Seeking the Magis Through Jesuit Honors Programs

By Deanna I. Howes, Director of Communications, AJCU

(L-R): Hana O'Hagan (Creighton University), Rebecca Vincent (Loyola University Maryland), Kaitlin Carlson (Creighton University), Qiana Anderson (Guest Speaker), Deanna Howes (AJCU), Dr. Naomi Yavneh Klos (Loyola University New Orleans), Gail Rabasca (Loyola University Maryland)

(L-R): Hana O'Hagan (Creighton University), Rebecca Vincent (Loyola University Maryland), Kaitlin Carlson (Creighton University), Qiana Anderson (Guest Speaker), Deanna Howes (AJCU), Dr. Naomi Yavneh Klos (Loyola University New Orleans), Gail Rabasca (Loyola University Maryland)

Of the more than 30 conferences within the AJCU network, only one serves both faculty and students from Jesuit colleges and universities in the United States. Now in its eleventh year, the AJCU Honors Consortium has grown from small conversations held in conjunction with annual meetings of the National Collegiate Honors Council (NCHC) to full-fledged gatherings centered on the Jesuit values of academic excellence, cura personalis, social justice, and service to others.

At Jesuit colleges and universities, Honors directors not only challenge their students academically through intensive seminars and specialized coursework, they encourage them to seek the Magis (the more universal good) by giving back to their local communities and finding ways to engage in the mission of their institutions. In May 2012, the AJCU Honors directors articulated these shared essential characteristics in a Statement that continues to affect their work five years later.

Earlier this month, more than 70 faculty and students from 17 Jesuit institutions gathered at Loyola University New Orleans for the annual meeting of the AJCU Honors Consortium. For Dr. Naomi Yavneh Klos (who serves as the Consortium chair and directs Loyola’s University Honors Program), the conference provided an opportunity to uphold and reinforce the Statement to her students from Loyola as well as the many students who attended the conference for the first time.

For two days, participants engaged in conversations about diversity and inclusion in Honors programs, discussed new means of collaboration, and participated in a teach-in concerning restorative justice with formerly incarcerated men and women. The teach-in was a highlight of the conference, and was made possible through Klos’ long-standing partnership with the Jesuit Social Research Institute, and with financial support from Loyola’s Office of Mission and Ministry.

Klos’ desire to educate Honors students on social justice is a reflection of her commitment to Jesuit education. She says, “When I first came to Loyola, I was very passionate about Honors and about opportunities for community-engaged research, but I really didn't know that much about how the Ignatian charism applied to Honors. I was thus privileged, at my first AJCU Honors Conference [held at Fordham University in February 2012], to participate in the articulation of the ‘Essential Characteristics of a Jesuit Honors Program.’

“Because we were in the process of revising the Honors curriculum at Loyola, we were able to place the Essential Characteristics at the heart of that revision process, as a foundational document. We identified specific ‘Ignatian values’ learning outcomes, and, as my project for our new in-house version of the Ignatian Colleagues Program (the ‘Ignatian Faculty Fellows’), I designed a 1-credit Ignatian Colloquium required of all first-year Honors students, that includes a mentoring component as well as an introduction to social justice and Catholic social teaching.”

The commitment to service can be seen in Jesuit Honors programs across the country. Every semester at Saint Louis University (SLU), nearly 50 Honors students participate in the International Partnership (IP) program, through which they mentor students in the University’s English as a Second Language (ESL) or English for Academic Purposes (EAP) programs. While the students receive credit for participating in IP, many describe it as among their most meaningful experiences of the Honors program.

Dr. Jessica Perolio, director of SLU’s University Honors program, says, “Our outcomes related to [this program] are always really positive. Students improve their cross-cultural communication and have an increased respect for other peoples’ perspectives and worldviews. They see firsthand the importance and impact of diversity on campus, and the extent to which culture informs your own worldview, and your biases and your assumptions.” Several Honors students recently shared what they learned through their conversations with the students with whom they were paired in the IP program in a new video produced by SLU (click here to view on YouTube).

Similar experiences are occurring in Buffalo, NY, where a group of Honors students at Canisius College volunteer with the ENERGY After School Program, helping tutor and teach English to children of refugee families who have recently resettled in Buffalo. Canisius sophomores David Krasinski and Matthew Pernick presented at the AJCU Honors Conference at Loyola, and described their volunteer experiences as “priceless” opportunities to see cura personalis in action.

Pernick says, “Priceless really is the word for it. Just the sheer joy that comes on [the kids’] faces when they pronounce a long word correctly—it’s little things like that. Of course it comes with patience on the tutor’s side, and being able to work and put the hours in with all of the kids so that they can get from point A to point B, and really start to see some results. But at the end of the day, just to see all of them grow so much over such a short period of time, and to grow close to them as well and look up to them—there’s really nothing like it.”

In addition to providing opportunities for service, Jesuit Honors programs foster community among the small groups of students who generally comprise the programs. One example is at Gonzaga University, where Rev. Timothy Clancy, S.J. is in his 14th year directing the Honors program. Historically, Gonzaga’s Honors program has been small: An average class in the 1950s, when the program was founded, had only 20-25 students, and the numbers have slowly increased since then. But with the University’s total student population now nearly five times larger than it was sixty years ago, Fr. Clancy is working to double the Honors program, while retaining its cohort model and designated “Honors house” where students have always found a sense of community with each other.

According to Fr. Clancy, “To form character, you have to have a communal setting. Forming community is really important and that takes intentionality, and it takes infrastructure, and it takes creativity. I really think that the ‘value-added’ for a Jesuit Honors program both for [Gonzaga] but then also compared to other Honors programs, is character formation—it’s the formative part. It’s the ‘educating the whole person’ part. And that involves social justice. That also involves spirituality. That also involves psycho-social development—it involves all these different things beyond the academics.”

Alfredo Y. Hernández, a sophomore political science major at Loyola Marymount University (LMU), agrees. After attending this year’s Honors Conference at Loyola (where he gave a presentation on Attic Salt, the interdisciplinary journal of LMU’s Honors program), he reflected on the multiple personal benefits that have come from being an Honors student at LMU. He says, “To me, to be a student at a Jesuit Honors program involves a recognition of my privilege and my potential. The Jesuit aspect of LMU has ingrained within me the belief that a meaningful life comes through serving others. LMU has provided me abundant opportunities to engage in meaningful service; service which has allowed me to reflect [on] how I got to where I am today, and how I can utilize my particular path to empower others.”

Service and reflection are integral hallmarks of Jesuit Honors programs. For Mary Colleen Dulle, a senior majoring in journalism and French at Loyola University New Orleans, these have been a part of her formation as a student and as a budding journalist. She says, “The Jesuits here have taught me Ignatian discernment, a practice I’ve been able to get better at through retreats and conversations with the Jesuits. I try to use discernment a lot in my journalism work, making ethical calls as an editor or deciding how to tell a story. I think that also ties into doing journalism ‘for the greater glory of God,’ which, yes, can mean doing religion reporting like I want to do, but, more than that, it means seeing my reporting as a service to the community and approaching it that way."

The sense of community fostered by individual Honors programs has been extended to the Jesuit network through the AJCU Honors Consortium. In the years to come, directors and students plan to collaborate more with each other, through listservs and even shared publications: Beginning in 2018, LMU's Attic Salt will accept submissions from Honors students at all U.S Jesuit colleges and universities. Plans are already underway for the next AJCU Honors Conference at Creighton University in spring 2018; visit the AJCU Honors Consortium webpage to learn more.