks so and he has the model for doing just that.  Fr. Garanzini, whose tenure as President of Loyola University in Chicago expires at the end of this month, assumed his role as Secretary for Jesuit higher education in September  2011 to coordinate and champion Jesuit higher-education issues around the world for the order.

Speaking to Vatican Radio between meetings in Rome this month, Fr. Mike as he likes to be called, admitted that coordinating amongst the order’s some 200 Jesuit-run universities and institutes of formation around the world is a challenge.  But there’s a new sense that they could “leverage their international network” to do more projects together, he says, arguing that united, the network will become stronger.

Offering Jesuit higher education to people on the margins

Fr. Mike sees his job as Secretary as “evolving” into what he believes could be “quite beneficial” for the network and cites the example of “Jesuit Commons: Higher Education at the Margins” (JC:HEM) of which he is Chairman, and which provides higher education via distant learning programs to thousands of refugees and underprivileged people in Kenya, Malawi, Chad, Syria, Afghanistan, Jordan, Thailand, Sri Lanka, Taungyyi and the Philippines. And, new programs are popping up in countries all over, he notes.  Many Jesuit universities cooperate in providing the courses which prepare people for careers as teachers and in business entrepreneurship and health services. Some of the subjects studied in JC:HEM’s virtual classroom include philosophy, world religions, communications and psychology.

The Roundtable discussion

Fr. Mike was part of a round table discussion with Vatican Radio’s Tracey McClure, Mary McFarland, co-founder and international director of JC:HEM; and Anne SmithJC:HEM Board member and Vice President of Wiley Publishing.

Listen to the full round table discussion:

Is there such a thing as a “Jesuit” education?

 “I think there is,” says Fr. Mike, recalling that the Society of Jesus boasts a four hundred and fifty year history of being involved in educational work at the secondary and university levels.

Jesuit institutions have become known, Garanzini adds, for their academic rigor and for “forming a student to become an agent of social justice in their community.”

Jesuit Ignatian education creating leaders of communities, world

This academic seriousness, excellence and action to make society better, he says, was highlighted in the first school that Ignatius opened in Messina, Italy. “And I think it’s true today moreso than even then – that we see ourselves as educating a diverse student body who will become leaders in their community. And now, leaders in the world because no one is really restricted to their own community.”

Forming leaders in the inner city to give back to the community

Fr. Mike explains that in Chicago this month, Loyola University is opening Arrupe College, in tribute to the former Superior General of the order, Fr. Pedro Arrupe, “for kids who are too poor to attend normal university,” using federal, state and gift money “to give the basic two years of education to inner city kids.”  The new institution will make higher education possible for kids who otherwise, would not be able to go to college.  In fact, many of them, mostly Hispanics and African Americans, he says, can’t even afford the $2,000 to attend the local community college.

Students will attend Arrupe for free, he explains, and will be given jobs to earn money and to contribute to the program which will have “a very strict curriculum ” imbued with a sense of social justice. Following the two year program, students will be placed at universities and encouraged to become people “who will contribute to advancing their communities in terms of justice.”

Giving the unserved and under-served access to higher education

Similarly, Mary McFarland explains that JC:HEM is an initiative created by the Jesuits to ensure that “those who are unserved or under-served  by higher education have access.”

 If you have an education that prepares you to be an agent of social change through critical thinking, analysis and evaluation, she asserts, you can take action – “that’s all a part of the Jesuit Ignatian education experience.”

Countries with poor education have highest poverty rate, most conflict

McFarland cites the human development index which shows the areas of the world with the lowest education have the highest poverty rate and the most conflict: “there is a dire need in this world for people who are educated agents of social justice,” she stresses, saying  this is what JC:HEM hopes to accomplish as its wider vision.

There are more than 50 million people in forced human migration today and many want a higher education, McFarland notes.  If their educated voices cannot contribute to the discussion, she says, “we are going to miss the mark on solutions.”

JC:HEM: new Amman graduates share experiences, hope

Anne Smith recounts her experience attending the graduation ceremony for a handful of students - many of whom refugees from Syria, Iraq and Somalia - who had participated in JC:HEM’s program in Amman, Jordan.  What she found most interesting, she says, were their stories about how they came to Amman and their experiences through their JC:HEM courses.

“Most especially what I found so poignant was the discussion of their learning from one another: students from Damascus, talking to students from Beirut to students from Somalia – one of the stories that one of the students told was that when they’d write a word down, many of the [other] students didn’t know if that was a place, a name, an object – that there was that level of lack of familiarity with one another and their [countries].

McFarland explains that the refugee situation in Jordan is constantly in flux, impacting the number of students participating in the Amman program at any one time. In the next cycle, 40 students will be given placements in the diploma program out of 390 applicants, a rising number as JC:HEM becomes more widely known.

Helping refugees use their minds, skills, in a ‘crazy insane situation’

Fr. Mike points out that JC:HEM offers certificate and diploma programs which prepare students in various skills.  To illustrate the value of the certificate program, he gives the example of psychological case management studies.  “That’s about being able to be a better leader where you are - so some [of the courses] are actually quite practical for them.”

“Perhaps it’s something they would never have signed up for,” he continues, “but they’ve never found themselves in this circumstance where in fact they are managing people and they’re managing each other as refugees.  This liberal arts background [requires] exercises in thinking, and broadening your experience [via] learning …in the Jesuit style which is looking and seeing and then absorbing and then also reflecting – and that, leading to some action.  That general pattern through each of the courses… allows them to develop a certain sense of agency, a certain sense of ‘I am a person who actually has capacities and abilities, and I can adapt - and by the way, I am using my mind in what is a mindless environment, a mindless situation, a crazy insane situation.  But I am doing something useful with myself and preparing for a future, though I don’t know exactly what [that will be].’”

The problem of providing higher education around world “is solvable”

Appealing for donors and sponsors to get involved in the academic program, McFarland adds that JC:HEM’s vision of providing more people with an excellent education is a problem of “scale:” “If everybody takes a little piece, we can do this.  It is so achievable and the ‘it’ being: let’s get access out there to people at the margins who are in dire need.  Let’s put an end to countries that have one person in their entire country getting higher ed.  Or, countries with less than 1% of their own citizens [who] have access to higher ed.”

If you multiply the more than 200 Jesuit higher educational institutions in the world by the number of Catholic universities, McFarland is convinced, “this problem is solvable!”

To find out more about JC:HEM, Jesuit Commons: Higher Education at the Margins, and to see how you can help, click here.

(Tracey McClure)
16/06/2015 14:46