La Salle University hosted the 15th annual Lasallian Social Justice Institute (LSJI), July 23-27. Twenty participants from across the country explore this year’s theme, Community Responses to Urban Challenges, through presentations with University faculty and visits to agencies in Philadelphia and Camden, New Jersey that serve underserved communities. Participants are immersed in the urban experience and have several opportunities to reflect on how Lasallians are called to become social justice advocates.
“The Christian Brothers have understood the call to justice since our founder, St. John Baptist de La Salle, walked the earth,” said La Salle University President Colleen M. Hanycz, Ph.D. “I cannot imagine a more fitting topic than how we respond to the challenges the urban community faces: Poverty, food insecurity, racial injustices. It has been said that ‘When we identify where our privilege intersects with somebody else’s oppression, we’ll find our opportunities to make real change.’ This is the Lasallian mission. I hope that participants benefit tremendously from these days of reflection and advocacy.”
“As the poorest of the largest cities in the country with the highest percentage of residents living in deep poverty, Philadelphia has a lot from which participants can learn,” said Kate Ward-Gaus, AVP for Student Wellness Services and LSJI 2018 Planning Team, La Salle University. “With faculty scholars such as Brother Ernest Miller, Dr. Maureen O’Connell, and Dr. Chip Gallagher, and partners developed through University Ministry Service and Support like Face-to-Face, the DePaul Center, the Aquinas Center, Hope Works, Cathedral Kitchen, and the Center for Environmental Transformation, the week provides participants with both the context to understand urban challenges and successful community responses to address them.”
“Being in Philadelphia for LSJI, I have connected with others committed to the Lasallian mission from all over the United States,” said Anne Conway, literary specialist, St. Mary’s University of Minnesota. “Together we learned about poverty in local contexts through observing and discussing the efforts of outstanding service programs in surrounding communities. I am inspired and renewed in spirit to continue serving the students and the program I work with.”
On Tuesday, July 24, Maureen O’Connell, Ph.D., associate professor of religion and Chair of the department, led participants in a Philadelphia murals tour, visiting the art that generates dialogue, empowers communities, and sparks economic renewal.
“There is nothing quite like Philadelphia’s community murals for learning how to go about moving from transactional to transformational ways of teaching and learning. This is public art that literally enables people in Philadelphia to encounter each other across all of the different divides that separate us,” said O’Connell. “As pilgrims experiencing this art, we learn the power of telling stories, of standing in awe of each other, and of what might be possible when people insist that beauty can indeed spark social change.”
On Wednesday, July 25, Charles Gallagher, Ph.D., professor of sociology and Chair of the Department of Sociology and Criminal Justice at La Salle University, discussed how it is possible that the richest nation on earth has 43 million people who live in poverty. “Why is it that about 13 percent of the total U.S. population lives in poverty? Who are these people and what are the sociological reasons for poverty?” asked Gallagher.
LSJI is designed to be experiential, educational, creatively practical, and reflective, and embodies the Lasallian commitment to educating the poor. In previous years, LSJI has focused on violence and peacemaking in Chicago; immigration in Tucson, Arizona, and El Paso, Texas; homelessness in San Francisco, California; and civil rights in Memphis, Tennessee. LSJI is a program of the Christian Brothers Conference.