By Kaylee Wong (Fordham University ‘20), Sara Manjee (Marquette University ‘20) & Abigail Hughes (Canisius College ‘20)
At Jesuit college and university campuses across the United States, Student Government Presidents are called to serve as a bridge between the student body and university administration. Each president focuses on a slate of issues that affect their campus community, thereby helping each student to unify their hearts, minds and souls. As campus leaders who seek to be agents of change, they are doing so within the values of the Jesuit mission: Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam (“For the Greater Glory of God”) motivates each campus leader to act in best practice for and with God, human beings and the environment.
In order for Student Government Presidents to act as servant leaders of their respective campuses, it is vital for them to reflect on the characteristics of their Jesuit education that have shaped their growth as leaders. Through Cura personalis (“care for the whole person”), we recognize the inherent value and dignity of the students we represent. This means that we have a responsibility to advocate for the best resources that can help contribute toward the development of students’ minds, bodies and spirits.
Standing for and with others means standing in solidarity with and advocating on behalf of all students to ensure that their voices and experiences are heard. This means that each Student Government President is called to share the gifts of leadership, pursue justice for all, and have concern for the poor and marginalized. As we strive for Magis (“more”), we are challenged to look beyond just ourselves and our individual campuses and strive for excellence as a Jesuit community.
As a result of this reflection, we have found allies among ourselves: ones who we can serve alongside for and with at Jesuit institutions across North America. This has created a new community centered on collaboration and advocacy, allowing each Student Government President and their respective institution to enact change on a broader, collective scale.
In September 2017, Student Government Presidents representing 28 Jesuit colleges and universities* from across the United States came together to issue a joint statement on DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals), advocating for action to be taken on and off campus to protect the nearly 800,000 people who would be impacted by any changes to the program. Joining together to release this statement proved how much stronger campus leaders can be when they come together not only to advocate, but to stand in solidarity with others.
Following this statement, Student Government Presidents from 28 Jesuit institutions signed on to form the Jesuit Student Government Alliance (JSGA). This partnership aims to ensure representation of all students from members of the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities (AJCU) and a unified promotion of Jesuit principles. Greater connection between Jesuit colleges and universities strengthens our commitment to the broader Jesuit Catholic mission while providing opportunities to share unique perspectives on campus issues, government structures and processes, and global concerns. The establishment of a Jesuit student leader coalition such as this provides a vehicle for national understanding and solidarity among Student Government Presidents and their institutions.
The Jesuit Student Government Alliance (JSGA) continued their partnership with the release of a second statement after a number of Jesuit schools experienced hate crimes and bias incident reports. In the March 2019 Hate Crime and Bias-Related Incidents statement, JSGA addressed and condemned the racism and discrimination that were dividing our campus communities:
“Jesuit, Catholic institutions are not exempt from ingrained cultural norms that discriminate against individuals on the basis of identity. These norms are further expressed through micro-aggressions and day-to-day incidents, both inside and outside of the classroom that degrades our students’ sense of safety and belonging. Identifying and reacting to only the most prominent examples of bias cannot fully deconstruct the attitudes that encourage them. It is far past time that each of our institutions takes comprehensive and impactful steps to build more equitable communities, and we are committed to addressing the normalization of prejudice in collaboration with our respective administrations. Change must come from all levels of our community – students, faculty, staff, administrators, alumni and the Board of Trustees. We as students need to hold ourselves accountable and address these issues at every level at our institutions.”
The Hate Crimes and Bias-Related Incidents statement included an action plan and called upon students, administrators and trustees across the country to take action to protect and stand in solidarity with students of color.
In the upcoming year, JSGA hopes to work together to advocate for and with marginalized and underrepresented communities to ensure that all students feel at home and included on their respective campuses. During our meetings at the JSGA Winter Summit in January 2019, the annual National Jesuit Student Leadership Conference (NJSLC), and online, we have worked together to advocate on a larger scale while also working toward our common goals as student leaders. JSGA members held their third official in-person meeting in July during NJSLC at the University of Detroit Mercy, where we discussed pressing issues on our campuses relating to sustainability, diversity and inclusion, and LGBTQ+ resources. We hope to continue these conversations throughout the academic year and at our second Annual Winter Summit this January.
Through JSGA, Student Government Presidents have established a strong network of support, solidarity and collaboration, which has allowed us to expand our platform to further amplify students’ voices on a national level. We have found that through the similar obstacles we face as student leaders, we can find strength and success in the common bonds of our shared Jesuit mission and identity.
Through our joint efforts, we strive to continue to reach for Magis, build upon each other’s achievements, and uplift one another as we work to better Jesuit campuses across the country and advocate for social justice in the larger world.
*At the time of signing, Wheeling University was a Jesuit institution known as Wheeling Jesuit University.
Kaylee Wong (Fordham University ‘20) and Sara Manjee (Marquette University ‘20) serve as co-chairs of the Jesuit Student Government Alliance; Abigail Hughes (Canisius College ‘20) serves as Communications Chair.