By Ignatius Plato
Developing students to live as responsible citizens, sensitive to the needs of their world, is a hallmark of Jesuit education. In many cases, this education incorporates consideration of global or international issues. St. Louis University (SLU) High School in St. Louis invites its students to active global conversation through its Global Education program.
“SLU High created the Global Education program a couple years back to address the mission of the Society on a global level,” said Rob Chura, the program’s director. “The main takeaway from those meetings: ‘think globally, act locally.’ The language of service truly is international, as Jesuits prove again and again. So, we wanted to investigate ways our students could realize that they can be more than just local leaders – they can also be global communicators.”
Chura’s role is to find ways in which students can adapt and redirect the ways in which one can serve globally. Part of this conversation finds its roots in complex situations.
“International disputes have always created a sense of global division, and the pandemic didn’t exactly help with that,” says Chura. “One of the biggest questions we tackle with the students is how we can recontextualize the cultural isolation we find ourselves in toward a greater good.”
The Society of Jesus’ Universal Apostolic Preferences (UAPs) offer guidance on how to proceed. Chura says that by approaching global issues through an Ignatian lens, students begin to find ways in which those same issues can be tackled on a practical level.
“For example, how can our work in caring for the earth or standing with the marginalized translate into global policy, like statements the United Nations releases?” Chura said. “That typically springboards into some surprising insights from our students.”
Students’ ideas were put into action at the recent Global Activism Leadership Summit, one of SLU High’s efforts to bring together students from around the world to engage in collaborative work. The summit was held over Zoom, due to pandemic concerns at the time. Groups of students discussed the different issues that affected their specific parts of the world and how they could make active strides toward a global solution to the issues. Each group then gave a presentation relaying their findings, insights and ideas to the rest of the summit.
Chura recalled one particular moment of impact. “As we were wrapping up our final questions, I noticed one international student who had been dying to share something,” he said “So, before we all disconnected, I called on him. He said that he was incredibly appreciative for the summit and was sad to see it end due to all the friendships he had formed.”
Chura believes that this moment exemplifies the much-needed spirit of understanding that is lacking in much of today’s global communication.
“A lot of global policy rests on cooperation,” he says. “That’s the typical mindset of ‘I scratch your back, you scratch mine.’ But, based on the work of our students in Global Education, I’ve noticed that what we really need is collaboration – working together toward the same goal because each person understands what the other person needs.”
So, while the summit itself and the content of the projects produced was productive, Chura finds even greater hope in knowing students are learning about understanding and cross-cultural collaboration.
“All the projects they come up with lead to lifelong relationships,” he said. “That translates into a more collaborative world – a more understanding world.”
The Global Education program at SLU High continues to address the dilemma of global communication in a time of cultural isolation, and Chura loves when students find ingenious and productive ways to solve those issues, even if in small ways.
“We live in a world full of differences,” he says, “and differences are meant to be celebrated. We celebrate them through human connection and understanding. It will be up to all of us – not just the younger generation – to make that human connection a reality.”