Spartans Network for Social Justice in Washington, D.C.

eight students stand in front of the US White House
De Smet Jesuit Communications

Eight students and three chaperones spent several days in Washington, D.C., this November to gather with the larger Jesuit community and explore social justice in depth at the Ignatian Family Teach-in for Justice. This event, sponsored by the Ignatian Solidarity Network, is considered the “largest annual Catholic social justice gathering in the United States” according to their website. Keynote speakers and panels covered topics ranging from gun violence to human trafficking, but it was breakout sessions on gender equality and criminal justice that stood out for many of our Spartans.

“I think the most interesting breakout session was on feminism,” said Marquis Govan ’21. “I had the chance to interact with students from other places, and I had conversations about how men, especially in an environment like this (all-boys school), can elevate the voices of women.”

“That breakout session was very powerful,” agreed Madeline Powers, trip coordinator and three-time chaperone for De Smet Jesuit students. “The research was impressive, and I had a lot more compassion for the challenge of growing up male.”

Mrs. Powers said prior to the event, the group looked ahead at the agenda to divvy up topics, “We tried to plan it so there’s not a lot of overlap, then we’d come back together and share. It’s a really long couple of days, and very filled.”

For Deandra Smith ’21, this trip was his first time on an airplane, and it surpassed Indiana as the farthest he’s ever traveled.

“It was one of the best experiences,” he said.

“Everyone was so nice and people actually did not alienate you based on how you looked, dressed, or walked.” Deandra said he was struck by the revelation of how small sayings such as, “man up” or “don’t act like a girl” can condition a child over time and become semi-accepted cultural phrases that actually negatively impact how someone acts or talks about men and women.

Upon their return to school, students and teachers have continued to meet to reflect on what inspired them, what they learned, and what they want to do next. Initial plans include pursuing the formation of a social justice club that could embrace broader issues, such as HeForShe, the United Nations global solidarity movement that encourages people to be part of the gender equality conversation and solution.

Meeting other Jesuit educated students was a highlight for the group, and staying connected to these peers is a definite goal. “It was cool to see we had similar ideas,” said Josh Abel ’19, who already plans to reach out to SLUH counterparts. Josh also intends to talk to STUGO about potential social justice club formation and/or inclusion in Mission Week efforts.

The additional adult moderators, Lisa Knabe from the theology department and Catalina Martinez, Director of Diversity and Inclusion, advised the students to consider a realistic commitment level and explore the possible range of next steps. Students could focus on just sharing information or aim for loftier goals such as raising money or developing longer range initiatives. One thing everyone agreed on was the importance of exploring social justice and the interest in such efforts by the wider student population.

“Everyone seems to agree that we need some sort of reform,” summarized Josh Abel. “It’s just figuring out how to go about it and what are our next steps.”

For more information on the Ignatian Family Teach-in for Justice, please visit the Ignatian Solidarity Network website. To discuss social justice issues or the formation of a faith and justice club, please contact Mrs. Powers, Ms. Knabe, or Ms. Martinez.

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