Sunday, December 20, 2015

Past Imperfect: From Azalea Trail Maid to Black Lives Matter

At the Women of Impact Luncheon last week, Dr. Emily Reimer-Barry delivered the Keynote Address.  With her permission, we have posted it here for you to enjoy.  We believe that her insights and reflections are the perfect way to end the fall semester and to begin thinking about the work that we will continue to do in the spring semester to make positive change in our own lives and at USD.  
The Hub would like to congratulate all of the Women of Impact award winners.  We are especially proud of Madison Ryan, Student Chair of the Changemaker Student Committee, who won the award for undergraduate students.  

The Hub has also issued a statement of support for the USD students who have raised such important and relevant issues for our campus community.  You can find the statement of support here.

We wish the entire campus community a very restful and peaceful holiday and we look forward to working with you during the spring semester.

Happy Holidays - Mike and JC

Hi everyone.

I’ve been asked to briefly speak about the Catholic Social Thought principle of Human Dignity. In a sense, this principle is the foundation of every other ethical principle and norm in Catholic Social Thought from condemnation of the death penalty and nuclear weapons to advocacy for immigration reform and access to clean water.

Basically, this principle means that every life is sacred. Period. Everyone deserves a chance to thrive. Around the world, women are making a difference in big and small ways in their communities. Today we celebrate women of impact—around the world and right here at USD. The principle of human dignity means you have inherent dignity that no one can take away from you. No matter what. Speaking theologically: God loves you just as you are. You do not have to do anything to earn God’s love. God delights in you.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that we are perfect. And that’s okay.
It is okay. You are okay. Nobody is perfect.

As Steven Wright has said,
If everything seems to be going well, you have obviously overlooked something.


Often at the end of the semester we look back at how it has gone—what happened, what we learned, what we regret. Who am I? What kind of person am I becoming? Have you found yourself asking these questions, looking back at the semester’s highs and lows, wishing you had done this or that…

I’m going to go back twenty years.  I call this self-reflection by the tense of
Past Imperfect: From Azalea Trail Maid to Black Lives Matter

Time present and time past
Are both perhaps present in time future,
And time future is contained in time past….
Do not let me hear
Of the wisdom of old men, but rather of their folly,
Their fear of fear and frenzy, their fear of possession,
Of belonging to another, or to others, or to God.
The only wisdom we can hope to acquire
Is the wisdom of humility: humility is endless.
                                                            T.S. Eliot, Four Quartets

Let me tell you of my folly. I was not always a feminist. I was not always so concerned about racial justice. I was not always a theological ethicist.

I grew up in Mobile, Alabama, where the last slave ship brought cargo of enslaved Africans aboard the Clotilda in 1859. Twenty years ago, during my senior year of high school, I was an Azalea Trail Maid. Believe it or not, it was seen as quite an honor in my hometown. Basically, 100 female high school students were selected and we dressed up in antebellum dresses and made frequent “appearances” at civic functions and holiday parades. Our outfit included: antebellum hoop dress, lace hat, parasol, lace gauntlets, cummerbund, bow, pantaloons, and shoes dyed to match our dress color. We were instructed to always act “like a lady,” which meant, according to the pink book: “Do not, under any circumstances, complain that you are tired, uncomfortable, hot, cold, or anything to a visitor. Learn to smile under all conditions!”

This is a big thing in Mobile. But as I look at it now, it see how it is terribly problematic. And not just because we weren’t allowed to say we were hot on 95 degree days. While the Azalea Trail Maids had been integrated for many years before I joined their ranks in 1995, the whole idea of teenage ambassadors dressed as plantation owners from the antebellum south is its own kind of revisionist history. And we know it was a brutal history. As an Azalea Trail Maid I would stand outside old plantation homes for garden parties, fundraisers, flower festivals, and the like, without ever a mention of the dehumanizing violence that was forced upon slaves on those plantations 150 years prior.

Why did I participate in such a strange and deeply offensive tradition, rooted in unspoken nostalgia masked as civic pride?  Because I didn’t think to question this tradition. I was socialized to accept it as normal.

It took me a long time to begin to see my privileges and to recognize the invisible systems of oppression that operate “as normal” in our world.  My colleague Karen Teel writes about white privilege as a feeling of being “uncomfortable” in my white skin. This is not because I do not recognize that I am a child of God created with inherent dignity. I am. But it is rather because of the power and meanings human attach to whiteness—which make me complicit in an unjust system even before I do anything in that system. Some of you are beginning to recognize these structural injustices now—because the truth is that we live in a terribly unjust world. But we can change. Things can change. Consider the meaning of “past imperfect.”


  • Verb form that combines past tense and imperfective aspect (reference to a continuing or repeated event or state, e.g. used to walk).
  • “Imperfect” comes from the Latin imperfectus, “unfinished,” because the imperfect expresses an ongoing, uncompleted action

Ongoing, uncompleted action.       Like us.

My past has shaped me, but I am not defined by who I was. I was imperfect. I am imperfect. The past imperfect expresses an ongoing, uncompleted action. Aren’t we always “ongoing”?


Twenty years later, I stand in solidarity with student protesters. I profess that Black Lives Matter. That I can do my part to raise awareness of systemic injustices, to condemn hate speech, to do my part to create a world in which every person has what he or she needs to thrive. And we have much work to do together.

Every human life is sacred.


How will you live that out in your own questions, your own commitments, your own lifestyle? How does your past shape your present and empower you towards a future of hope and justice?

I’m going to close with a final reflection about the incarnation—what Christians celebrate at Christmas.

That God became human. What better way to celebrate human dignity than to remember how God chose to become one of us—to enter into the brokenness of the human condition, the messiness of ordinary family life, to teach us about how in our ongoing work for justice we cooperate in God’s plan to redeem the world. Jesuit scientist and theologian Pierre Teilhard de Chardin reminds us that

Purity does not lie in a separation from the universe,
But in a deeper penetration of it.

So as we celebrate human dignity today, may each of us also be willing to look into our own lives and reflect on those areas of work in which we are “unfinished.” Each of us is a work in progress. But we will not be purified in solitary adventures of separation from the universe. No, we realize our humanity most when we stand in solidarity with those who protest injustices, when we deeply penetrate the reality of our broken world. When we meet Jesus in the stable, and the streets, and the soup kitchens, and the dorm study sessions.
Past, Present, Future.
Your story is still in progress. We don’t know how it will end up. And that’s okay.

Dr. Emily Reimer-Barry

Monday, November 23, 2015

"Why Can’t We Be The Model?"

By Dr. Mike Williams

This last week marked an important moment at the University of San Diego as students from the Black Student Union, PRIDE, the DARE Collective, and other allies presented a list of demands with respect to changes they want to enact on our campus.  In this post, I am not going to respond to the specific demands, but instead, I want to voice the reasons why I support their actions and their overall goals, and I why I stand in solidarity with their cause.  I also want to speak honestly about the ways in which I initially responded to the protests and the evolution of my thoughts over the last few days.

Earlier this semester, President Michael Roth (of Wesleyan University) delivered a lecture on the relevance and significance of a liberal arts education.  His main point was that a liberal arts university – such as the University of San Diego – must promote curriculum, programs, and a campus culture that guarantees opportunities for students to learn about, and express, new ideas (liberate), to become passionate about their ideas (animate), to work with others in pursuit of their passions (cooperate), and to take actions to produce the changes they want (instigate).  As I stood in the back of Salomon Hall on Wednesday night and watched students take over the space, respectfully submit their demands, and facilitate a dialogue with other students, faculty, and administrators on the issues that “set their hearts aflame,” I was overwhelmed with the feeling that I was watching students model what a liberal arts education, and changemaking, is all about.

This reaction, where I situated their actions into conceptual categories relating to the liberal arts and changemaking, misses the point of the students’ protest, however.  While I can easily situate their actions into these categories, and while do believe that this sort of student expression exemplifies the liberal arts and changemaking, the students might resist this classification.  I know this now after speaking with numerous students, faculty, and administrators after the protest.  The students who protested, it seems to me, are coming from a lived experience where the very institutions and spaces that many faculty and administrators (including myself) believe are there to support their actions are actually perceived as inhibiting change.  This perspective, however, is one that is difficult for many faculty, administrators, and students to embrace.  For those students who can easily step into the changemaker space to take actions on those issues that they are passionate about, this perspective may seem unfounded.  For those of us (faculty and administrators) who have dedicated our careers to advance the interests of students, to advance civic engagement on and off campus, to advance a campus culture that is more inclusive and accepting, this perspective hurts because it is a critique of what we have created. In other words, speaking for myself and not for others, the “work” that I have done at USD is not just career oriented, it is very personal as well.  Thus, the critique, the distrust, and the belief that what I have created actually inhibits change is difficult to endure since it seems to be a personal attack in addition to an attack against the “business” of USD (many student protesters on Wednesday night referred to USD as a “business” rather than a “university” to highlight this point).

Photo Credit: Dr. Greg Prieto
Thus, I think one immediate reaction to the student demands is defensive.  It is to present them with stories about changes that have taken place at USD over the years.  I left Salomon Hall envisioning ways to share what USD has done over the years, and is currently doing, to address their demands.  I also started scheming of ways to “program” events for the students so that they can advance their interests.  Instinctively, I wanted to “help” and “collaborate” because I believe that in my current position as director of the Hub that I have resources that could be useful for the students.  Instead of taking a step back, taking a deep breath, and pausing to listen to the students in meaningful ways, my inclination was to take action with the students, but also, on behalf of the students. 

I am now convinced that such a strategy is bound to fail without first taking the students’ perspective seriously.  To do this, I believe it is necessary to engage with them in a way that can build trust.  As I was speaking with a colleague on Friday afternoon, and as he was presenting many of these arguments to me, it struck me that what he was suggesting I do at USD is something that I consciously do in other communities – specifically, the village of Makuleke in South Africa.  As I self-reflect, it occurs to me that I have not learned anything “new” about my understandings of community engagement and social action, but instead, the students’ protest, and the conversations that have occurred in the wake of the protests, have given me the space to think critically about how I engage students in South Africa versus how I engage students at USD.  Just like other places where USD provides students with opportunities to practice community engagement (such as, South Africa, Jamaica, or Linda Vista), USD is a diverse community and there is no “one size fits all” model on how to engage with students.  I am grateful that the students’ protests have created the space for me to self-reflect and to think about what this means for how the Hub can engage all of the students at USD more effectively.

What this will look like, I am not sure.  I am stepping back from the inclination to design a program to make this happen.  Through listening, through joining community, through practicing empathy, through practicing immersion at USD, I am hopeful that the processes, institutions, and resources that are needed to turn demands into material change will emerge.  At the protest on Wednesday night, someone asked for an example of university that creates a campus climate and space for action that the students demand.  A student immediately responded, “why can’t USD be the model?” – to which there was applause from everyone in the room.  This is the challenge and the opportunity for our campus community as we move forward.  I have always believed in the power of students to create change on their campuses as well as off their campuses.  For me, the changemaker designation at USD is one that holds us accountable to do this.  The reason I love my job as director of the Hub is so I can be a part of institutional change.  This change, however, must come with student energy, with student critique, and in spaces that are autonomous from USD structures of power.  As a faculty member, administrator, and member of the USD community, I stand in solidarity with the student protesters because they are asking difficult questions that require meaningful cooperation.  I stand in solidarity with them because I believe that what we encourage our campus community to do off-campus, we should encourage them to do on-campus: to practice empathy, to listen, to seek out other sources of knowledge and wisdom, and to take action in ways that promote participatory democracy and inclusion.  These practices and goals are not antithetical to our mission as a university.  In fact, these practices and goals embody what we aspire to be at USD.   

*As always, I invite readers to post your comments – especially if my own interpretations of the goals of the student protesters are inaccurate or misinformed.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Twelve People, Eight Weeks, One Community: A Life Changing Summer

By Madison Ryan '17

I spent this past summer in an unusual way. I was a part of the Mulvaney Immersion Communities for Action and Humility (MICAH) Fellowship with 11 other students - 5 from the University of San Diego and 6 from Saint Mary’s College.

Here’s what I knew going into the summer:
We would live in two housing units at Alameda Point Collaborative. APC is an abandoned US Naval Base that has been converted into over 200 housing units that house and form a community to support formerly homeless families and residents. Each fellow had been placed with a community partner where we would serve throughout the week. I was placed at the Prescott-Joseph Center for Community Engagement in West Oakland where I would help establish a Family Resource Center and assist in the Healing Arts Therapy program. The way the fellowship was set up was very intentional. We were each going to be given a twenty dollar food budget every week to pool with our apartment, and we would be given two vans to utilize between the twelve of us. We were also going to be provided mattresses, basic kitchen supplies, and a folding table with chairs as basic furnishing for the apartment.

I went into this summer thinking that I would meet new people with similar interests, get to see the Bay Area, and have a meaningful internship. I left the summer with a new grasp on who I am and how that relates to the communities I am a part of, family-like bonds, and a tattoo (sorry, Dad!).

It’s difficult to put into words what occurred over the summer, but in the course of eight weeks, I genuinely changed as a person. I went into the summer prepared to give up the comfort of the luxuries I had become accustomed to. What I was utterly unprepared for was the way in which I would be challenged to give up the comfort of the various masks I used to protect my vulnerabilities. In committing to the creation of an intentional community, the twelve of us connected more deeply, authentically, and quickly than I can convey. Rather than coming home from work and scrolling through facebook while eating something I threw in the microwave, I came home from work to cook a meal for the family we had created. In our barely-furnished apartment, we sat at dinner and cried tears of laughter while we shared silly memories we had of our very different families and upbringings. We spent hours planning our grocery and cooking strategies for the week. We biked around the island we lived on and read books and woke up an hour early so our friends could get to work on time and spent time with the APC kids at the playground across the street. We pulled chairs into the kitchen to sit and talk while others cooked. We fought about how much salt to use in our cooking, and whether or not hot sauce should go in the cabinet or the fridge, and, at times, more serious things. We sat together every Wednesday night as a member of our new, temporary family shared authentically in what we called a “case consultation”. We gave honest, sometimes difficult to hear feedback, but always ended the night closer than we had begun. Like all families, we were sometimes passive aggressive, inconsiderate, and complicated, and we spent our Sunday night community dinners working through that - bringing both home cooked meals, transparency, and commitment to bettering our small community to the tables we pushed together to fit all 12 members into one apartment.

For me, this summer was full of feeling loved, accepted, and seen for who I truly am. It was also full of some of the hardest conversations I’ve had and the scariest risks I’ve taken. I came home and had no other way to explain it to people than as an personal “rip the band-aid off” experience. It was often challenging, and, at times, painful, but the ways in which I grew and healed will always make the difficult moments worth it.

I sat alone on the last day of the fellowship and reflected. I looked at the tattoo I had gotten the night before that signifies the lessons I learned and the self-love that I experienced. I realized in those silent, reflective hours what I had really gleaned from the tears, laughter, challenges, and successes that filled my experience. Over the eight weeks, I discovered who I am. I saw my strengths, gifts, and vulnerabilities mirrored in the people I lived and worked with. What’s more, in learning to love them (flaws and all), I learned to love myself. I will always carry that with me.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Creating Space for Engaging Conversations about Food

By An Nguyen '16

Eating is not merely a material pleasure. Eating well gives a spectacular joy to life and contributes immensely to goodwill and happy companionship. It is of great importance to the morale.
-       Elsa Schiaparelli
Providing food at college campus events is nothing novel. It’s how college administrators incentivize students to stop by a lecture, a panel discussion, a book reading, an art exhibit. Unfortunately, full schedules give students minimal time to eat three times a day let alone cook. So it’s no surprise that Dinner With Foodies, a Changemaker Hub and Office of Sustainability sponsored event, offered dinner on a Thursday night to students. However, when they entered the 4th floor of the Student Life Pavilion, the usual stacks of pizza boxes were nowhere to be seen. Rather they were greeted with freshly made falafels, skordalia (garlicky mashed potatoes), yalandjai (stuffed grape leaves), pita bread, grilled eggplant, and Greek mountain tea. Plates from the SLP and reusable Changemaker Hub-branded cups were also available. With the phrase “Love food, not waste” projected on the big screen it was evident that this was no ordinary campus event but rather a sit-down dinner. A dinner date. A dinner date with foodies to be exact.

            Formally invited to the event was Beau Broughton, the San Diego Director of the Humane League, Laura Yamaguchi, a community organizer from Mid-City CAN, Dr. Jonathan Wadley from the USD International Relations/Political Science Dept., and Sam Eller, a third year USD student and fellow changemaker. At the event, students were able to have personal and honest conversations about what they were enjoying at the moment: food. These conversations weren’t merely about food’s taste, aesthetic, or convenience. No. These conversations over dinner were much more interesting. Issues of food justice, sustainable eating, and food education were all on the table, no pun intended. In order to have meaningful conversations, students were divided into small groups and were dispersed all along the SLP 4th floor, led by one of our four food enthusiasts or foodies.

            Dr. Jonathan Wadley became Jonathan for the night, separating his academic self from his more relatable self. He and his group sat down on the carpet area while talking about the ethics of eating meat and dairy products. In other settings, it might be unsettling to talk about the harrowing plight of farm animals especially in factory farms, but at Date With Foodies, students, omnivores, vegetarians, vegans, and everyone in between, were all ears. Students opened up about their own personal views about eating animals for substance.
            Beau Broughton and his group, among many things, talked about how the media has perpetuated the prominence of meat in the American diet. Students also expressed their disgust on how mainstream media use the sexual objectification of women as a tool to push for a more meat-filled diet. You don’t have to go much further down the hill to see a Carl’s Jr. franchise with life-size cutouts of photoshopped models eating burgers in an overtly sexual manner.
            Laura Yamaguchi alongside with four other community resident leaders led a conversation about food justice on the local level. Students learned about the City Heights community and the unmet dietary needs in local high schools, especially for Muslim students who adhere to a halal diet. Students learned that food justice is not just about food, but about people and communities as well.
            Lastly, Sam Eller led his group into conversations about ethical eating when dining others who have different viewpoints on food. Eller also educated students about sustainability initiatives on campus, like our composting program.
Despite hectic schedules that don’t allow students and faculty to enjoy food, let alone talk about it, Date With Foodies gave the USD community a space to talk about something as intimate and controversial as food. During closing time, students shared about how these genuine conversations have emboldened them to act and collaborate with one another to address food injustices on and off campus. In a time when animal agriculture is one of the top contributors to environmental degradation and climate change, in a time when global food waste and global hunger are rampant simultaneously, in a time when our national food policies allow big corporations to heavily commodify food instead of treating it as a human right, in a time when factory farm animals endure cruel treatment that would never be inflicted upon household pets, conversations like the ones during Date With Foodies should be the norm not the exception.

In order to be a campus that develops “ethical and responsible leaders committed to the common good” (Ethical Conduct, USD Core Values), USD, as a collective, needs to address food injustices locally, county-wide, state-wide, and beyond. This can be overwhelming, but talking about these pressing issues with full stomachs, open minds, and good intentions is a good place to start.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Water: A Thirst for Change

By Spencer Dunlap, ‘16
In the Spring semester of 2015, I took an interdisciplinary Sustainability capstone class that had a great impact on me, and forever changed my role as a student at USD. I went from a passive spectator, to an active member of a campus community that emphasizes Changemaking. And what’s so great about being a member of this community, is that if you care enough about an issue, there are plenty of people who are willing to help you find a solution.
The issue that I really care about is water. California is in a state of drought emergency, and USD should be doing it all it can to conserve water. The institution has employed several different water-saving strategies, and is headed in the right direction, but USD students need to be better versed in the issues surrounding water in California. That’s why Sterling Fearing, Hailey Gordon, Angela Hessenius, and I formed What’s Your 20?: a student-led group that has been acclimating USD students to water-related issues since the summer of 2015. The Changemaker Challenge theme for 2015-2017 is “Water: Tap Into Your Ideas,” and What’s Your 20? is playing a critical role in promoting ideas for change from the grassroots level.
Who is directly impacted by the lack of water as a result of the California drought? USD students? Probably not. We do not think about the implications of taking a fifteen-minute shower, or washing a single pair of jeans in the washing machine, because we do not view water as a commodity. For students living on campus, water is essentially free because our parents pay for it. Therefore, our water usage is not cost-prohibitive.
When it comes to conserving water, mindfulness is key. First, students have to start thinking about water. If you care about conserving water, then the easiest thing you can do is start at home. How much water are you using when you do your laundry, or your dishes? Do you take five minute showers, or ten? Do you leave the faucet on while brushing your teeth? Do you drink water from the tap, or from plastic bottles? These are questions we want students to start thinking about. Once we become conscious of our daily water usage, the next step is for us to take action. That’s what Changemaking is all about.
When trying to promote change, role-modeling behavior is extremely important. If you want someone to follow in your footsteps, then you yourself have to exhibit socially responsible behavior. I think Gandhi said it best:
“If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him. … We need not wait to see what others do.”

Below is a list of three simple things that I’ve done, and that I urge all USD students and faculty members to do, that have changed the way I think about water.
1.     Cut shower times by three minutes.
      ·      Did you know that by simply cutting your daily shower time by three minutes, you can save up to six gallons of water per day, and 2,190 gallons per year? So what if all USD students living on campus shortened their shower time by just three minutes this school year? We would save over two and a half million gallons of water! That’s about the same amount of water it takes to fill up four Olympic-sized swimming pools.
o   Here’s the math: 5,741 undergraduate students x 40% live on campus = 2,296 students living on campus x 6 gallons per day x 6 months = 2,514,120 gallons per school year à equates to about 4 (3.8) Olympic-sized swimming pools (660,430 gallons of water per Olympic-sized swimming pool).

2.     No more plastic bottles.
      ·      Did you know it takes more water to produce the average sixteen-ounce plastic bottle than the amount of water that is actually in the bottle? What is more, plastic bottles can pose a huge threat to the environment if they are not recycled properly. So why do we continue to buy plastic bottles of water instead of simply bringing a reusable bottle from home? Here is a list of the locations of different water filling stations around campus:

3.     Eat less meat (or none at all).
      ·      Did you know that it takes nearly 2,000 gallons of water to produce one pound of beef? Cutting back on your overall meat consumption is an easy way to also reduce your water consumption. I would suggest simply picking a day of the week to skip out on meat entirely (Meatless Mondays maybe?).
What’s Your 20?, in collaboration with the Changemaker Hub and the Office of Sustainability, has done a stellar job so far this semester with education and outreach about water-related issues. In September, USD played host to the Water Matters Panel, which brought experts on water usage and the drought together for a conversation about various water-related issues.  One comment from the panel that really resonated with me, was that we (San Diegans) cannot conserve ourselves out of a drought: we need innovation.
Yes, we do need innovation, and what better place to find innovation than on a college campus? Sustainability is inherently interdisciplinary, and requires like-minded people to come together to solve issues related to the surrounding environment, i.e., the USD campus. That is why What’s Your 20? is working with several students and faculty members to install rain barrels at various locations around campus. This idea is especially relevant because we are supposed to receive an abnormal amount of rainfall this year due to El Niño.
Thinking long-term, we want to eventually install rain barrels and a cistern near the Science building. But for this year, hopefully as soon as possible, we want to install multiple rain barrels outside of Missions Crossroads, so that the Gardening Club can use the stored water for the community garden. We plan to use these rain barrels by Missions Crossroads as a proof of concept, that we could later apply to other buildings around campus.

One thousand square feet of roof surface can capture about six hundred gallons of water for every one inch of rainfall received. So if we funnel rainwater into rain barrels around Missions Crossroads, which has about four thousand square feet of roof surface, we could capture up to twenty-four hundred gallons of water every time it rains an inch. 

Our rain barrel project has many Changemaking implications. Once the barrels have been installed, we could have Engineering students develop a monitoring device that tracks the amount of water inside the barrels. We could also have Art students paint the barrels and add slogans like "What's Your 20?" "U Are Here" and "Be Blue Go Green.” Furthermore, we could bring students from the Sustainability LLC to the garden to teach them about water catchment, gardening, and composting. Sustainability and Changemaking both rely on interdisciplinary collaboration, and I believe this project would bring students from many different backgrounds together to create positive change at USD.