Caring for Our Community - Education for Justice & Leadership in an Uncertain World

Caring for Our Community - Education for Justice & Leadership in an Uncertain World

By Eran DeSilva, Director of Faculty Professional Development & Social Studies Teacher

Our world is dynamic and uncertain right now, changing day-by-day. We are called to be flexible and nimble as we respond to the daily needs of our students. Despite the challenge of these uncertain times, I find that our core values keep us grounded and united in our work as a community.   

As a society, we are grappling with how to deal with the current crisis effectively and also imagining what life will look like in its aftermath. Our young people have an opportunity and a challenge of stepping into adulthood at this inflection point in history. How will we equip them to be the engaged community members and thought leaders that our world desperately needs? This is the important work that Notre Dame embraces today and will impact the world beyond tomorrow.

In this 10th year of our Education for Justice and Leadership program, the core values of personal responsibility, stewardship, solidarity, and advocacy continue to be relevant and timely for our current reality.  We are committed to live these values in the work we do.  

Our ninth grade class engaged in a meaningful conversation with human rights advocate Carl Wilkens on Wednesday, April 8th. He provided tangible examples of how we can practice personal responsibility in difficult situations and choose to be an upstander in times of conflict or crisis. When students asked how he endured and stayed in Rwanda during the height of violence, Carl shared that “one of the hardest things was not knowing when (the genocide) would end” and that seeing the faces of those he cared about was what helped him to him to “push through.” He then connected that to today’s uncertainty, “I think that this time calls for social cohesion and physical distancing. Courage is contagious.” 

Students and teachers are practicing stewardship as they care for one another in our community. Our sophomores will be hearing a Holocaust survivor testimony on April 27th. They are learning about how they are stewards of historical memories and stories. AP Environmental Science just finished a study of human health and disease, both infectious and non-infectious. COVID-19 was one example that students studied. They looked at how vaccines work, the concept of herd immunity and how infectious diseases are transmitted. With this knowledge, students are better equipped to be good stewards of their community.

Our integrated humanities program is exploring solidarity in a variety of ways. Many religious studies courses are exploring local issues around wages, unemployment and rent assistance in the hopes of identifying ways to stand in solidarity with those hit hardest by this crisis. In some English classes, students are reading about dystopias and exploring questions about identity and belonging that are salient in public discourse today. Students in Government will consider the budget and policy-making process and how to balance economic, social and political needs to promote public good.

Student leaders from TASC Justice, Lighthouse, and Facing History hosted a teach-in on April 4th entitled From Anger to Action. The event focused on skills for productive, healthy advocacy. There were keynote speakers and workshops including Successful Activism Through Social Media which explored case studies such as Black Lives Matter. Sister Mary Johnson shared her theological study of Catholic Social Teaching and how it can inform our responses to the current global health crisis.

Our hope is that a Notre Dame education helps students become compassionate, thoughtful and engaged community members. This is what our world needs right now - individuals who act for justice, boldly step into leadership, and bring goodness to those they meet.