Exit, Loyalty, and Voice: College Students’ (Lack of) Persistence in the Church in Light of Pastoral and Doctrinal Responses on Gender
Thesis for the BA in Religious Studies from the University of Chicago Divinity School
Gender relates to many of the concerns—from gay marriage to women’s roles—around which emerging-adult American Catholics differ with their hierarchy. Ministers on college campuses responding to such concerns, and to widespread exit from the Church, often propose responding pastorally (in personal terms), and distinctly, responding doctrinally (in political terms). But, through interviews with Catholic undergraduates and campus ministers, I find that that approach’s immediate accessibility belies long-term harm to students’ sense of the Church, and their membership in it.
I find that students face gender-related issues at once personally and politically, in ways that undermine their address in campus ministries. Meanwhile, I find that campus ministers who respond pastorally without addressing tensions in official doctrine to their pastorality, and campus ministers who respond doctrinally without expressing pastoral concerns about official doctrine, reinforce students’ sense of the Church as delimited by intellectual agreement with its doctrine, and more generally, students’ sense of the Church as defined by its hierarchy rather than all of its members. Students are then left without appreciation of potential for their voice to matter in the Church, leaving them without a way to be loyal to both their Church and their socio-morals. So, more and more, they exit.
Published in the Viewpoints section of the Chicago Maroon, the student-run newspaper of the University of Chicago.
We activists can seem impossible to please: We seek a goal—say, a U of C trauma center—and, after years of struggle, the institution gives in. But then we continue to advocate—say, for a U of C Medicine community advisory board—and the process begins again. When will we be satisfied?
But of course, social justice is at once a process and a goal. With the U of C, we’ve achieved a goal—a trauma center—and faster than even many of us in the Trauma Care Coalition foresaw one year ago. But we’re still watching and working on a process. And lately, what we’ve seen has not been promising.
To state the obvious: to remedy injustices like unequal healthcare, we would rather not have to protest. We would rather not have to push for meetings and plan teach-ins and pray on a street corner week after week for years. Yes, doing all that has built incredible leadership and allyship among our communities. But we have yet to see what the U of C has learned from it. Has it learned to value young Black lives? Not only with promises responding to pressure, but with processes to shape its priorities going forward?
That’s why, since January, our Coalition has focused on the U of C Medicine’s talk of a community advisory board. The U of C might institute a board with little diversity, little access to decision-makers, and little power. Many South Siders at our recent town hall meeting explicitly feared as much. But if the U of C institutes a board that seats all of our Coalition member organizations, meets regularly with executives and trustees, and addresses concrete decisions, it can work. And we can work with it.
Unfortunately, even that seems to be in question now. University and Medicine vice presidents told Coalition leaders weeks ago that information about a community advisory board’s composition would be announced at their Urban Health Initiative summit, last Tuesday, May 24. The U of C invited the Coalition to the summit, and we sent several of our leaders. An executive director in U of C Medicine confirmed the announcement with Coalition leaders at the event, saying that it would happen at its close. But no announcement was made.
In asking for such a board, are we activists asking for too much? Not if we seek a long-term process by which the U of C Medicine can register with its neighbors’ many other challenges, like chronic illness. Not if we seek partnership over protest. But if the U of C will not even advance such a process—then, inevitably, these struggles will go on.
Philosophical Policy: Issac's and Diermeir's Inability to Separate Administration from Academia does the University No Favors.
Photo: Wei Yi Ow. Piece published in the Viewpoints section of the Chicago Maroon, the student-run newspaper of the University of Chicago.
On Monday, May 24, at Student Government’s last assembly of the year, outgoing provost Eric Isaacs invoked academic ideals to resist multiple questions about his decisions: “We’re the University of Chicago; we’re really about discussion and debate—we’re not about yes or no questions,” Isaacs said. This would be all well and good were we students in a classroom or faculty at a conference. But Isaacs was addressing his Title IX staffing, minimum wages, meetings, and more—and not in an academic setting.
This recalled Daniel Diermeier’s remarks in an interview with The Maroon last month, after he was appointed Isaacs’s successor. In response to a question about the University’s recent report on free expression and the interruption of a campus event, he said, “You’re going through the philosopher in me again.” When asked about the point at which he could step back from fundraising, he replied, “That’s a great question. That’s another philosophical question, right?”
Wrong. To be sure, answers like “right” and “wrong” or “yes” and “no” are inimical to academics. But by that token, they are essential to administration. Clear, solid decisions are precisely what empower the obscure, fluid investigation for which the University exists.
Or at least, I was emphatically taught as much in my Core classes. In particular, one instructor of mine was both an academic (“Senior Lecturer”) and an administrator (“Director”). Meanwhile, I was a first-year, slow to transition from the rigidity of high school assignments to the flexibility of college ones.
Time and again, that instructor admonished me and my peers when we failed to distinguish between types of problems, not least “philosophical” and “pragmatic” ones. Repeatedly we were warned: confuse pragmatics for philosophy in a paper on, say, sexual assault, and risk not doing justice to the concept; do the reverse with a peer dealing with sexual assault and risk not doing justice to the survivor.
Likewise, professors may study policy; Diermeier undoubtedly did at the Harris School. But at just as basic a level, provosts must make policy. When they don’t—when they pass off as conceptual the critical decisions about assault, pay, speech, and more that they are appointed as administrators to make—then we as a University find ourselves investigated by the U.S. Department of Education, struck by unions, interrupted by protests, and more. Worse, we find ourselves and our peers abused and ignored, underpaid and overworked, silenced and degraded—all of which is inimical to our scholarship at least.
Naïvely, perhaps, in my time here, I have hardly advocated for the issues mentioned in this article, buying instead into the philosophy that students are here to focus on their studies. But given how our administration is jeopardizing our academic lives, that philosophy seems less and less pragmatic. And that seems wrong.
Read the full report at goo.gl/uWIBZS
Our project invites speakers with the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless to College houses for hour-long intimate fireside chat with students, usually on a weekend. So far we’ve reached sixteen houses. This meets the breadth of students where they are, encouraging them to engage speakers’ life stories and experiences with homelessness in an environment that’s familiar and open for all. One second year and community-service czar in Talbot House said:
“[G]etting the chance to talk with people who have experienced homelessness helped me to see that, while homelessness is an issue that affects society, the response to homelessness must take into account the ways that it affects individuals. Most of all, it is important to remember that, while issues like homelessness can change people, no one issue can define a person. Rather, we people, all of us, define homelessness (and other issues) by the way we respond to it.”
Published in the opinion page of the Holland Sentinel, the newspaper of Holland, Michigan.
Freedom of speech is being suppressed! This, at least, is the allegation of this, my hometown newspaper, in its Sunday editorial. In it, The Sentinel expresses “alarm” at Hope College’s having condemned its students’ Confederate flag. For, The Sentinel supposes that educators should entertain all expression neutrally — “no matter how different or frowned upon.”
In defense of its allegation, what does The Sentinel draw from? Not any articulation of values by its own community. Rather, The Sentinel reaches to rhetoric from the University of Chicago — whose college I now attend, three years after graduating from Holland High.
But my experience on the ground at the U of C warns me against such a neat, neutral supposition of freedom. No, developments there have taught me that freedom of expression is only as strong as the values that support it. If we are to value everyone’s voice, then, we cannot allow some to be silenced.
Published in the "Best of the South Side" issue of Chicago's South Side Weekly. Edited by Mari Cohen.
Mr. G’s Supper Club and Entertainment Center
Hundredth birthday party? Motorcycle party? Party bus? Wedding, fundraiser, reception? There’s a good chance that Mr. G’s can host it, and has proven so several times over. And there’s a good chance that residents of the mid- and far-South Sides know it.
“It’s a big place around here,” says Dee Moore, as she and her husband Phil head inside for a wedding. “Big in the neighborhood, that is.”
Located at the busy corner of 87th and Ashland, Mr. G’s, open since 1990, is simple from the outside—long, windowless, and beige. When asked why customers keep coming back, Geron Linton, manager of Mr. G’s and son of its owner, says simply: “Good business: Good service. Good food. Good facilities.” Indeed, in contrast to its exterior, Mr. G’s interior veritably simmers with light and linens. An electric guitarist warms up across the hall. “And great music,” Geron adds.
The younger Linton looks like he is in his twenties and speaks softly. But for the last fifteen years, he has been immersed in all it takes to keep up that good work. He started in custodial, and today has risen to general manager.
Not halfway through his tenure, on February 15, 2006, he met his business’s biggest challenge yet. Early in the morning, the Englewood Fire Alarm Office was alerted to light smoke from the rear of his facilities. Within hours, a three-alarm fire had destroyed Mr. G’s. Details bedeviled recovery. Customers had to be refunded; insurance was limited. “But God was good,” Linton stresses. “We were able to rebuild and everything.”
And of course, the public has kept up business, so much that Linton would like to expand to meet demand—currently, there isn’t enough space to accommodate everyone. He already has three rooms, with capacities between fifty and 250; and unlike a nightclub, he hosts events up to seven days a week. Plus, even when business cools, he offers community benefits—most recently, a block party. But he would still like to be able to serve even more South Siders. “We have our slower months, you know, up and down. But God is good.”
Mr. G’s Supper Club and Entertainment Center, 1547 W. 87th Street. Events close: Sunday–Friday, 1:30am; Saturday, 2:30am. Office open: Tuesday–Saturday, 10am–2pm; Sunday and Monday, closed. (773) 445-2020. mrgssupperclub.net
Photo by Max Herman. Published in the TCR Talks series of the Chicago Reporter.
Philip Nevels stands on Chicago's Jackson Boulevard Bridge downtown. The structure symbolizes the work he does with High Jump, an academic enrichment program designed to help build bridges of opportunity for local youth.
Philip Nevels grew up near the Pullman neighborhood on Chicago’s South Side. Thanks to his single mother and a unique academic enrichment program called High Jump, he attended a military boarding school, graduated from Princeton University, started a business, met his wife and started a family back here in Chicago.
And just this summer, Nevels assumed the role of vice chairman of High Jump’s Board of Trustees, giving back to the program that has given so much to him. He mentors new High Jump students—High Jumpers, as they are called—and helps his fellow alumni support each other professionally and personally.
“My life is basically my wife and three daughters, my professional career, and High Jump. And that's pretty much all I do,” Nevels says. “I encounter a lot of people who have achieved phenomenal success. And a lot of them forget how hard it was to get there, forget how many people it took to get them there. I haven't forgotten. And inasmuch as I can make progress easier for someone else who's 13 or 14 years old, I would like to.”
The Reporter recently met with Nevels to talk about his life and the impact of High Jump.
Written monthly for Elucidations, the University of Chicago's philosophy podcast, hosted by Dr. Matt Teichman.
This month, we discuss Ayn Rand’s moral philosophy with Greg Salmieri, who teaches at Rutgers University and Stevens Institute of Technology and is co-secretary of the American Philosophical Association’s Ayn Rand Society. Click here to listen to our conversation.
But wait: Ayn Rand is most famous for her novels The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged. Where does she fit into mainstream, professional philosophy? Does she fit in at all? Salmieri encourages us to consider Rand with the perspective we afford others who have proven pivotal in philosophy: say, Descartes and Locke. In their own day, Descartes and Locke both did much else besides philosophy; but their larger critiques involved philosophy, and were deepened all the more so because they did not restrict themselves to their day’s philosophy. Those critiques have gone on to shape philosophy profoundly, so much so that today we can take their once-unique approaches for granted – and so we can take their being philosophers for granted. Perhaps we do not yet appreciate the impact Ayn Rand can ultimately have on philosophy?
Regardless of her present or future recognition as a philosopher, Salmieri unearths for us a wealth of ideas from Rand’s work. Rand did above all strive to be a novelist, especially in the romantic tradition of Victor Hugo. But as a novelist, she wrote of epic moral conflicts motivated by people passionately committed to particular values – particular moral philosophies. This broached her probing of what makes a value at once right and objective, but not impersonal or imposed. And it related to her more explicitly controversial perspectives, exemplified not least in her book titled The Virtue of Selfishness.
Join us as Greg Salmieri helps us further make sense of this and other ideas in Ayn Rand’s moral philosophy.
Published in the Viewpoints section of the Chicago Maroon, the student-run newspaper of the University of Chicago.
In an article published last week, “Chronic illness has taken the backseat in trauma center debate” (4/21/15), The Maroon broached the question: Is Chicago’s epidemic of violence more or less worthy of attention than its epidemic of chronic illness?
To which I could not help but wonder: Who are you or I to decide which of these two issues is more important to permanent residents of the South Side?
If the issue of these disparities were only a problem of their respective feasibility, then we could rely on data to inform our opinions about which issue is more practical to address.
But these health disparities are, above all, a problem of priorities. This past January, our state’s Department of Public Health found that unlike all the other medical centers on the South Side, ours can indeed secure the resources needed to sustain a top-level adult trauma center.
Thus, we need knowledge not only to quantify the problems, but also to change the priorities of medical center executives. The question is not just, “What needs to change most?” but also, “Who can actually make change happen?
Four years ago, the trauma care debate was a dead issue. Yet, as evidenced by last week’s article, this issue has been brought back to life in more recent years. This has not happened because of people with so much as a four-year degree. No, it has happened because a handful of our most marginalized neighbors—many of them young, black, and queer—know something better than almost anyone on our campus.
To be sure, they and their communities know chronic illness more than most of us ever will. But even more compellingly, they know chronic violence: As The Maroon itself cited, black youths’ risk of homicide is four times that of white youth, and 26 times that of general Chicagoans. And they know this not just through data, but experience.
Recall: Organizer, musician, and son, Damien Turner, was shot four blocks from our medical center. With no adult trauma center there, or anywhere on the South Side, he was taken 10 miles away, to the nearest of the North Side’s seven trauma centers.
There, just after midnight—four years ago and counting—Damien died, and his peers began their long march toward trauma care.
It’s clear that these youth leaders are able to have a kind of knowledge that bystanders do not, a kind of knowledge that stems from experience and loss—the type of knowledge that has motivated years of organized struggle, and makes change happen.
So before we decide what other issue this or that group should really, ideally evaluate, perhaps it’s time we ourselves raised our voices along with those youth. Perhaps it’s time we made our medical center make trauma care a priority. If we can do that, we’ll know how to make more change happen. We can take up chronic illness next.
Written for the the Calvert House, the Catholic center at the University of Chicago.
Why the Calvert House?
Why, indeed, the Church?
But first—why such hard questions? This is, after all, a newsletter; I’m just supposed to tell you about Calvert’s recent retreat.
So to recount: On a frigid Friday evening, amidst midterm exams and papers, thirty of us students gathered. We supped. We shared. We prayed. We were warmed by the food, fellowship, and faith. It was all very nice. (See the nice picture.)
Why, then, such big, hard questions?
Well, I’m writing for a newsletter, but I’m writing from Chicago. I’m writing from the school where famously, notoriously, ideas trump feelings, and ease doesn't cut it. Nor, in reflection, did that little retreat recount. For since that evening, I’ve realized that the experience was not only nice, but profound; not only relaxing, but empowering. And newsletter though this is, I submit that to understand this power, you have to understand my own larger struggle with Calvert. And to understand my struggle with Calvert, you have to understand my generation’s larger struggle with the Church.
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