Jesuit School of Theology – Statement on Black Lives Matter
June 8, 2020
To the Community of the Jesuit School of Theology:
It’s well past time for the Jesuit School of Theology to state where our school stands on the value of black lives. Our nation has witnessed two weeks of relentless protest against the persistent racialized suffering of black Americans. The immediate spark was the murder of George Floyd by the Minneapolis police. But the United States was founded upon and its white citizens have prospered from 400 years of oppression of Africans and people of African descent in so many guises. Protesters in every state, protesters in large cities and small towns, protesters of every race have raised their voices to say that the lives of black people matter. Our university has joined this movement through President O’Brien’s statement last week, in statements and actions by offices and schools across SCU, and in the individual faculty and staff members’ emotionally charged email chains since last Thursday’s witness by the Center for Arts and Humanities.
Let this statement, which I make here as interim dean, be a collective acknowledgement, apology and commitment on behalf of the Jesuit School of Theology. I speak not on my own, but rooted in our school mission and our distinctive approach to theology. Available for anyone to read, the words on our website declare that our mission to serve the Church is effected “by promoting reconciliation, [and] laboring for justice.” We do this by “bring[ing] theology into dialogue with communities, with their particular histories and cultures, serving people and learning from them in a spirit of solidarity.” We say that we live our Jesuit mission by teaching “students to think critically about theology and how to live a faith that does justice.” In nearly every gathering, we declare that our theology emerges from the cultural context of the communities we serve, from the sufferings of the people of God. Our strategic plan commits faculty to be public theologians. Our program goals speak of connecting faith and culture and of being able to speak to the needs of the poor and marginalized.
America’s anti-black racism is our school’s cultural context. Although our school is an international community, we are nevertheless a US graduate school, rooted and prospering in the national culture of white supremacy both in our Church and our society. Therefore, this must be the locus of dialogue for our school’s theology if our words are not hollow or, worse, if we are not to be convicted by our own rhetoric. To be authentically contrite, and committed to sin no more, means actually facing our own broken culture and those suffering within it.
Based on these commitments and based on our internal conversations, I state for our school: The Jesuit School of Theology commits itself to working to dismantle the racially unjust culture of our nation because black lives matter. We acknowledge racial injustice as the sin upon which our nation, our communities, our Church and our school rests. We are sorry for our racially unjust actions and for what we have failed to do to promote racial justice. We commit ourselves to listen to, to learn from, and to serve in solidarity people suffering from our nation’s white supremacist culture.
Just a few days ago, about twenty faculty and staff members gathered on Zoom to try to talk about racism and the protests against police brutality sweeping our nation. To report honestly, the session moved from awkward to painful and ended in mumbled hand-wringing. “What can we do?”
Here’s what we can do.
As interim dean now, as associate dean going forward, as a faculty member, as a JST-SCU employee, and as an individual, I am stating: This is what we must do without delay.
1. Faculty members, in every course include units that address through your discipline the US cultural context of anti-black racism; and find ways to speak and write about US white supremacy in your scholarship.
2. Staff members, change your performance goals for 2020-21 to include a plan that examines the processes, priorities and outcomes within your responsibility to achieve greater inclusivity and support for African Americans with explicit measurable steps.
3. Students, expect and demand that JST’s classes, liturgies, activities and commitments model a faith that does justice with respect to the US culture in which we are located, not just with respect to the cultures of other nations and communities.
4. Administrators and supervisors, develop the particular processes that will hold JST accountable for living its mission, through performance evaluations, program standards, academic curriculum and our school ethos.
5. All of us, let us make our commitment to black lives urgent, essential, concrete, and inescapable at JST starting, but not ending, with a personal and communal examen.
6. For myself, I commit as a faculty member and as an administrator to the actions above in teaching, supervising, and leading.
May God have mercy on us. May we learn from Jesus how to live justly. And may the Holy Spirit ignite our hearts and guide our hands for the work of justice for black lives.
Alison M. Benders, Interim Dean
Race Resources Project, Academic Year 2017 - 2018
As our nation continues to reflect on the legacy of slavery and the sin of racism, we offer this page of theological and spiritual resources on race and racism. Our hope is that the resources will assist teachers, parents, students, and pastoral ministers to deepen reflection and conversation about these pressing issues. The resources offer valuable context from the Christian tradition and concrete advice as we strive to respond faithfully to the call for greater unity among our blessed diversity.