The Mission Animators at Xavier University

By Debra Mooney, Ph.D., Chief Mission Officer and Founding Director of the Conway Institute for Jesuit Education, Xavier University

Photo: Dr. Debra Mooney (second from right) joins the WVXU public radio station to present on Xavier’s immigration education efforts with the host of  Cincinnati Edition , Mark Heyne, and two grant recipients, Drs. Christine Anderson (second from left) and Thilini Ariyachandra (right) (Photo by Xavier University).

Photo: Dr. Debra Mooney (second from right) joins the WVXU public radio station to present on Xavier’s immigration education efforts with the host of Cincinnati Edition, Mark Heyne, and two grant recipients, Drs. Christine Anderson (second from left) and Thilini Ariyachandra (right) (Photo by Xavier University).

We must never forget....that migrants, rather than simply being a statistic, are first of all persons who have faces, names and individual stories.
— Pope Francis
Dr. Debra Mooney (Photo by Xavier University)

Dr. Debra Mooney (Photo by Xavier University)

A relatively new mission-oriented strategic initiative has blossomed at Xavier University. A few years ago, the University President, Rev. Michael J. Graham, S.J., invited a number of heads of centers and academic programs with strong touch-points to the Jesuit identity to come together to create more integrated programming across the campus. Consequently, collaborative engagement ensued among the campus directors of the Brueggeman Center for Dialogue; Office of Diversity and Inclusion; Ethics/Religion and Society Program; Community Building Institute; Eigel Center for Community Engagement; Center for Faith and Justice; First-Year Experience Program; Office of Interfaith Community Engagement; Sustainability and Theology Departments; and Chief Officers of Diversity & Inclusion and Mission. This working group named itself “The Mission Animators.”

Because the President’s invitation was descriptive and not prescriptive, meetings of the Mission Animators include both dialogues on significant issues as well as creative programmatic design. The first collaboration focused on campus celebrations honoring the 50th anniversary of Nostra Aetate – the seminal Catholic Church document on the importance of interfaith understanding and engagement – through conferences with internationally known experts and a campus-civic initiative to support the interaction of [differing] youth groups through community service.

This year, a new approach was taken. To more deeply integrate Xavier's Jesuit identity into everyday campus life, the Mission Animators wanted to (1) involve more people and (2) continue to do so around a specific theme. The group chose the theme of immigration (including migration and refugees) for the 2016-17 academic year. Through a generous gift from an anonymous Xavier supporter, funding was made available for projects and activities. In May 2016, the Mission Animators hosted a meeting on the mini-grant application process for such projects; surprisingly, the turn-out of faculty and staff was so large that the meeting was moved across the hall to a larger room. The topic appeared to be quite popular across campus! In fact, the 23 applications exceeded the predicted 4 or 6.

After reviewing the applications this past summer, the Animators decided to partially fund all projects with mini grants ranging from $100-$1,500. Supported projects, events and activities are represented in all areas of the University and include hosting conferences, creating exhibits, providing supplemental tutoring for young immigrants and supporting family/community resources. Projects completed during the Fall 2016 semester include:

  • Accelerating Global-Local Business for Social Good: A panel of immigrant and refugee entrepreneurs discussed the opportunities, challenges and lessons learnt from their entrepreneurial journey in their native country, the United States, and in the local region.
  • Serving the Mental Health Needs of a Refugee Population: A local clinical psychologist specializing in immigrant and refugee mental health offered seminars for graduate students in the psychology doctoral program.
  • Let’s Talk About Immigration!: These gatherings on immigration and migration brought together small groups of people from all corners of Cincinnati, Ohio to explore Cincinnati’s rich history of im/migration. The diverse, open, and engaging discussions invited participants to examine historical texts and artifacts posted on the project’s website. Facilitated dialogue offered Cincinnatians the opportunity to reflect on how they and their ancestors came to the city and how their experiences intersect with others.
  • Refugees in Cincinnati: Who Are They, Why Did They Come, What Can We Do?: Members of the Legal Aid Society and Volunteer Lawyers Project discussed immigration trends in Cincinnati with particular attention to the recent influx of children and families from Central American countries.
  • Advancing Inter-Professional Education and Connections: Voices of Refugees: The College of Professional Sciences hosted two "Conversation with a Refugee" programs to learn how refugees' experiences and knowledge can inform and prepare emerging leaders and professionals.

The collective interests of the area directors comprising the Mission Animators is magnified for the benefit of the entire campus. As Rev. Daniel McDonald S.J., the Bi-Provincial Assistant for Jesuit Higher Education of the Wisconsin and Chicago-Detroit Jesuit Provinces notes on the functioning of Xavier’s Animators, “It is unique and it seems to have a far-reaching effect because the committee people are risk-takers.”

This theme certainly advances our value on the Ignatian gifts of ‘solidarity and kinship’ and Pope Francis’ call to end the “globalization of indifference” toward migrants. Plans are underway for next year's programming, centered on the theme of economic inequality and injustice.

Dr. Debra Mooney is the author of a new publication, Leadership Mastery and Moxie in 31 Days. Click here to order it online.