Broach the subject of diversity with Fr. Hugh Cleary, C.S.C., and he may describe for you the colonnade of Saint Peter’s Basilica in Rome, whose design symbolizes the arms of the church reaching out to welcome all people. “The word ‘catholic’ means universal…” says Fr. Cleary, who recently completed a term as director of Campus Ministry at Stonehill College. “The universal Church cannot be anything other than diverse. Diversity is of its essence.”
That essence is a mission-driven focal point for Stonehill leadership, which undertook a two-year Diversity Task Force study and placed diversity at the center of its long-range plan. Vice President for Mission Fr. Jim Lies, C.S.C., has heard it said that “Stonehill is Catholic but diverse” but understands it differently. “In the ideal, Stonehill is diverse because it is Catholic. We welcome all and honor the human dignity of all for that very reason.”
Academically, adds Associate Professor of Sociology Chris Wetzel, that commitment allows students to develop “a quality of mind that helps them see themselves, their lives, and their experiences as deeply interconnected with those of other people.” This, he says, makes them better able to embrace the foundational tradition of free inquiry, and place their scholarship in a global context.
Outside of the classroom, students, faculty and staff are engaged in grassroots action to ensure that inclusiveness pervades campus culture and deepens learning. Associate Professor Anne Mattina has seen energy gather around this effort since she arrived in 1997, and credits Liza Talusan, director of the Office of Intercultural Affairs (OIA), Assistant Director Tiffany Enos and staff over the years, as well as Janice McGovern, Office Manager, with “opening space for dialogue and education around essential issues.”
Among their many approaches is the Inclusive Excellence Grants program, which lets any Stonehill community member design diversity programming. Their office also offers more than 19 programs timed to accommodate varied study, teaching and work schedules. A student new to the subject of diversity, a senior who has had four years to explore it or a staff or faculty member interested in discussing multiculturalism over lunch – there is something available to them all.
Brittany Frederick ’16 went to the OIA in her first year looking for support and dialogue, and connected with the ALANA-A Brothers and Sisters Leadership program, which brings together African, Latino, Asian and Native American students along with their allies. “It is amazing because it brought together a racially, ethnically and religiously diverse group of students who care about inclusion,” she says. Along with leadership skills, the group trains members to “have effective conversations with others” and a positive impact on campus, says ALANA-A leader Kadian McNeill ’14.
Part of knowing how to talk about diversity is to avoid getting lost in a list of characteristics, from race to body type to food allergies, Talusan says. She simplifies thus: “Diversity is what we are, social justice is what we do,” meaning “if someone’s in a wheelchair, we need to create doorways wide enough to get through … and if someone is Muslim, we need to provide prayer space… We are called to stand with one another.”
Sometimes answering that call is a casual affair, as when students visit the OIA to sit, “hang out, talk to people,” says staffer Parijat Bhattacharjee ’16. Such social solidarity can be an end in itself, or students might sign up for a dialogue series that explores race, power and privilege, or join a discussion group like Men of Service, Academia, Integrity and Character (MOSAIC), for male students of color.
One of OIA’s most popular events is DiverCity, an annual performance featuring dance, spoken word, and music. In a 2013 blog post that began with “AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH SO EXCITED…”, Brianna Dau ’16 explained DiverCity’s appeal: “we all love where we come from, we love music, dancing, words and poems… Most of all, we love sharing these parts of ourselves with others!” Parijat, who grew up in Agartala, India, agrees. Seeing peers perform live traditional dances made her feel like she had the “whole world” at her college.
Campus Ministry works to welcome and accommodate that whole world. While some Hindu and Protestant students choose to attend Mass, Fr. Cleary says, transportation is provided to area churches and synagogues, and a temporary multi-faith prayer space is currently available until a permanent space is determined, a process which is underway. Campus Minister Sarah Fontaine-Lipke is also working with students of other faiths on campus to help them seek out their spiritual needs but also to educate the campus community about the experience of students who are not of the Catholic or other Christian traditions.
Academically, the College supports diversity through curricular innovations such as the 1-credit student-led Integrating Democratic Education at Stonehill (IDEAS) courses. Professor Wetzel says he and Hailey Chalhoub ’13 developed IDEAS courses in order to get students “into smaller spaces where they could talk directly with other students about the ideas that really matter most to them.” Whether discussing breaking down racial and socioeconomic stereotypes, micro-aggression, or “nerd culture,” these students give meaning to the vision of Stonehill President John Denning, C.S.C., who sees Stonehill as a community that recognizes that “we have much to learn and celebrate from encountering people from other cultures, faiths and ways of life, where each person is treated with reverence.”