by Gina Merys, Acting Director, Reinert Center
“It is imperative that we maintain hope even when the harshness of reality may suggest the opposite.” Paulo Freire
Each academic year, the Reinert Center chooses a theme to highlight and focus the programming we design for the year. The theme that we had chosen for the 2020-21 academic year is Community. As I have grappled with what the term community means now, I have to admit I have been daunted since we chose the theme many months ago. Just as we need to be together more than we ever really knew before, new barriers and very old barriers place physical, intellectual, and spiritual distances and divides between us. In order to be truly in communion with each other, we cannot teach, learn, or serve as though these barriers do not exist, we cannot place human wholeness at a remove. In (re)creating community in our multi-format classes, in our scholarship and research, in the ways we serve the university and our neighbors we are now called upon with renewed vigor to consider the multiple facets of inclusion and exclusion we enact and embody in each moment. So then, what is the definition of community?
The epigraph that begins this post also begins bell hooks’ Teaching Community: A Pedagogy of Hope. While I believe my own engaging in hopefulness can dangerously teeter on the thin edge of so much privilege, I nonetheless indulge in it here as a way to encourage all of us to do the heavy work invoked by the notion of creating community. hooks points out that “many of our students come to our classrooms believing that real brilliance is revealed by the will to disconnect and disassociate. They see this state as crucial to the maintenance of objectivism” (180). With this belief already at work, the task of connection, of community building has yet another facet of our own making to examine. But, hooks reminds us that “when as teachers we create a sense of the sacred [community] simply by the way we arrange the classroom, by the manner in which we teach, we affirm to our students that academic brilliance is not enhanced by disconnection” (180). This is an important reminder for instructors as well; wholeness is a key to continuing our work at the high levels we wish to maintain.
hooks also draws on the words of another inspiring teacher and writer, Parker Palmer. She includes, “Education is about healing and wholeness. It is about empowerment, liberation, transcendence, and our renewing the vitality of life. It is about finding and claiming ourselves and our place in the world” (179). Palmer’s description of education here relies on all of us to be both teacher and student. It is also the closest I have come yet, to finding the essence of what I believe is the definition of community at this moment in history at a Jesuit University.
We at the Reinert Center will continue to look for ways to develop Community throughout the rest of the fall semester and into the spring. We invite you to join us in this endeavor. New resources are added frequently to our website including inclusive teaching resources [LINK] and instructional continuity resources [LINK]. Please visit our events page for the most current list of upcoming programming, as well [LINK].