This fall, Conversations on Jesuit Higher Education expanded its portfolio by launching a new podcast series. “The Intersection” was developed by James P. McCartin, Ph.D., associate professor of theology at Fordham University and chair of the National Seminar on Jesuit Higher Education, and is hosted by Jennifer Abe, Ph.D., a professor in the department of psychological science at Loyola Marymount University. Professors McCartin and Abe recently discussed the impetus for creating the podcast, their process for finding guest speakers from Jesuit and non-Jesuit institutions, and their hopes for listeners.
AJCU: How did the “The Intersection” come about?
James P. McCartin: One of the things I’ve learned in my work of helping faculty develop a deeper understanding of mission is that they often experience a kind of disconnect between their work lives and their affective or emotional lives. They’ve often been trained and formed—or maybe, malformed—for this kind of disconnect in their graduate programs and in previous work experiences. I thought it might be a good idea to try to tackle this kind of disconnect, not only for faculty but for staff and administrators, too, and it occurred to me that my friend, Jennifer Abe of Loyola Marymount University, would be a perfect partner in shaping the podcast and becoming its voice. She’s so thoughtful and so deeply engaged with Jesuit and Ignatian traditions in her work and in her leadership on campus, and is dedicated to centering the way in which everyone on campus is invited to own the mission in their work and in their lives.
Jennifer Abe: I moderated a webinar in Fall 2021 hosted by Conversations and organized by Jim McCartin. Although we had never met, we had a great time working together. He has a wonderful way of providing a compelling intellectual framework for a conversation, pulling people together, and then supporting the subsequent unfolding process. Well, a few weeks later, he asked me if I would be interested in hosting a podcast series that he was developing. Of course, I agreed to another chance to collaborate with him on a new kind of creative venture that neither of us had done before.
What do you hope listeners will take away from this series?
Abe: Jim and I had several discussions that focused on what it meant to integrate intellect and affect in higher education in a way that was grounded in Ignatian values and inclusive of all members of our campus communities. In this series, our focus on being a whole person in higher education is about encouraging each other to live into this wholeness with authenticity and integrity, not only for ourselves, but also for the sake of our communities.
We lift up different elements and angles of this challenge through the different conversations, but in the end, they are all about the same thing: to see how we can live more fully and wholly, with intentionality and presence. This is ultimately about seeing our lives as a gift from, and response to, God. Or something transcendent beyond ourselves. I think here of St. Irenaeus’ oft-repeated quote, “the glory of God is [a human being] fully alive.” So, being able to experience living itself as sacramental. We don’t always explicitly name how spirituality grounds our work, but Jesuit institutions of higher education have a tremendous resource in this Ignatian tradition that can be made more accessible to everyone. It might be an ancient tradition, but it is highly relevant to our lives today.
McCartin: My hope is that listeners will be able to identify and name that sense of disconnection that they so often experience and that they will explore the ideas and practices that our guests highlight to help move toward greater integration. One of the interesting things that comes out of these conversations is the way in which Ignatian practices like the Examen or discernment resonate across a wide and diverse community of people, and so I hope that a wider community of our colleagues in Jesuit higher education, and beyond, will be able to see how the Ignatian tradition is something that is accessible and can be valuable for them in their work lives and in their broader lives. I’d also like for listeners to walk away with a deeper interest in the really outstanding guests we’ve tapped, both from the Jesuit network and beyond. These people are real stars, and we were lucky to get them for these conversations.
How did you find the faculty as guests?
McCartin: Jennifer and I talked a lot about how to craft the four episodes of the series, and we spent a lot of time combing through the Jesuit network and the larger U.S. higher education network to find people who could bring alive the themes we wanted to explore. We knew we wanted to center humanistic perspectives, building on the Jesuit tradition of centering the humanities in higher ed, and we knew we wanted to get voices from multiple institutions and professional backgrounds. And all of this seemed to lead pretty naturally to the guests we invited. In fact, one of the nicest things about working on this podcast was the enthusiasm of each of the guests who responded to our invitation by saying things like, “Wow, this is a really important set of topics, and we don’t have enough outlets for talking about these things in higher ed.” So, it all seemed to come together quite naturally.
How can this series contribute to ongoing national conversations on the value and importance of higher education?
Abe: For me, the value of the series is more indirect than providing another argument or perspective on the value of higher education. We are trying to help create the kind of campus climates we need to nourish people so that we can serve our students (and work with each other) from a place of personal and communal abundance, not depletion. Of course, this work also requires serious attention to structural issues on our campuses, but the series might help us think about how we view our lives and interact with each other.
Will you be exploring other themes or topics in future episodes or series?
McCartin: “The Intersection” was designed as a four-part series. We don’t have plans to produce more episodes at the moment, but who knows! We’ve got two other ongoing podcast series that cover some exciting topics. Michael Serazio of Boston College hosts and produces a podcast for Conversations called “Formative” in which he interviews interesting alumni of Jesuit colleges and universities, like the transformative Pittsburgh mayor Tom Murphy, who graduated from John Carroll University, and Sr. Mary Scullion, R.S.M., a Saint Joseph’s University alumna who is an influential activist in ensuring that people who have been homeless can live in dignity. Anne Fernald and Steven D’Agustino at Fordham University have also been producing episodes on teaching through their podcast series, “Twice Over.” They’ve spotlighted interesting people, such as the TikTok star and College of the Holy Cross chemist, André Isaacs, and anthropologist and museum curator Catherine Nichols of Loyola University Chicago. And of course, we want to expand our podcast offerings in the future, so we’re always looking for bright ideas from our colleagues across the Jesuit network.
Contact: Deanna Howes Spiro, Vice President of Communications, AJCU