By Christa Howarth, University of Scranton '17
Christ’s call of love. Jesus, in answer to a scholar of the law, gave these two greatest commandments: to love God with your whole heart, being and strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself. These commandments of love, seen in Jesus’ example throughout the Gospels, inspire the call to live for and with others: a call for solidarity with those who are vulnerable, which is fostered at the University of Scranton.
Directly after giving these commandments (featured in chapter ten of Luke), Jesus suggests the kind of relationship we should have with our neighbor. Upon encountering a stranger, the Good Samaritan allows himself to be moved with compassion by the man’s need. That experience of compassion predicates all solidarity and requires seeing the one who is vulnerable as a person with knowledge of her or his own needs.
Students participating in Scranton’s undergraduate Honors Program encounter different ‘neighbors’ as they study, serve and live. The Honors Program, one of Scranton’s programs of excellence, challenges students of all majors with a rigorous education that stresses independent work and intense engagement with faculty, culminating with the student’s defense of a cumulative research or creative project.
Often, students’ scholarship reflects their solidarity with those they encounter; many design research projects in response to needs they have witnessed in their community. The following projects by four graduating seniors exemplify their response to the call to live for and with four different populations.
Immigrants: Senior criminal justice and Spanish major Victoria Spagnolo became sensitive to the challenges of the Hispanic community during her time volunteering at the University’s Leahy Medical Clinic, which provides non-emergency health care for the uninsured in the area surrounding Scranton, PA. She said, “Often, the needs and opinions of non-English speaking immigrants in the United States go unheard because of language barriers.”
Spagnolo combined her criminal justice background with her Spanish language skills to address “a substantial gap in research on the criminal justice system and Hispanic immigrants.” She has conducted qualitative interviews in Spanish to record how Hispanic immigrants’ perceptions of the criminal justice system differ from those of native-born citizens, research that could inform the workings of the local justice department.
Language barriers are one, but by no means the only, reason why the needs of certain populations are not heard. Academic researchers stand in solidarity with any of these silenced populations by listening to their experiences and, as Spagnolo said about her own work, by “giving voice” to those experiences.
Disabled Veterans: Kaitlyn Jones, a senior occupational therapy major, was motivated to pursue her research after meeting two veterans who had lost all four limbs in combat. Both veterans chose to receive cadaver arm transplants, which Jones has studied to determine how they affect the veterans' functional ability, social participation and body image.
“They are both incredible people who inspire me every day,” said Jones, who hopes her research will “provide insight to those who may be considering a limb transplant (a ground-breaking surgery) in the amputee community and shed light on the difficulties and perseverance of disabled veterans.”
Disabled persons are often left to the civil and social fringes of society. The more work that can be done to raise awareness about the quality of life of the disabled veteran community, the more their place in society will change. And as they become more able to perform basic tasks, participate socially and feel comfortable in their bodies, disabled persons will have more opportunities to inspire others.
Cancer Patients & Families: The suffering caused by cancer, and the pain of invasive cancer treatments, affects far too many people. The work of senior biochemistry and philosophy double major Kyle Rodgers, who is also in Scranton's pre-med program, contributes to the current research aimed at creating alternative, less-invasive cancer treatments.
Rodgers’ project studies the “biomechanisms of natural dietary cancer therapies to allow further research to metabolically engineer effective and non-invasive cancer therapies.” These dietary cancer therapies “target and slow tumor growth with impressive specificity.”
Compassion for the suffering of the patient and the patient’s family lies at the heart of all cancer research, especially that of less invasive treatments. Rodgers said, “By creating a paradigm shift in cancer research toward a metabolically-inclusive model, I hope that we can provide non-invasive treatments for our cancer victims, restoring their health and quality of life."
University of Scranton Women, Past, Present & Future: The opportunity to participate in research like that of these students has not always been available to a large population – women. Like most universities, the University of Scranton was once all-male. The research of senior history and philosophy double-major Kathleen Reilly chronicles the effects of her institution’s transition to co-education.
While editing newspaper clippings for the Weinberg Memorial Library’s Digital Services Department, Reilly discovered “a slew of articles about the debate over whether or not to admit women to the all-male University of Scranton College of Arts and Sciences."
This sparked her research interest: Reilly has since studied the rising enrollments, higher academic standards and increasing selectivity marked by co-education, as well as the creation of women’s athletic programs, the Jane Kopas Women’s Center, and the Women’s Studies program, all of which continue to foster representation of women at the University. She explained that her work will “benefit the University community by [shedding] light [on] an important part of its history that has thus far not been given as much attention.”
To Be Scholars For & With Others: The call to live for and with others has formed the education of Victoria, Kaitlyn, Kyle, Kathleen and their fellow students at the University of Scranton. Beyond service, this call means choosing to orient all aspects of one’s life toward the ‘neighbor’ one meets in need. For Scranton students, this means creating academic research that listens to, voices, and answers these needs – being scholars for and with others.
Christa Howarth is a senior theology and philosophy double-major and a member of the Special Jesuit Liberal Arts Honors Program at The University of Scranton.