an open letter to my students who live in a scary world

Hello there Cortina-folk.

THANK YOU for the rich discussion tonight. I think that these are issues near and dear to each one of us in different ways and I think it is important to acknowledge the frustration and fear that we might feel when we talk about them.

Mostly I want to acknowledge these feelings because there are very legitimate things to fear in our world. It is not productive to have these conversations pretending that this is not the case.

In our short lives, many of us have already felt the pain of violence & stereotyping. I think that the question we have to ask coming out of tonight is:

How do I love a scary world? Or, as Jesus put it, “love my enemies”?
(These could be physical enemies or people who pose a threat to my way of seeing the world).

The difficulty that Alex so aptly and practically brought up tonight is that there is a reality to danger. But the difficulty of always feeling this danger is that if we live in fear, we always feel the need to protect ourselves. If we always need to protect ourselves, there is no openness to anyone who is a stranger or who doesn’t live within the space of our daily interaction. If there is no openness to the stranger, there is no openness to the truth of anyone’s life that is not our own or those close to us. And often this proliferates what Jordan named for us: Confirmation bias. It is nice to have our biases confirmed; it makes us feel ideologically safer and in turn, physically safer.

Though this might be discouraging, do not lose heart! I don’t have to throw caution to the wind to love my enemy (or neighbor who I don’t know). I don’t have to leave my door unlocked at all times or run at 2am or wander aimlessly about an area I know nothing about and pretend like there is nothing dangerous about that. In fact, loving my enemies should be much more intentional than that.

Sometimes we have to start small and recognize our own biases and decide to not look everywhere to confirm them. Even that small act is an act of love. It is an act of hospitality to make room for the fact that someone may not be just who you think they are. This doesn’t mean you will get to know every person you have preconceived ideas about  or that you will invite every person you are scared of into your home, but it does allow you to engage your mind in a way that allows you to not be paralyzed by fear. Fear doesn’t allow your mind to expand, it makes it contract, shut down. FIGHT OR FLIGHT! We can’t fight or flee our whole lives. That is not conducive to living, but neither is only finding comfortable spaces where our ideas about what is good, normal, safe, or acceptable are consistently re-affirmed.

A brilliant man named Parker Palmer runs something called The Center for Courage and Renewal. In his book, To Know as We Are Known, he wrote these words that will challenge me until the day I die (and you’ll see him quoted elsewhere in my writing for this blog):

Hospitality is a central virtue of the biblical tradition itself, where God is always using the stranger to introduce us to strangeness of truth. To be inhospitable to strangers or strange ideas, however unsettling they may be, is to be hostile to the possibility of truth; hospitality is not only an ethical virtue but an epistemological one as well. Hospitality is not an end in itself. It is offered for the sake of what it can allow, permit, encourage, and yield. A learning space needs to be hospitable not to make learning painless, but to make the painful things possible, things without which no learning can occur—things like exposing ignorance, testing tentative hypotheses, challenging false or partial information, and mutual criticism of thought. Each of these is essential to obedience to truth. But none of them can happen in an atmosphere where people feel threatened and judged. 

How is our lack of hospitality a judgment that disallows real learning about each other and about the world? AHH. It is scary for me to think about how I do this to people all the time. Read Palmer’s passage again. You’ll see something new every time.

Yet again though, this is hard a hard truth because fear is deeply ingrained in us. For many of us it might take years of counseling to trust anyone again, to be “hospitable to the stranger” (even in our minds!). Here is my admonition:

do that work.

It is worth it. Do any work that you can to open yourself up. In opening up, we are able to not only give, but also receive love in a more full, abundant way.

It takes practice to make that space, and I am still learning to do so as well. It is equally important that we don’t assume everyone wants to get to know us or be our friends or have our “hospitality” forced on them. There is a balance. And it is hard. Have grace with yourselves, and others. That is loving ourselves and loving our enemies. And both of those seem important. If we can’t love ourselves through the scary things we see inside of our own hearts and minds, how will we do that for and with anyone whose heart and mind we don’t have direct access to?

Anyway, I just felt overwhelmed by your good questions and engagement today and I wanted to say “Thank you.” I would love to talk to any of you that would like to dig further into this & I would welcome any ideas you have about continuing one of many of the rich conversations that were begun tonight.

With gratitude,
Annie

Come to “Pastries and Postcards” for Immigration Reform

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The Cortina Community has been invited to be a part of the movement to pass immigration reform in the United States. An event called “Pastries and Postcards” will take place on Monday, Feb. 10 in the Deglman lobby from 5:30-8:30 p.m. Students will have the opportunity to sign a postcard for immigration reform and enjoy baked goods from the International Bakery.

Additional tabling on campus will occur on Tuesday, Feb. 11 in the Skutt Student Center from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. All signed postcards from the week will be presented to U.S. Congressman Lee Terry when he visits Creighton’s Center for Service and Justice on Feb. 18 to discuss comprehensive immigration reform with students.

The tabling is a part of February’s Ignatian Family Advocacy Month (IFAM). A group of Creighton students attended the Ignatian Family Teach-In for Justice in Washington, D.C. last November, and this month is intended to educate the campus about important social justice issues and continue the conversations with elected officials that were started at the event.

Kelly Sullivan, one of the organizers of Pastries and Postcards, explains the importance of needing reform for our country’s immigration system.

“Well first, coming from a Catholic institution, we see that Catholic Social Teaching tells us that it is our ‘duty to welcome the foreigner out of charity and respect for the dignity and rights of the human person.’ There are many ways our current immigration system does not uphold the human dignity of immigrants that we think needs to be fixed.”

The Ignatian Solidarity Network gives several examples as to why our system is broken:
1. Families are torn apart: There are ways on paper that allow family members to be united, but backlogs of up to 22 years force families to decide between separation or illegally entering the country.
2. Talent is wasted: Approximately 1.8 million individuals currently residing in the U.S. were brought here at a young age, but their lack of legal status prevents them from reaching their dreams and puts them at risk of deportation to a foreign country.
3. Workers are exploited: Migrant workers are consistently exploited and forced to work in unsafe conditions.
4. Suffering is ignored: Our asylum and refugee system is under threat, and rather than treating these oppressed peoples with compassion, the system treats them as potential terrorists and subjects them to lengthy delays.
5. An increasingly militarized border: The misguided border militarization of the last decade has cost $100 billion, doubled the size of the Border Patrol without sufficient screening, training or accountability, led to over 6,000 dead and murdered immigrants, and allowed widespread civil and human rights violations.

Sullivan also emphasizes the importance of acting now.

“Waiting will only continue to tear families apart, and the numbers crossing the border will not change. The Senate passed a bill (S. 744) in 2013. A similar comprehensive bill (H.R. 15) was introduced in the House, but has not been put on the floor to vote. We recognize that no bill is ever going to be perfect for both sides, but inaction is not the answer. We would like to see humane immigration reform passed this year before other issues become the center of discussion and the immigration reform is forgotten while the problems are exacerbated.”

Rep. Lee Terry’s visit to Creighton will allow him to hear what his constituents are asking for and give students the opportunity to have direct interaction and voice their opinions. If you are interested in being a part of the meeting, contact Cat Keating at CatherineKeating@creighton.edu.

For more information and resources about immigration, visit the websites below. You can also visit and like the CU for Comprehensive Immigration Reform Facebook page.

Justice for Immigrants Campaign – a campaign under the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops
Interfaith Immigrant Coalition
United We Dream – immigrant youth building a movement for justice
Ignatian Solidarity Network, response to House Republican Perspectives

Embracing Discomfort and Conflict: A Community Time Recap

Conflict is inevitable in a large community, especially one full of people who are so passionate about the world around them.

This week’s Community Time focused on conflict and how to engage in healthy discussion. The Resident Advisors planned a series of statements that were projected onto screens and addressed important topics relating to life in college.

In the open space of the room, we were asked to either stand at one end of the room by an “Agree” sign or at the opposite end by a “Disagree” sign. If we were unsure of our opinion, we were welcome to stand in the middle.

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At first the sentences were very personal but fairly straightforward:

I am honest.
I am open-minded.
I am tolerant.

Knowing yourself and coming to a quick decision as to where to go in the room was the initial challenge.

After having an understanding of the activity, the next sentences put on the screen were purposely vague and open for interpretation. In addition, the statements focused on more controversial ideas. Here are a few of them:

I think going to parties is integral to building relationships.
I think experimentation is integral to the college experience.
I think it is harder to be a man than it is to be a woman.
I think that an understanding of God is crucial when doing service.

The use of language was significant in the exercise and truly shaped your opinion of the statement. For example, “experimentation” could be understood in numerous ways. One person could think it means exploring new classes or interests while another could interpret it as experimenting with drugs or alcohol.

As the microphone was passed around the room, we heard from community members who opened up by sharing their thoughts on the statements and why they chose to agree, disagree or remain undecided. While listening to each other and thinking about the statements from a different point of view, we could chose to move to the other side of the room if we changed our minds.

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Because the statements were written in the first person, a very personal approach was taken with the activity. We each have unique experiences that shape who we are and the way we think, making us feel strongly about certain issues but open for new ideas relating to other topics.

After over an hour of commotion and engaging discussion, the three final statements gave us the opportunity to once again move to a position on either side of the room but also reflect on our evening:

I am surprised.
I am moved.
I am uncomfortable.

To end the evening, we watched a video interview with Fr. Roc O’Connor, who shared his thoughts on discomfort and joy.

By stepping outside our comfort zone, we learned a great deal about each other, not only in the ways we are different but also how we are the same. Even if we disagree, we know that we are motivated by the desire to be our best selves and change the world.

As we spend the semester learning about social justice issues, disagreements will be expected, so listening to community members and respecting their opinions will help us build a stronger Cortina community.

She’s Coming “Home”: Allison Dethlefs speaks to her time in the DR

The following letter was written by Allison Dethlefs, a Junior at Creighton, and a Formation Group Leader in the Cortina Community. She was doing the Encuentro Dominicano program in the Fall, but she and her roommate Selina Marshall (another DR traveller) will be joining us in Deglman in the Spring.

Dear friends and family,

I firstly have to apologize for being so out of touch over the past semester. As with many of the best intentions, my intentions to keep up with regular updates quickly fell to the bottom of my priority list as life in the Dominican Republic set in. It’s hard for me to believe that my four months here are almost coming to a close. In another week and a half I will finally be back to the United States–this time without jetting off to another country a week after I arrive.

As hard as it will be for me to leave here, I am very excited to see you again and catch up on all of the life that has happened in the in between. I don’t know if it’s been this way for you, but at least for me, it’s been a crazy past six months…

***

I was thinking about it today as I rode a small motorboat out into the beautifully blue Dominican sea, the wind whipping through my hair, the salt staining my lips and stinging my eyes, white spray leaping and dancing around us as the bottom of the boat smacked hard against the waves, our destination, Cayo Arena, literally a small sand bank in the middle of the ocean. I thought about all that I’ve done in the last half year, all the places I’ve been, all the people I’ve met. Three countries. Three different worlds, all far apart and very distinct, but for me three back to back chapters of life with hardly a breath in between. As the clouds and shore line whisked by I took stock of it all, let the sheer breadth of what I’ve experienced sweep over me.

I feel like I’ve seen so much of the world since I stepped on that first plane, although I know in reality it’s all just the tip of the iceberg. I’ve climbed mountains, swam in oceans, and walked through desert sand. I’ve trekked through jungles and glaciers, swam in rivers, and rappelled down waterfalls. I’ve explored extravagant cities, run-down slums, quiet rural campos up in rolling green hills, and bustling tourist towns. I’ve eaten and learned to cook new foods, learned to dance to new rhythms, gained a new life soundtrack, and been a part of lively night life scenes. I’ve ridden in the back of pickup trucks, on guaguas, and conchos, mototaxis, M1 buses, combis, taxis, planes, boats, buses, and possibly soon a motorcycle. I’ve seen stars at night that I never knew existed, run through cities where the air is a mix of dust and smog, and played soccer and volleyball on cement basketball courts. I’ve worshiped in new ways, reflected much on my purpose and calling in this world, and become passionate in a new way about doing my part to bring about a more just and peace-filled world. I’ve taken hundreds of pictures and left drawings, paintings, murals, crafts, and napkin cranes scattered in my wake. I’ve seen ancient ruins cloaked by rolling clouds at sunrise, stood on top of the highest peak in the Caribbean, and looked down from a bridge that divides two countries over a river that will forever be stained with the blood of thousands of innocent people.

I’ve learned so many stories and met so many people, so much history and so many lessons. I’ve studied peoples and their cultures and pasts, listened to their hopes and dreams and fears, what makes them laugh and what makes them cry. I’ve played with so many kids, cooked in so many kitchens, ate at so many tables, and slept in so many beds. I’ve lived and learned and loved in another language. I’ve become a part of new communities, gained families in three new countries to the point where I’d have to think about who you meant when you asked me about my mom or dad, or siblings. I have split my heart into more pieces than I thought possible and been given so much more than I ever thought my heart could hold. I’ve laughed more than I’ve laughed in years, cried my fair share, been challenged, and pushed, humbled and broken, motivated, and moved, and infinitely blessed.

It has been such a great adventure. It has not always been fun or easy. I’ve come out with many more questions than answers, and no, perhaps I’m not ready for it to be over. The goodbyes never seem to get any easier, no matter how many I have to say. But I don’t regret any of it, wouldn’t take a second of it back. These six months have been filled with the deep, true kind of joy that one only finds when she goes out, opens herself up and gives herself away, despite the pain and the cost.

And now it’s time to go home, although I don’t know that that word will ever mean the same thing to me again. I’ve become a part of too many loving homes now to say that my heart will ever be content and complete with just one. I am excited to see all of my family and friends, to hear their stories and share my own, and–difficult though it will be–to begin the slow process of integrating myself back into “normal” life. I wonder how I will fit into the hole that I left now that I’ve changed so much, how badly the stretching and squeezing will hurt. I hope that it won’t require me to leave anything behind. But I know also that I must not live in fear–that it’s all just a part of the bigger adventure, more chapters of the story to write, more to learn, new ways in which to grow, and new mountains to climb. Nothing lasts forever, and everything has its season. It’s time to pack up my memories, sling them on my shoulders, pick a new star on the horizon, fill up my water bottle and move on. Because even though this part of my adventure is almost finished, I’m not done yet. My story is yet incomplete. And no matter where I go, Mother Teresa’s words will forever apply: “Yesterday is gone. Tomorrow has not yet come. We have only today. Let us begin.”

***

So, there you have it. A snippet of what’s been going on in my head and life. Naturally that’s the abbreviated, big picture version with all of the real stories left out, but I hope that will give me an excuse to catch up with you face to face when my last plane has dropped me back into the death grip of winter and the craziness of the Christmas season fray. I look forward to all of the conversations and picture sharing to come and wish you the very best as the end of the year approaches. I may have been far away, but you have always been and continue to be in my thoughts and prayers. May you take full advantage of whatever adventure you’re living and squeeze the life out of each beautiful second with which you are blessed.

Muchos abrazos–lot of hugs–

Paz,

Allison Dethlefs

The Possibility of Halloween

If you’ve walked through Deglman lobby recently, you’ve seen photos from CU Boulder’s Campaign:

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Students have been having a written conversation in the lobby about their thoughts on this campaign:

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What are your thoughts??

Formation Group Leader Natalie sent an e-mail with this link and some comments. It addresses this idea from another angle:

Captain America in a Turban

This article beautifies the strides our country is taking in the movement of accepting people of all kinds. No one, young or old, male or female, should be limited in their costume choice just because of their race or religion. Who ever said Captain America couldn’t be a Sikh with a turban and a beard? 

From these two campaigns/articles, we see that Halloween has the capacity to bring up a lot of statements, hurt, sensitivities, triumphs, beliefs, et cetera.

How can you use Halloween as an opportunity challenge stereotypes instead of play into them? How can we become CREATIVE instead of DESTRUCTIVE? What are your thoughts about dressing up for Halloween? Is this a big deal?

A Call for Consistency: A Reflection on the Macklemore Controversy

A really startling thing has been happening around me in the past couple of weeks.

Perhaps it has always been going on, but being in Cortina, for a second year, constantly surrounded by hopeful discussion and work towards human dignity for all, has really illuminated this issue for me.

Perhaps it is because I hate the hypocrisy within myself so much that hypocrisy becomes for me the most heinous kind of action to observe in the world around me.

I’m sure someone will read this as SUPER preachy, obnoxious, and prying, and you should know that I’m totally open for discussion. Please come talk to me about this if it strikes any sort of chord with your soul, whether a pleasant one or not.

But I am going to say this now, because this issue has really become frustrating and confusing for me, and I want to say something about it to all of you, and maybe someone who agrees with me and wants to preach to the choir will read it, and I will make a new friend. On the other hand, maybe someone who totally disagrees with me will have the respect and courage for me to talk to me about it, and I will see something new from the opposite side that I never saw before. Or maybe I won’t, and we will agree to disagree. Hopefully we would be able to respect each other as people, outside of what we think of each others’ ideologies.

That last paragraph I wrote is coming from the best possible version of myself. I regularly become annoyed with people who do not see the world the same way I do, and only in my wildest dreams could I perfectly live up to the ideal I set for myself there.  AHHH!!! This illustrates so perfectly the very thing that I needed to verbalize, and please know that it means I trust and respect all of you A LOT to be actually submitting this to the blog.

HERE’S THE ACTUAL POINT OF THIS BLOG POST:

(nervous Brooke)
The reactions to the Creightonian editorial letter from the Macklemore protestors, and a ton of Facebook comments that random ultra-conservative blog posts get when my friends post them to Facebook, just look like a complete lack of coherence in claims for tolerance and actual treatment of those different than us.

If we claim that we are fighting for the equality and dignity of all people, how does that give us any right to treat those who seem to oppose us in our “fight” as any less than whole people?

When racist, sexist, homophobic opinions are found by those around me, either on the Internet or elsewhere, they are thrown down with such fervor that the line between the opinion and the person who holds it is lost.

I wholeheartedly disagree with the Macklemore letter-writers’ opinion on gay marriage, and I want to make that clear, because any vagueness on my part would make you question my motives for writing this. But when a very diplomatic and well-written letter calling into question Creighton’s support of an artist on moral grounds was published by the Creightonian, some of the people that I love and respect, and most of the time agree with, responded in mean, spiteful, and personally insulting ways. Of equal importance, in my opinion, was the way that those students’ right to write about and publish their opinion was dangerously questioned and slammed down. Whenever a change is being implemented in society, there are going to be a wide range of opinions about it. Some may be blatantly wrong. Personally, again, I disagree with what they were asking Creighton for and why they were asking it, and I know that some super hypocritical stuff  was found on that guy’s Twitter. But I’m not here to talk about that.

This is not an isolated event. Sometimes, when we live in the bubble of a Midwestern, justice-focused, liberal arts university, we forget just how much of the world of ideas lives outside this bubble. It’s been increasingly common for people I love (on BOTH sides of the polarized political spectrum), as well as generally fantastic websites like Upworthy, to use the Internet to post an article, blog, or piece of art made by someone of a very different worldview than their own, and then absolutely vilify that person for stating their opinion. Obviously, many of the people who comment on it are also shocked at the “backwardness” or racism, sexism, homophobia, etc. of the original writer. While I do think it is totally appropriate and necessary to discuss and even debate controversial and emotionally-charged topics that are often the focus of these articles, we cannot claim to be in support of human dignity and equal treatment when we dehumanize the people behind the opinions. It’s a matter of consistency, as well as just common decency (something that is increasingly lost in our social-media-crazed, politically polarized world).

People! We seriously don’t have to be a part of this craziness! We can be different. We can start something within our community where we don’t just have respectful discussions within our community, but have actually well-thought-out and respectful answers to opinions we don’t agree with. Diplomatic and sincerely kind but educated and strong. Isn’t that who we want to be in the end? There’s a balance there, and it hangs delicately. That’s certainly who I am hoping and trying to become. Because a world full of people like that is a world that’s actually going to move in a positive direction.

-Brooke F.

Fall Break Immersion Trip Reflection: Victor in New Orleans

In the spring semester of my junior year as an undergrad I remember watching a new show that had just premiered on MTV called “The Buried Life.” The show is a reality documentary series that follows 4 friends who travel across North America as they try to complete a list of 100 things they wanted to before they die. For every item that they cross off of their list, they help a random stranger achieve one of their dreams and encourage them to complete their own lists. I instantly fell in love with the show and could not wait for each week’s episode. There was one episode in particular that I still remember to this day because it absolutely ripped my heart out.

The group of guys travel to New Orleans where they meet a girl named Queen. In 2005 when Hurricane Katrina devastated the city, Queen’s world was torn apart when she found out that both her mom and her dad had died as a result of the storm. In the chaos that ensued in the following weeks and months after the storm had passed, thousands of people were displaced all over the country, including Queen’s parents. Queen’s mom was transferred to Colorado where she was buried.

Because she was working to piece her life back together, and because of the lack of available funds, Queen was never able to go visit her mom’s grave. “The Buried Life” worked at a local restaurant in New Orleans and used the tips they earned to buy Queen a plane ticket to go to Denver. The episode concludes with two of the guys arriving with Queen at the graveyard where her mother is buried. Queen finally finds the grave and just crumples to the floor and proceeds to sob on her mother’s grave as she says, “I miss you, mom.”

(This intro to the show includes a few seconds of Queen’s story) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GrzWS7fNq74

Here we are, 8 years after the storm, and New Orleans as a whole is still trying to recuperate. During our tour of the city we took a drive to the 9th ward, one of the neighborhoods most heavily impacted by the flooding. Many of the houses still lay vacant, abandoned by their previous occupants who were too overwhelmed by the recovery process, choosing instead to move to another area of city or to leave the city altogether. It was truly heartbreaking to imagine having to leave a city that I have called home for my entire life and no being able to go back. People work so hard to start a family and create a life for themselves in a community, and so many of the people in New Orleans had that literally washed away in a single, tragic day.

Even though hurricane Katrina was such a catastrophic event, there were so many great things that came out it. Community members joined forced to rebuild the city that they called home. Support from all over poured in to assist with this effort. One of those organizations was the St. Bernard Project, a nonprofit started in 2006 that helps rebuild homes damaged by the storm. http://www.stbernardproject.org/about-us/

During our service time we got to paint the exterior of the house and assist with various construction tasks around the property. Our site supervisor, Molly, talked to us about the history of organization and the type of people that they help. She said that about 65% of the people who they assist were scammed by contractors who would promise cheap labor and then leave town as soon as they got the cash they were after. As if it wasn’t bad enough losing their home, they also got scammed out of the only money they had to rebuild. I was so infuriated by this and could not believe that anyone would do that. The SBP is doing so much good in the area though and I’m so glad that people are getting to benefit from their work. I’m so excited to see what the house that we worked on ends up looking like.

At our second service site we worked at a community garden that’s part of the regional chapter of ARC in New Orleans. ARC is an organization that works with people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. During our debriefing it dawned on me how unfairly we treat adults with disabilities. We treat so many of them like children and assume that they can’t do anything for themselves. I really liked the fact that ARC provides them the opportunity to get out of the house and to learn life skills that they can use in the future.

The fact that our site leader had such a personal connection to the work that she was doing, was really inspiring. The love that she has for her son (who has Down syndrome) was beyond heartwarming. I still tear up every single time I think about the story she told us about the joy that her son gets from talking to his older sister on the phone every day. She said that he calls her every day, usually in the morning when she’s sleeping. One day he called her and when she answered he said, “Hi sis, I know you’re sleeping, but I just wanted to call you and tell you that I love you.” I still don’t know why, but that just hit me so hard. It stuck with me all day and I kept crying just thinking about it.

On the last day we were there we had a meeting with the Young Leadership Council of New Orleans. http://ylcnola.org/. The organization is a nonprofit that works on developing leadership throughout the city through community projects. How I understood it is that it’s basically a nonprofit that helps others start their own nonprofit. The model that they use to help different groups get started up is really interesting and it’s not something I have seen before. So many people (including me) have all these ideas for groups or projects that they would like to start, but they simply don’t have the resources and help that they need to make those ideas become a reality. What I learned from them as well is that it doesn’t always have to be a huge project in order to make a difference in the community. It’s more about finding out what the community needs and what you can do to satisfy that need.

Overall, this was one of the best weeks I’ve ever had. On top of getting to explore a new city and community, I got to learn a lot about the other people who went on the trip. Nothing makes you bond more than drooling on each other in a van for 17 hours and throwing shampoo and body wash over the community shower stalls all the while belting out songs. One thing for sure is that, this is a week I’ll never forget.

Fall Break Service Trip Reflection: Kelsey in West Virginia

Up until my service trip to West Virginia, I had only ever read or heard about the kind of poverty I encountered on my trip. As Sister Pat put it, generational poverty has a unique culture of acceptance with a mindset of hopelessness. We passed miles and miles of small homes that were falling apart, grown over, windows broken, and roofs partially caved in. We saw a mountain top literally removed from the surface of the earth, leaving exposed rock where thousands of years of wildlife once existed. We talked to individuals who fell innocently into devastating and violent addictions to prescription drugs due to work-related injuries and improper pain management. We learned the hold mining industries have on the community, offering high paying salaries in an economy where jobs are scarce and the dangers of mining is worth the risks and health sacrifices.

With destruction existing in every facet of their lives, I never thought West Virginia could also hold such beauty and heroism. Thinking about the nature, history, music and traditions of Appalachia still gives me goose bumps. We drove throughout southern and central West Virginia, needing no more than the beautiful Appalachian mountains in autumn to keeps us entertained. West Virginians have an incredible appreciation for Appalachia and a history of unyielding devotion to their families and community. If there is one story of WV’s history I will always remember, it is one that Tom Breiding shared about the term “redneck.” Men unionizing against oppressive coal companies wore red handkerchiefs around their neck to symbolize their unity. Although the red handkerchiefs were once a symbol of solidarity and justice, it has been popularized to refer to uneducated, poor, and conservative “hicks” by the very people the unionizers were standing against. We also had the privilege of visiting heroic women in West Virginia. We met a 21 year old single mom of a two year old (child genius) and 3 month old. Despite coming from an abusive relationship and a poor family, she works hard each day, working towards an accounting degree so she can own her own home one day—a feat most women in the area do not expect themselves to do. Her persevering strength is an inspirational spark of hope for others in the community.

While we were exposed to some of the tragedies in West Viriginia, we had the privilege of meeting its beautiful people, dancing to its music, and learning from its experiences.

Alta Gracia on Creighton’s Campus

On Thursday, September 26 at 8:15am, 2 workers from the Alta Gracia Factory in the Dominican Republic will be on Creighton’s campus in Lower St. Johns. If you are interested in hearing about the effects on lives and communities when workers are offered a living wage and good working conditions, this will be an event you won’t want to miss. As a campus who purchases tens of thousands of pieces of apparel each year, this is not an issue to take lightly.
Underneath this poster, you will find reflections by Selina Marshall, a Creighton Student studying in the DR who has had the opportunity to go and visit the Alta Gracia factory!
WorkerTourFlyerComunidad 16 recently traveled to Alta Gracia, located in Villa Altagracia, here in the Dominican Republic, where we got to tour the factory, got to know the workers, and saw how Alta Gracia is impacting the lives of its workers. Alta Gracia, which translates to “High Grace,” is the only factory in the world that supplies U.S. university bookstores with union-made apparel. The workers at Alta Gracia all receive a living wage, which is more than three times the minimum wage in the Dominican Republic; thus, providing the workers a pathway to get out of poverty. This “living wage” is the equivalent to $2.83 per hour in U.S. dollars, and the Dominican minimum wage is only $.84 per hour.
It was personally difficult to accept that the wages these workers receive are so little in U.S. standards. It was even more disheartening to learn that the conditions and wages of Alta Gracia are far from the norm in factories here in the Dominican Republic, especially in the Free Trade Zones. Before the creation of Alta Gracia, the factory was home to far worse conditions, where many of the workers were unable to provide for their families because the wages were so low. Workers also suffered because of the conditions in the factory. They were unable to get water as they pleased, or even go to the bathroom at their own will. When the workers tried to unionize, the previous company closed down operations and moved to another area, leaving those workers unemployed. Unfortunately, this is the reality for many workers around the world because the demand for jobs is so high. Companies know they can go somewhere else if employees begin to fight for better conditions and wages.
Thankfully, Alta Gracia came into the lives of these particular workers. We were able to meet with the workers and learn about their stories of hope and thankfulness due to Alta Gracia. We were welcomed into the homes of two women who were able to build homes for their families, something that would have never been a reality without the living wage they now receive. One of these women even revealed to us that before Alta Gracia, she was not even able to promise her children more than one meal a day. The workers at Alta Gracia are now able to save some of their earnings, which is allowing them to emerge step by step out of poverty.
It was amazing to see the impact of Alta Gracia in these people’s lives, and it is something that is seen in the smiles of everyone in the factory. They are all happy to do their work because of all the blessings they are receiving from Alta Gracia. It was so encouraging to see this type of business model function, and be successful, selling apparel in over 450 U.S. university bookstores. Even more encouraging is to know that Creighton is among these universities, and that we can all do our part by sharing the good news of Alta Gracia on campus, and by encouraging everyone to change lives with the purchase of Alta Gracia clothing.