Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Education, Privilege, and Jesuit Identity

In his Letter from a Birmingham Jail, Martin Luther King Jr. writes, “Lamentably, it is an historical fact that privileged groups seldom give up their privileges voluntarily” (3).  And while this is quite possibly true in the world at large, I must adamantly oppose King’s suggestion.  Here at Loyola, students, faculty, and staff members are rigorously trying to prove this statement false.  As a college community, we incorporate the Jesuit values of faith, service, and justice into our everyday lives.  We learn these principles in the classroom, and are taught to carry them with us wherever we go.  Slowly but surely, we are discrediting King’s statement by demonstrating that privilege does not inhibit, but rather enables us to promote justice in our world.   

Whether it is enrolling in a service-learning or diversity awareness course, volunteering with CCSJ, giving up spring break for service, sleeping in the Inner Harbor for a night, traveling to a foreign country to live in solidarity with the poor, or signing a petition on the quad, at some point in four years, every Loyola student engages in an active form of social awareness.  To attend a Jesuit institution and not be transformed by experience is nearly impossible.  And while we are privileged to be receive such an education, we can use our knowledge to “let the gritty reality of this world into [our] lives, so [we] can learn to feel it, think about it critically, respond to its suffering and engage it constructively” (Kolvenbach 35).  Our Jesuit education, while a privilege, empowers us to be men and women, for and with others.  

Cliché though it may sound, giving up my “privilege” last March was a life-changing experience.  My Spring Break Outreach group and I traveled to Vanceburg, Kentucky for a week of solidarity and service with the community there.  Rural poverty was something I had heard about before, but never really understood until we set foot in this Appalachian region.  Living and working with the people there changed all of the thoughts I had previously held.  It allowed me to disprove stereotypes and form my own opinions.  Now, my group and I act as advocates for those who shared their stories with us, by passing on the wisdom we received to our friends here in Baltimore.  All of us were so deeply impacted by our time in Kentucky.  The group living proof that “When the heart is touched by direct experience, the mind may be challenged to change” (Kolvenbach 34).  Never before had I been so profoundly touched by an experience, and I have my Jesuit education to thank for it.   

Though I have proven King’s statement false, I realize that not all groups are so willing to give up their privilege.  I think it is because of our Jesuit identity that myself and other Loyola students have recognized the privilege in our lives, whatever it may.  This recognition is the first step in changing the world around us.  What we have been taught, our education, is the sharpest sword used to combat social injustice.  Our privilege, our education, is for the greater glory of God.      

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