Understanding our Heritage, Living the Mission: A Seminar for Student Leaders
Joseph P. Shadle and Debra Mooney, Ph.D., Xavier University

Over the past couple of years, staff from the Center for Mission and Identity at Xavier University have been developing group seminars to further deepen the understanding of the Jesuit, Catholic identity among its Board of Trustees, President’s Cabinet, faculty and staff in ways that are time-efficient (brief, engaging pre-readings), easily accessible (web-based) and Ignatian (fostering reflective self-awareness). Topics include the founding of the Society of Jesus, Jesuit education and core values, the contemporary lived tradition, Ignatian spirituality and discernment, and the history of the university.

At the request of the leaders in the Student Government Association, the seminar, Understanding Our Heritage: Living The Mission, was adapted for their student membership and offered in the spring of 2012. The purpose of the session was to support mission-conscious leadership and decision-making. This spring, the adapted seminar was offered to a group of student employees. 

The student seminar process includes three sections:

  1.  Video viewing, which provides an introduction to Ignatian values and Xavier’s mission.
  2.  Quiet time for reflection on how the participant exhibits these values in their leadership on campus.
  3.  Personal sharing with one another.

The seminar also uses a “values” wheel that the university developed and has been incorporating into its strategic plan, discernment processes, annual review process, and other modes of communicating its Jesuit, Catholic identity. The values wheel includes: Magis, Reflection, Discernment, Solidarity and Kinship, Service Rooted in Justice and Love, and Cura Personalis. Each of these six values has a brief definition and list of behaviors that reflect each value. For instance:

Discernment invites us to be open to God’s spirit as we consider our feelings and rational thoughts in order to make decisions and take actions that will contribute good to our lives and the world around us. We:

  • Lead and inspire change
  • Make important decisions with broad consultation
  • Consider the full impact of our actions
  • Operate without personal agenda
  • Manage our emotions and react appropriately to the emotions of others
  • Manage conflict constructively

A key element to the seminar is a discussion among the students regarding the question, “Where do I need support or ideas about how to better live out one of these values in my leadership role?” This provides both a moment of personal vulnerability and communal camaraderie for the students as they realize that their peers all struggled to live out at least one value. The discussion also offers students an opportunity to share their ideas or personal examples of how they live out that particular value with which a peer was having difficulty.

Comments from students have included:

  • I liked the way we took time to reflect on our strengths/weaknesses within the Ignatian values.”
  • “I enjoyed getting the chance to reflect on our mission and discuss how we incorporate it into our work with others.”

Of the six values discussed, “reflection” is a characteristic that most of the students readily associated with their Jesuit, Catholic, educational experience. One student stated, “As an individual, I have come to value reflection and appreciate its importance and benefits in everyday life. Getting caught up in my busy, day-to-day routine can take time away from reflection and there is a lack of emphasis on what is truly important. Reflection allows me to refocus and look at the bigger picture. I view every single day now as a new experience, a gift and a blessing that I was given for a reason. Each day is a new adventure in which I am allowed to learn and grow.”

Another student offered, “I think I’ve grown complacent in my spiritual life. In high school, I was very involved in service and reflected on a daily basis. Now I seem so caught up in academics that I fail to reflect on what is really important. I am very grateful that I attend a university that takes time to remind me of what is most important.”

Many students also highlighted “cura personalis” (defined as “the care of the individual person”) as a value that they hoped to model in their work and leadership roles. One student expressed that, “Through this meeting I’ve had time to reflect on all the people who have helped me at different points in my life – regardless of what they were doing. These people acted in a very caring, self-less way and I feel that because of them, I have not only grown as a person, but I’ve been inspired to model their spirit in my own actions. In my leadership positions, I plan to model Cura Personalis as my way of hoping to help others as I have been helped.”

In reflecting on the seminar overall, a student said: “I know that I was born a leader, but I also know that I can be very timid and hesitant to take advantage of an opportunity that comes my way. While evaluating these six characteristics, it definitely will help me to break away from my “shyness” and help incorporate these Jesuit values. Magis, reflection, discernment, cura personalis, solidarity and kinship, and service rooted in justice and love all are wonderful gifts not only to incorporate in my leadership, but in my daily life.”

At the end of the seminar, some students have written reflections on which Ignatian value they feel that they live out the best and which one is most challenging for them. Through these personal leadership narratives, a student’s experience becomes more tangible as they intentionally reflect on Ignatian values. They recognize how they have acquired various values and skills and where their growing edges are as they intentionally cultivate these Ignatian values further.

To expand the support of mission-conscious student leadership, the Center has published a series of booklets titled “Lighting the Way,” written by students as they reflect on how they have incorporated these values into their lives and studies. At the end of each booklet, reflection questions provide the reader with an opportunity to reflect on their own experience in light of the values. A number of faculty use the book to guide mission-focused discussion in the classroom. The series of booklets is targeted at specific populations such as graduate students or student athletes. A volume specifically designed for student leaders will be published in early summer.

In summary, we have found that students can more fully understand the richness of the Ignatian tradition through reflection on their roles as campus leaders.     

Lighting the Way: Incorporating Jesuit Values as a Student Athlete can be viewed here.

Connections is the online monthly news publication of the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities (AJCU) that provides readers with news and information about the 28 Jesuit colleges and universities in the United States.