Congratulations to Joseph Connelly, Experiential Education Specialist with CGEE, for his published article in the most recent volume of Jesuit Higher Education: A Journal (JHE) (Volume 10, Number 2 (2021).This volume is focused on “Solidarity and Global Citizenship”. His article titled, A Long, Loving Look at the Real: An Experiential Ignatian Approach to Immersion can be found online for free.
The following are a few excerpts from his work.
“International immersion and study abroad would, however, significantly change the course of my life. After a week-long immersion focused on human rights in Guatemala, I was a new man.”
On the history of CGEE
In 2020, the Center for Global Education and Experience celebrated its fortieth birthday since its founding in 1980. While that sounds like ancient history to many of the undergraduate students I accompany, many faculty and staff members are able to personally recall the realities facing Latin America in the late 1970s and early 1980s, and understand both the importance and the boldness of the decision to form a Center whose main function was to be exposing U.S. citizens to the lived realities on the ground in Mexico and Central America during those brutal years of state repression and violence.
In this context, and as a response to these exact conditions, the Center for Global Education and Experience was founded with the mandate and deep belief in the importance of U.S. citizens coming to see these realities with their own eyes. The mission of CGEE was to provide the opportunity for U.S. citizens to hear testimony directly from the affected people; to feel the ache, the despair, the stench of loss, and utter lack of control that the people felt in the face of such crushing poverty and violence—realities that are impossible to capture in a news report, much less a Congressional report, and which must be encountered directly and without mediation to be understood.
On Solidarity and Immersions
In recent years, Jesuit institutions have been at the forefront of a move away from a traditional model of “service trips,” which often serve to reinforce colonial power dynamics and stereotypes, and toward an “immersion model” that encourages community engagement, accompaniment, and solidarity. My experience is that undergraduate students have a deep desire to act and engage, but when thinking about travel to the developing world, it is often the case that the only term they have been given for this type of engagement is “service” or even “mission trips.” Nevertheless, the students I have accompanied have shown that they deeply desire meaningful engagement and relationship building, and if spaces are created to facilitate this, they are more than happy to let go of the urge to “do service.” A lens of solidarity, in contrast to service, encourages participants to strive for relationships characterized by equality, reciprocity, and respect.
A lens of solidarity during the immersion itself does not mean there is no call to service of any kind. Rather, participants recognize that this type of action will take place once they return home, within their own local and national contexts. The action step is a quintessential element of praxis, without which the circle is broken; if it is missing, the experience was just a vacation. At CGEE, programs are oriented toward the hope that participants’ action steps are born out of new insight, depth, and transformation.
In 2020, the world experienced the powerlessness that the poor and marginalized live daily, as the flaws and weakest links in our systems were exposed. Solidarity in this context will mean resisting the temptation to go back to our “normal,” comfortable lives, and will necessitate deep commitments of attention and struggle on behalf of those who still need liberation. Such solidarity requires compassion, not simply in the form of empathy, but a profound form of accompanying those who suffer.