"Deep Listening" and the Liberal Arts by Amy Hamlin

Dr. Amy Hamlin is the Alberta Huber, CSJ, Endowed Chair in the Liberal Arts, Director of the Evaleen Neufeld Initiative in the Liberal Arts, and an Associate Professor of Art History at St. Catherine University.

 Susan Fiene Brown, Orizonte, 1978. Lithograph. Collection of St. Catherine University [Image Source: Fine Arts Collection, used with permission]

Susan Fiene Brown, Orizonte, 1978. Lithograph. Collection of St. Catherine University [Image Source: Fine Arts Collection, used with permission]

In February, I embarked on a yearlong listening tour of programs, offices, and departments at St. Catherine University. The goal of this tour is to establish a foundation from which to build a sustainable and innovative Evaleen Neufeld Initiative in the Liberal Arts. This is no small task. I am humbled to be in at the ground level of this mission-driven enterprise and honored to be working with and alongside my fellow mission chairs, Kate Barrett (Mission Chair in Catholic Identity) and Allison Adrian (Mission Chair in Women’s Education) in this effort. As the first faculty member to occupy the role of the Alberta Huber, CSJ, Endowed Chair in the Liberal Arts, I believe that the shape, scope, and structure of the Initiative must emerge from the collective voice of individuals in community at our institution. Full disclosure: I have my own ideas about the liberal arts and what will nourish them at St. Kate’s, but this work is not about me. It is about us. Pronouns matter. Listening matters.

You may be wondering what a stop on this listening tour looks like. Charlie Zieke, our intrepid Administrative Assistant in the Center for Mission, and I arrange to meet for about an hour with a given group in a space determined by the office director or department chair. The following questions are furnished both in advance and during the meeting to give staff and faculty an opportunity to respond to specific prompts.

  • Recognizing that our tripartite mission already lives in the work you do at St. Kate’s, how do you relate to and/or understand the liberal arts in your day-to-day occupations? Please feel free to tell a story, use an example, or provide your own definition of the distinctiveness of the liberal arts at St. Kate's.

  • What would you like to see in the months and years ahead that would amplify, enrich, and/or clarify the liberal arts at St. Kate's? What’s on your wish list?

The gatherings typically begin with some combination of formal and informal introductions, an explanation of the meeting’s purpose, and an articulation of strategy. I have Kate, whose mission work is informed by the Sisters of St. Joseph, to thank for the latter. When I first contemplated a listening tour, she recommended I use Table Talk, a strategy espoused by the CSJs. Unfolding in three parts, participants are asked to reflect in silence on a given prompt, then invited to each respond uninterrupted to the prompt, followed by an opportunity to discuss in the group. This process ensures that everyone has an opportunity to speak. Charlie, whose many talents include expert stenographer, transcribes the dialogue as a deposit and archive of the discussion. Participants, who a week later receive access to the notes in a Google doc, are invited to amend and add to their reflection and also encouraged to continue the conversation among themselves.

I’ve learned a lot in these past three months. Among the ten groups that Charlie and I have thus far visited, there is generally speaking an intuitive appreciation of what it means to be a liberal arts university. This is testament in part to the strength of our seven Liberal Arts Learning Goals. Cemented in 2005 under the leadership of Biology professor Martha Phillips, the following goals have become both benchmarks and guideposts for how our institution practices and delivers our unique tripartite mission.

  • Leadership and Collaboration
  • Ethics and Social Justice
  • Diversity and Global Perspectives
  • Critical and Creative Inquiry
  • Discipline-Based Competence
  • Effective Communication in a Variety of Modes
  • Purposeful Life-Long Learning

Rooted in the Catholic intellectual tradition and women-centered pedagogy, the spirit of these goals surfaced in the testimony I have encountered. For example*, Assistant Professor of Biology Curtis Hammond reflected on the principle of affordance and the spaces where the liberal arts might yet thrive, by providing students with opportunities for expression of their critical thinking and creative inquiry. Citing the Quad as one such space, he asserted: “I want to see random acts of liberal arts.” Mary Hearst, Associate Professor of Public Health, appealed to the potential for further collaboration between the Henrietta Schmoll School of Health and School of Humanities, Arts, and Sciences by identifying “common ground” that could go a long way to bridge real and imagined divides between liberal arts and professional programs. For Craig Roger, Associate Professor of Business Administration, teaching The Reflective Woman has inspired him to integrate into his business courses questions around ethical practices and gender equality. The Director of Career Development, Tina Wagner, articulated her frustrations with the widespread myth in society at large, which understands the liberal arts as useless; she recognizes this myth is at odds with the sorts of skills twenty-first century employers are asking for. She asked: “How do we instill that excitement about the liberal arts and see it as possibility and not as limited?” And for Elaine James, Assistant Professor of Theology, contemplating the liberal arts at St. Kate’s sends her mind to the “ancient streams of wisdom traditions” as deep sources of universal questions that she and her students explore in the classroom.

Like I said. Listening matters. Deep listening. It’s a concept I borrow from the late avant-garde composer and educator Pauline Oliveros. I have Allison, and her expertise as a feminist ethnomusicologist, to thank for introducing me to Oliveros’ work, which seeds reflection and awareness in profound sonic meditation. In 1988, Oliveros famously lowered herself into an abandoned cistern, fourteen feet in the earth, in order to make a sound recording. The achievement of this exercise emerged in her notion of “deep listening.” It requires a level of vulnerability, presence, and concentration that activates all of the senses, thereby revealing subtler meanings available in the environment and the conversations within. I am by no means skilled in this practice, but it has encouraged a more active awareness of my own audism and ignorance while stoking my humility and curiosity; I have so much yet to learn. Understood as a skill, deep listening is certainly of a piece with the liberal arts, or artes liberales, which roughly translates to “skills for living fully and freely.” Ultimately, I hope that the very notion of deep listening informs the silences and conversations that mark the spaces of this listening tour, of the remarkable people and places that constitute St. Catherine University.

*all quotations and testimony used with permission

Phi Beta Kappa Keynote 2017: Liberal Arts and the Love of Learning: Compass for Everyday Life - Ruth Brombach

Ruth Brombach, Alumnae Liaison and Class of 1960, delivered this keynote address at the annual Phi Beta Kappa Initiation Ceremony on Thursday, April 27, 2017. Every year, the PBK Gamma Chapter at St. Catherine University invites a distinguished member of the PBK community to reflect on the significance of the PBK mantra: "love of learning is the guide of life."

I want to give congratulations to our Phi Beta Kappa initiates, and personal greetings to their families, President Becky Roloff, faculty members, alumnae, administrators and friends present this evening.

A resounding “congratulations” to St. Catherine University on celebrating, this year, eighty years since we were granted a chapter of Phi Beta Kappa in 1937, the first Catholic College or University in the country to be so designated. The first initiation of members took place the following year, in 1938.  

How proud each of us is of her own membership: 1957 graduate Jane Habiger Purifoy wrote to the current initiates: “I was so honored to receive the key and have tried to continue the tradition of seeking and acknowledging truth in whatever venue.  Best to all!”

The chance, offered by my colleagues in Phi Beta Kappa, to ponder the reasons I am a completely devoted advocate of the liberal arts and to explore the place of the liberal arts in my everyday life, was a great opportunity. This terrific opportunity allowed me to articulate how the liberal arts form a compass and create a foundation that helps a person to decide direction in all aspects of everyday life.

First, I want to try to be very clear about what I mean by “everyday life.”  By “everyday life” I mean my life outside the St. Catherine space with family and friends, my work in Alumnae Relations within the walls of St. Catherine University and wherever and whenever I am in contact with graduates, and, then, “everyday life” includes the way I approach, plan my  journey and decide my route through the world in general.

I want to be clear about one other term we commonly use: Liberal arts is the historically correct term that includes the arts, humanities and sciences; generally, when we say liberal arts, we mean the range of liberal arts and science subjects; however, occasionally it just feels right to me to say “liberal arts and sciences,” and, in those instances, I use the wider term.  More than once in alumnae work I have had someone question the inclusion of a chemistry or mathematics major in a discussion of the liberal arts.  It is helpful to be clear that all sciences and mathematics are part of the liberal arts category.

Where do the liberal arts fit in this frame of what I do every hour of every day, as I make my journey through each week, taking turns and going one way and, then, another, making my ongoing choices of the best directions?  Reflecting further on what I do all day, every day – the main business of my life, I decided is really making decisions.

As a small person, I might have had to decide whether to go looking for someone with whom to play or to turn toward home to complete some chores or studies. Over the years of work, family and outside activities, those decisions about which way to turn became increasingly complex with much greater consequences about where the road would lead. In alumnae work I have been immersed in everyday decisions throughout the years, and, then, in time, a major challenge arrived:

How would I walk the high road and offer the Alumnae Association guidance and leadership as it transitioned from an independent organization to an important department of St. Catherine University?

What is best for St. Catherine University?

What is best for alumnae?

What is the best destination for the journey of the hundreds of alumnae volunteers who have nudged, pushed and pulled forward this organization and the relationships it fostered over the years? 

Not easy decisions but keeping the common good of both alumnae and the University in front of us – not impossible decisions- because I have the foundation, the compass created both through my education and my knowledge of ways to learn; both help me decide where to turn.

How do the liberal arts and sciences play in these deliberations and discussions?  For more than 50 years I have been enormously fortunate to be involved in reading and discussing 10 to 12 books, fiction and nonfiction, each year, first with English professor Catherine Lupori, more recently with Professor Cecilia Konchar Farr and our reading friends Mary Jo Richardson and Judie Flahavan.  We have read about new thoughts, new movements, new ways of doing things, different ways of looking at things.  We have agreed, disagreed and revised our positions and directions –all giving experience and base to our ways of making decisions.

We have absorbed information directly related to decisions we are making.  We have watched characters in fiction struggle with similar decisions, decide in an opposite direction and make a huge mistake.  What a great way to learn! What a way to build a sense of direction, my own GPS.

Whatever the topics, each day is filled with decisions so – how do we build for ourselves and for our students the best and strongest foundation for making those decisions? 

Reading history, absorbing the geography of the world, asking why, why and why? Why do one group of people do things this way? And those who live in other countries do it another way? Why do one group worship trees and another worship certain animals? Or the sun and the moon and the stars?

It always comes back to why? And how do we find the answers? We find them through digging, hunting, searching; we find them wherever we choose to do our learning. A person might choose computer, books, online resources, video – or the narrative of someone teaching?

And, as many questions as one clears up on any one day, I suggest that we open an equal number of new questions and possible new roads to follow and new directions to go; and so the process goes on – and all of the answers pour into and influence the decisions we make, big and small.

Some questions might be: Where to go to school? For whom to vote? What to cook for dinner? And bigger issues: What kind of work to do? Do I want to be an attorney? How about medicine? Should I be a professor? To marry or not ? And, if yes – who to marry?

In my own case, I was fortunate to find a great person to marry, with history and English undergraduate majors, a strong compass created through his belief in the value of the liberal arts and the ability of the individual person to create a path forward by imagining destinations and creating the roads to achieve them.

And, then, for us, the little ones appeared and, with additional responsibilities came the need to guide each young one in a right direction – when we didn’t even know what direction was correct. Watching, learning the personality of each, was part of the process.

I will tell you a quick story that you might not believe but it is absolutely true! 

I remember looking at the tiny face of our first child wrapped in blankets and directed at me in either complete rebellion or serious indigestion and whispering to the two-hour-old child: “You will major in a liberal arts subject, whatever you want, whatever subject you love, and then frost the bachelor’s work with a post-baccalaureate degree to prepare yourself for some life’s work.”

And, apparently, the indigestion went away because child three gained a bachelor’s degree with a major in psychology from St. Catherine’s and earned a master’s degree in counseling; child two loved history and used his subsequent MBA to work in the world of finance; it was child one, the one to whom I first whispered about the liberal arts in his early hours, whose response jolted me most: He duly reported that he was declaring a major.

I responded, “Wonderful!  What is the major?”

Our oldest, child one, said: “Microbiology.” And, even after all of my talking about and promoting the liberal arts, I stared at the phone and actually said: “What in heaven’s name are you going to do with that?”  But, because it’s a liberal arts major, I gulped again and said, “Great!”  - knowing it would fit beautifully into professional fields; now, with his liberal arts base and graduate studies he is well prepared to make the tough decisions he needs to make, all day every day.

Thus, we come back full circle to the essential work of all our lives: making the day-in and day-out decisions; and what best prepares us for the turns and bumpy patches in this life of decision-making? The core ingredient is the study of liberal arts and science subjects: grappling with the thoughts of philosophers over the ages; walking with theologians who try to reconcile the lives and needs of women and the post-Vatican II work of the Catholic Church; considering the volumes of new work by environmentalists, some gentle and cajoling and some angry and impatient, but all worthy of our time and thought – because continual learning and continual exposure to new thoughts, new research, and additional insights give us the background, the foundation, and the basis for making decisions, knowing which direction to turn, the essential and common ingredient in the lives and professions of us all.

Many more times than one, in working with alumnae, I have come up against a dead end, a road to nowhere, and I have had to mentally retreat, regroup, revise my direction of discussion to find a common base, a common beginning point before attempting to move on for the benefit of St. Catherine.  I really believe my background, my reading and most of all, my experience based in liberal arts gives me the capacity and strength to do this.

There is one more challenge to a liberal arts major: You have all heard it. It is the challenge that a liberal arts major is an impractical major. I do so love to consider this idea!

We can actually measure the value of learning scientific methods and the newest discoveries in science; understanding the psychology of how people think is enormously helpful in all areas; if we study enough history we shouldn’t make all the same mistakes over and over, should we?  Languages and literature open up entire cultures to us – we can even understand why some people don’t get along very well with others.

Is that practical learning? It is the most practical. It is the learning that opens our eyes, opens our minds, enables us to see and understand others and enables us to live in increasingly cramped quarters on this planet.

It is the learning that shows us the right direction – that becomes our compass!

Liberal Arts on My Mind by Charlie Zieke

Note: This article originally appeared in the Mission Chairs December 2016 newsletter

The Office of the Endowed Chairs for Mission was pleased to support The Women’s Art Institute’s three-part series, "Art on Our Minds: a bell hooks listening experience", hosted in the Visual Arts Building on the St. Paul campus.

 bell hooks lecture, San Francisco Art Institute archive #848, digitized and photographed by Anna Garski, February 13, 2015.

bell hooks lecture, San Francisco Art Institute archive #848, digitized and photographed by Anna Garski, February 13, 2015.

The Women’s Art Institute (WAI) was founded in 1999 to “create the art the world has waited five thousand years to see”, explains director and associate professor Pat Olson. The Institute brings a diverse roster of artists, art historians, and critics to campus, as well as leading a woman-directed studio intensive in the summer. WAI’s work has directly influenced hundreds of students, including Anna Garski ‘13, who is working towards her second MFA from the San Francisco Art Institute [SFAI], as well as acting as coteacher with Olson during WAI’s Summer Studio Intensive. While working as an archivist as part of her graduate program, Garski came across a tape recording of a bell hooks lecture given at the 1992 SFAI’s Summer Art Writing Conference. Unarchived, hooks wrote this lecture before publishing her esteemed collection Art on My Mindvisual politics. At a recent listening event, Garski asked the audience if Art on My Mind would have even come to fruition if SFAI hadn’t asked hooks to speak to the experience of marginalized people with art. Garski describes hooks’ theory as “subversively accessible”, a sentiment many Feminist Theory scholars share. hooks speaks specifically about growing up in the recently desegregated
South and being exposed to only white art, at school and home.

In the unnamed lecture, hooks discusses how a lack of representation within mainstream art leads to the devaluation of art in Black communities. Without recognition of themselves in the art world, hooks says, the Black community has little to gain from white-made art that perpetuates racism and colonization. As a way of countering this internalized bias for future generations, she urges her community to establish diverse teaching methods that incorporate art into education: “…to move to a decolonized self, we must set our imaginations free.” hooks goes on to explain that within a white supremacist capitalist patriarchy, white folks have better access to Black art than the Black community themselves. hooks is a proponent of switching this access through the diverse model of liberal arts teaching methods in order to promote marginalized representation in the art world, saying “the way we experience art can enhance our understanding of what it means to live in an unfair world.”

While sitting in the lecture hall, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s warning of single stories and who has the power to tell them came to mind. Adichie, a Nigerian-born feminist, author, and MacArthur Genius Grant recipient, is wellknown for her theory on the dangers of reducing groups of individuals to an isolated and biased narrative. In her 2009 TEDTalk, Adichie remembers growing up in Nigeria reading only Western children's books, with characters and objects foreign to her. Although her daily life was not represented by these authors, she idolized these books and sought to replicate them. By failing to recognize herself in the pages she loved, she felt isolated, later concluding that “[its] unintended consequence was that I did not know that people like me could exist in literature.” Adichie’s theories speak to how power interacts with social status, specifically what story will define a group of individuals. Adichie’s and hooks’ experiences are examples of when institutions refuse to recognize diverse communities as complex and nuanced.

Through WAI’s work, a space is created that not only allows analysis of power structures, but also shifts discussions into solutions. A liberal arts education rejects the narrative of a single story, in art or in the classroom. Students well-versed in the liberal arts aren’t satisfied with the simplistic idea of dehumanizing complex individuals to fit in boxlike narratives. Ultimately, allowing a group of individuals just one facet of their rich and complex story robs them of dignity, and reduces others’ perceptions of their experience. The mission of our University has long held that diverse voices reflecting the makeup of our body will lead to better opportunities and education for everyone. Our work in the Mission Chairs office seeks to embrace difference and move beyond tolerance into a radically inclusive community. We are so grateful to have an incredible community, formed by feminist revolutionaries like hooks (and Mother Antonia), come along with us on this journey.

Opening Workshop Feedback by Allison Adrian

Note: This article originally appeared in the Mission Chairs December 2016 newsletter

Thank you to all faculty and staff who offered feedback about our tripartite mission at this year’s Opening Workshop. We asked you about your hopes, your concerns, how you currently deliver a mission-centered education, and your ideas about the future. Here’s a
snapshot of our community’s responses.

Best Hopes
There was a sense of optimism about all three mission chair roles being filled, and a desire for equality in terms of the visibility of each plait. Respondents reported a belief that the infusion of our mission into our curriculum and co-curriculum creates an environment in which students are valued as whole people. Many asked for more visibility of our mission and greater
clarity around the definition of the mission plaits. There was a deep sense of gratitude for Sr. Amata’s work in the Myser workshop and how she infused Catholic identity throughout our University. You expressed a desire for the Myser workshop to continue. Furthermore, many voiced pride in being unapologetically feminist in spirit, and fervently hoped that the liberal arts would continue as the central focus of our educational practice.

Some think that our external perception is quite different from the reality of our institutional culture and wonder how that impacts recruitment and retention. You recognized many intersections as well as tensions among the three plaits. One of the more frequent concerns was the tension that exists between liberal arts and professional programs. Some commented that market demand was not in line with our mission’s commitment to women and the liberal arts, and wondered how we were going to maintain the integrity of our mission as the number of women’s colleges continues to decrease, and professional degrees continue
to outnumber those in the liberal arts. Fears about slippage of the women’s mission resounded
loudly throughout the feedback. Many of you wondered, in particular, how the new coed
bachelors program would affect our women’s mission. Amid concerns about our
women’s mission, the fundamental question became: How do we provide a strong, safe, coeducational culture for women at our University? How does our history as a women’s college, and the male-dominated culture of the U.S, help us think about how we define “women” at a time when gender roles and labels are in flux? Other concerns included ensuring inclusivity for students who practice faiths outside of the Catholic religion, those who identify outside the gender binary, and men. Finally, some wondered how we advocate for adjunct faculty, and support them teaching in a mission-centered way.

Current Delivery of Mission
Some of you are confident in connecting our mission to your work at St. Kate’s, and many of you expressed curiosity in how to do so. The most frequently cited answers had to do with promoting creative thinking, critical questioning, and deep listening to make informed decisions and invoke positive change in the world. You believe in women pursuing careers in male-dominated fields, empowering marginalized students to share their experiences, and educating the whole person. Many responded that your mission-centered interactions and work guide your purpose as members of our community.

Next Steps
Many of you asked for training on incorporating mission into your work. We are so glad; that is why we are here! Our goal is for all to feel connected with and included in each plait of the mission. The most frequently cited suggestions included a desire for each college and school to articulate how they deliver our tripartite mission on campus and online, a focus on the presence of the mission on the Minneapolis campus, an appeal for faculty input on changes to the liberal arts core, and the integration of workshops that focus on women’s education and the liberal arts at St. Kate’s.

Thank you.
We are enjoying working with you, and inspired by the challenge of responding to your hopes, fears, and the future of our mission.

February Report from Kate Barrett, Endowed Chair in Catholic Identity: Sr. Amata Miller Catholic Mission in Action Awardees

This award is given to a faculty and a staff member who have demonstrated a commitment to the Catholic Mission of our University through their presence, work, service, scholarship, and/or teaching.  This person contributes toward building a welcoming campus community grounded in the charism of the CSJ’s, Catholic Intellectual Tradition, and Catholic Social Teaching.

Syneva Barrett and Thelma Obah were the recipients of the 2017 Sr. Amata Catholic Mission in Action award.   The following are excerpts from their peer nominations.

 Syneva Barrett pictured with her 2017 Sr. Amata Miller Catholic Mission in Action award

Syneva Barrett pictured with her 2017 Sr. Amata Miller Catholic Mission in Action award

Syneva Barrett practices something she calls radical hospitality.  Radical hospitality means stopping what she’s doing to greet an unexpected visitor no matter what’s on her to-do list, welcoming a new staff member, providing a homemade chili lunch to everyone that works in the same building.  It means welcoming guests with not just a smile, but a hug and a squeeze and looking straight into their eyes while saying “Welcome!  I’m so glad you’re here”. Radical hospitality means humbly reading inside and outside of St. Kate’s for guidance and support.  It means listening to a woman who has experience incredible hardship, crying with her, valuing her knowledge, and committing to sparking social change together.  Radical hospitality is inviting everyone who has ever contributed to her program including cleaning staff and the university president to a gratitude coffee break.  It’s talking time to address each individual person by saying “Thank you for all you do”.

 Themla Obah pictured with her Sr. Amata Miller Catholic Mission in Action award

Themla Obah pictured with her Sr. Amata Miller Catholic Mission in Action award

Thelma Obah is active in her Catholic faith and community, and she has been engaged in and supportive of the catholic mission at St. Kate’s for many years.  For Thelma, being Catholic is more than attending Mass, it is also demonstrated by her actions and philosophy of compassion and caring.  Thelma lives her faith through her deep respect for and support of students, staff, faculty, and the entire University community.  She is thoughtful, respectful and inclusive.  She is an incredible example of grace, poise, and thoughtfulness.  Her desire to help all students, especially those at greatest risk, is always apparent tin her actions and work.  Thelma is an incredible example of how supporting our Catholic Mission can be lived and shared with the St. Kate’s community and beyond. 

Ten Years of the Myser Initiative on Catholic Identity Summary by Brian Dusbiber & Kate Barrett

 (photo provided by St. Catherine University)

(photo provided by St. Catherine University)

The following is an excerpt from the Summary Report of Myser Workshop focus group discussions created by Brian Dusbiber.  If you are interested in the full report, please contact Kate Barrett.

From April 18 to 22, 2016 four focus group discussions were conducted with 25 past participants of the Myser Initiative on Catholic Identity summer workshop. The Myser Initiative recently celebrated 10 successful years of robust learning and collaborating as participants designed and implemented a project of their choosing on campus. The focus group discussions encouraged participants to reflect upon and discuss the outcomes of these workshops and the projects that came from them.

Throughout all four focus groups there was positive support for continuing and building upon the summer workshops. Some major themes emerged readily from the discussions. In several cases they were cited by all four focus groups.

Catholic Social Teaching very positively resonated with participants and brought insight into the University’s Catholic identity

Coming to better understand Catholic Social Teaching became the focus for many of the workshop participants. A few participants mentioned that they were not Catholic, and didn’t have a personal background in the Church. A few more identified themselves voluntarily as “fallen away Catholics”, leaving the Church after K-12 schooling, or in early adulthood. Their frame of reference was the Baltimore Catechism as all they had come to know about the Catholic Church. This opened doors for many of them to better understand what it means to be Catholic.

“Key learning was understanding Catholic Social Teaching....through the discussions with Sister Amata and the guest lecturers, group discussions, films, etc. So much was new to me and the week provided me with a whole new perspective.”

“This week was one of my two favorite overall learning opportunities at St. Kate's. I learned more about Catholic Social Teaching and our Catholic Identity in that week than in my prior years of Catholic School education. It was a blessed, meaningful experience.”

“The project brought us all together on how to best talk about our Catholic mission, Catholic Social Teaching and how to represent the concepts in very real, day to day suggestions as to where students can connect to these.”

“It brought us back to our roots at a very critical time. Our population of students and faculty has changed and Catholic Social Teaching has helped us continue the integration.”

“I was raised Catholic and yet Catholic Social Teaching and Catholic Intellectual Tradition was sort of this gem that I didn’t really know existed. Learning about it in that environment and then finding ways to bring it into my daily teaching was just so empowering.”

“The Myser Initiative has provided our community with a common vocabulary for describing social justice and the reasons for pursuing justice. This common vocabulary draws us together across diverse roles and it provides a thread of continuity in the education that students might experience.”

Groundings in the University’s Mission were renewed

 (photo provided by St. Catherine University)

(photo provided by St. Catherine University)

The focus on Catholic Identity renewed interest in the entire Mission and how it worked in concert with women’s education, and the liberal arts. Workshop participants spoke of feeling more aligned with the Mission and a renewed sense of accountability to bring it to life in their classroom and through their work. Comfort levels with classroom discussions improved, as did conversations within academic departments. There became a common consciousness of what it means to be a Catholic institution. Collaborations were improved, both within departments and across campuses.

“It has infused Catholic Identity into more aspects of the daily life of our University. We have a more fully realized mission because of the Myser Initiative.”

“There was a sense of better understanding on how each person lives and contributes to us ‘being’ a Catholic university, a sort of ‘belonging’ to who we are as a Catholic institution.”

“It has begun to cement an authentic culture of mission.”

“It has complicated and enhanced the President’s call to mission. It has empowered all who participate/engage and those who are open to be transformative agents of renewal in our institution, our world.” “It centered and strengthened the mission – not just Catholic but all elements. The bold embrace of the social justice mission of St. Catherine.”

 “I believe it has allowed many of us to 'take ownership' of the Catholic identity of the University in a way that we hadn't before. It previously felt like something that Campus Ministry or the Theology department should 'own' or be responsible for. Now I think there are many, many people who feel able to articulate what it means to be a Catholic university.”

 “I think attention to the Catholic mission via the Myser has actually elevated the women and liberal arts mission also in that we see them woven together, maybe, in a different way than we did before.”

Connections and collaborations on campus multiply

Collaborations on campus grew as a consequence of this new common language for workshop participants. They could ground themselves in the tenets of Catholic Social Teaching, and recognize their connections to the University’s Mission. There became a common consciousness of what it means to be a Catholic institution. Collaborations were improved, both within departments and across campuses.

“I think they have really helped develop a connection across departments in the university. There is a way of being that these projects all embody and I think that spreads to others through interaction and the projects.”

”And so I think, for me, this question of how has my participation changed my work is it’s opened the door to conversations that would never, I would not have been privy to those conversations. It has opened the door to relationships that would not have been there before.”

“The week provided our team, as well as others in their projects, with a common language, a common understanding. We all learned from one another and left with appreciation for others work. It also provided us with an opportunity to learn from others, see how their work was being interpreted and expressed.”

“I think especially one of the key learning experiences, for me, was this idea of social justice and Catholic Social Teaching and the Catholic Intellectual Tradition being a focus on interdisciplinary, crossing the silos and collaborating as a model of what social justice can look like when we work together, that it requires us to be collaborative across our disciplines.”

“This is a decade where it hasn’t necessarily been easy to be Catholic in our country, in our church, in our Archdiocese. And so I, we, met a lot of resistance in our School from our faculty. It was really hard, there was a lot of suspicion about what we were doing and what the implications for this work were in relation to academic freedom and in relation to what was happening in the Church. As I reflect on the recent years, that conflict has virtually dissipated and I think that’s a reflection of a growing trust in how St. Catherine’s embodies and lives out its Catholic identity. I feel less resistance from students, I think, as we’ve gotten more comfortable and we’ve worked through some of these identity issues, it’s been much more relaxed with students.”

The craft of teaching, scholarship and learning was directly impacted

 (Sr. Amata Miller)

(Sr. Amata Miller)

Faculty members were quick to reveal that they experienced a renewed shaping of their scholarship, whether it be in the classroom or their research. The intellectual rigor of fully realizing the Catholic Intellectual Tradition challenged them in new ways. It frequently made them pause and reconsider approaches to their work. The approach to teaching was dramatically influenced in several cases, including bringing in new perspectives to classroom discussions. Faculty spoke of transforming some of the interactions with students, in their learning and in their communication style. There was also an impact on how to approach ethical implications in professional practice, beyond the academic discipline.

 “It’s changed my teaching, it’s changed my understanding of what it is to do theology, it’s changed my vocabulary, it’s made me accountable in a way that I don’t think I was accountable before.”

“During the week I did scholarly research on the idea of the common good. What I ultimately did with it has informed both my teaching and my scholarship on leadership because I became convinced that leadership is actually always about pursuing common good or common goods. I am continuing to develop it, both in how I talk about leadership with my students, and also through a paper I hope to get published.”

“This calls our students attention to the importance of their Catholic identity and demonstrates to those who come to campus for speakers that we have this specific way of relating to one another through faith.”

“I think one of the ways that I find this so meaningful is the fact that the identity of being Catholic can be broadened, especially for the students. I think we have students that come and maybe kind of don’t understand, or have probably not thought about social justice principles, and consequently to be able to have the opportunity to widen their perspective of the Catholic faith.”

“So the experience was a real education for me, in the way it has continued to shape my teaching which is important to me. Recognizing that those two pillars of the Initiative, the Catholic Intellectual Tradition and social justice teachings, are not separate, they’re a part of the same enterprise. I think now about the ways in which I conduct discussions in class. I do a lot less lecturing. I do a lot more risk-taking in terms of just thinking through ideas with students as opposed to telling them how to think about things. That is activating social justice as an intellectual practice.”

Personal transformations were abundant

Faculty and staff reported that through full engagement in the summer workshop, and during the months and years that followed, they experienced much stronger connections to their work. Learning deeply during the workshop empowered them to rethink their professional practice, locate new sources of perspective in their work, and re-energize their commitment to growing and learning themselves. A few faculty and staff spoke of finding new inspiration for their work, and to trying to be a better self, in their work and elsewhere.

“I don't think we have to force this; we simply have to be like weather vanes, open to moving in response to the breadth of the Spirit of God, who makes all things new.”

“There are times that I wish I could engage in a forum of Catholic administrators to dream about how CST shapes who we hire and how we nurture them in their new roles.”

“The inscription in the altar in our chapel says, ‘Behold, I make all things new,’ from Revelations 21:5. Whenever I look at that I think of our students and how that is the ultimate mission of St. Kate’s. We do this by educating our students and sending them into the world, because they are our agents of renewal in the world. I don’t know that I would connect dots that way if it hadn’t been for this work.”

“I now always ask, Who is benefiting in this situation? Who is suffering? And, What am I going to do about it?"

“The Myser work has provided me with a deeper, more comprehensive understanding of Catholic identity that has been applied to all my work; I see common understanding and common language used in many forums/discussions/workshops.”

“I remember most strongly how personal this work is for many, many people and how different that can be, but also how personal it is and that’s a beautiful thing. The depth of the Catholic Social Teaching, Catholic Intellectual Tradition and how profoundly powerful it is when you really pull it apart and understand it and link it to the teaching learning that we’re doing.”

 “It really enriched and transformed my understanding and appreciation for the depth of the Catholic Intellectual Tradition and the sacramental tradition and obviously the social justice tradition. These were just names and words that had kind of been floating out there that I felt like I should probably know more about. So it allowed me to dig deeper and have a respect and understanding of some of these labels that I had not had before. It was very affirming, the openness and the respect and the safety and the opportunity to hear what other people’s hearts and minds were grappling with. I didn’t feel like an imposter anymore. I would talk about the Catholic Social Teaching without really understanding it. Now I feel like OK, now I have some claim to that work.”

“So this was a really personally moving experience for me. I was raised Catholic and I had left the Catholic Church and never imagined that I would be in relationship again with the Catholic Church. When Sr. Amata taught about the Catholic social teaching principles, I was like I can be so on board with these – like ethically and always if this is the basis of the Catholic Church, I can be on board with this. And so it was this incredibly personally transformative week with tons of healing.”

Dates for the 2017 Myser Workshop: June 26th-30th.

Sr. Amata Miller is returning to facilitate the workshop. 


"Hey hey! Yo yo! Injustice has got to go. Hey hey! Yo yo! Women’s Ed is in the know." by Allison Adrian and Sharon Doherty, Director of the Abigail Quigley McCarthy Center for Women

 Katies with U.S. Representative Betty McCollum '87

Katies with U.S. Representative Betty McCollum '87

The Center for Mission and the Center for Women organized a St. Kate’s presence at St. Paul’s historic Women’s March on January 21st. Our mission asks us to develop ethical, reflective, and socially responsible leaders. Together, as students, alums, faculty, and staff, we demonstrated our commitment to our mission and to peacefully resisting challenges to women’s worth.

We know that when women do well, communities do well. We marched to ensure the safety and well-being of immigrants and those of all faiths. We marched to prevent violence against women. We marched to support access to affordable health care for all women.  We marched because we believe in the power of women and we believe in equality, justice, and inclusion.

Since our inception in 1905, we have seen injustice, exclusion, and inequality in the world and worked toward a more just society. For example, during World War II, St. Kate’s provided scholarships to Japanese American women so that they could attend college instead of an internment camp. Today, St. Kate’s is a place where women see themselves in the curriculum and co-curriculum. For instance, our U.S. history classes are divided before and after suffrage instead of before and after WWI. The Women’s Art Institute provides a dedicated space each summer for women artists. Students in the Nutrition and Exercise Science programs examine the influence of nutrition and exercise on women throughout their lifecycle. These are just a few examples; our women’s mission permeates the St. Kate’s experience.

 Katies, studying over in France over J-Term, marching in Paris

Katies, studying over in France over J-Term, marching in Paris

We are grateful to all St. Kate's community members who participated in the march from those present in St. Paul, Minnesota to those who stood in solidarity in Cape Town, South Africa. It was yet another reminder that our students and alums are people who are engaged with the needs of our time, who contribute to their communities, families, and workplaces, and who will work to ensure a future that values the significant contributions of women to the world.

February Report From Allison Adrian, Endowed Chair In Women's Education

 Student archers, 1963 (source University Archive Photo Collection) 

Student archers, 1963 (source University Archive Photo Collection) 

What is our Women's Mission? I have been soliciting feedback from faculty and staff on a shared university-wide women's mission statement developed by the Women's Mission Advisory Group. This statement is intended to create common language that will provide a foundation from which to identify the many ways we enact our mission for women's education in our curriculum and co-curriculum. The next steps include asking departments and offices to have conversations about their specific approach to delivering our Women’s Mission. In addition, I am crafting questions for the annual student survey so that we can better understand how students are experiencing our women's mission. I am excited to hear from you and from our students about how I can work to ensure our women's mission at St. Kate's!

February Report from Amy K. Hamlin, Endowed Chair in Liberal Arts

 Drawing courtesy of Todd Deutsch (Art and Art History). 

Drawing courtesy of Todd Deutsch (Art and Art History). 

InclusivePublicTrust. These words animated discussions at the recent annual meeting of the Association of American Colleges & Universities, which I attended with a team from St. Kate's that included Alan Silva, Elizabeth Dunens, and Todd Deutsch. Our objective was to learn about new ways of imagining a sustainable future for liberal education and to move the ideas we encountered at the gathering forward in our own community. Stay tuned on that front. In the meantime, I offer a mission-centered question for us all to contemplate: How are we alive to the change that is possible when smart, creative minds rally around a common purpose?

A Good Time for the Truth @ St. Kates by Amy Mars, Librarian

On Tuesday, July 5, 2016, Philando Castile, an unarmed African American man, was shot and killed by St. Anthony police officer, Jeronimo Yanez. With bravery and poise, his girlfriend, Diamond Reynolds, filmed his death and the aftermath as her 4-year-old daughter and the world looked on. Tragically, a headline like this has become all too common. But this tragedy was close to home. 5.7 miles away to be exact. It was at this point, as I watched with shock and horror, that I realized my white privilege had afforded me a distance that had made me complacent. I had spent time educating myself about racial justice issues and having conversations about them, but what was I doing in my community to enact change? Though I am still figuring out how best to expand my knowledge and fight for racial justice in my community, I want to share one way in which I have taken action in my role as a librarian at St. Kate’s.

I have spent a good deal of time thinking about the unique role that libraries play in our democracy and the one thing I come back to time and time again is the potential libraries have to bring people together. As librarian Nancy Pearl says, “There are precious few opportunities for people of different ethnic backgrounds, economic levels or ages to sit down together and discuss ideas that are important to them.” As free institutions, open to all, libraries of all types have the opportunity to bridge that gap. But in order to accomplish this, we need a catalyst. One catalyst that has the potential to raise empathy and promote dialogues across difference is story.

In the wake of Philando Castile’s death and in the midst of what was turning out to be a very polarizing election season, we needed a story that could help bring us together as a community, raise awareness, encourage empathy, and foster dialogue across difference. I found not one, but multiple stories that could help us do this, in a book edited by Sun Yung Shin appropriately titled, A Good Time for the Truth: Race in Minnesota. This anthology features local authors writing about their experience as a person of color, Indigenous American, immigrant, and transgender person, just to name a few of the lived experiences showcased in this book. With this book and the combined expertise, experience, and perspective of a diverse group of St. Kate's staff and faculty members, the One Read for Racial Justice was born.

For the unacquainted, a “one read’ is like a book club, but on a community-wide scale. The entire community reads the same book, organizes events to deepen understanding of the book’s themes, and comes together to share their thoughts and reflections. Though we didn’t have the funds to purchase a copy of the book for every member of the St. Kate’s community, we gave away copies of the book at most of the affiliated events and the fourteen copies in our collection and at other CLIC libraries have been largely checked out since this initiative began. Over the course of the fall semester, with the leadership of individuals from a variety of departments around campus, we learned about and discussed topics such as diversity in the publishing industry, racism in the criminal justice system, #blacklivesmatter, reading & teaching for racial justice, “stand your ground culture” and healing justice. With the organizing theme that the “One Read for Racial Justice” provided, we were able to elevate these discussions and bring them to new and bigger audiences.

We are continuing this community-wide initiative into spring semester by bringing the St. Kate’s community together to discuss selections from A Good Time for the Truth. One of the beautiful things about a campus like ours is the diverse array of perspectives brought to bear on this book. I hope we can work with each other to cultivate spaces that are brave enough to have frank & challenging discussions about racism yet safe enough for us to share the individual experiences that both unite us and make us unique. It is with these goals in mind that we will be coordinating a series of lunchtime discussions called “Food for Thought.” I want to extend an invitation to you: students, staff, and faculty, to join the discussion or consider leading a lunchtime discussion of your own. We are also excited to announce that six of the women contributors to A Good Time for the Truth will be joining us for an author panel of February 23rd, moderated by St. Kate’s English professor & contributing author, Taiyon J Coleman. I want to thank the mission chairs for the valuable support they’ve provided for this initiative including co-sponsoring the upcoming panel, helping us bring multiple speakers to campus, and facilitating a staff/faculty book discussion in the Centers for Excellence on February 10 at 11:30am.

Until we succeed in dismantling racism, it will always be a good time for the truth.

Join us in reading, learning, listening, and talking together.

For more information about the One Read for Racial justice or to find out more about participating in or leading a lunchtime discussion, contact Amy Mars at anmars@stkate.edu