Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Year of the City

In response to the question posed by Dr. Ellis as to why the "Year of the City" matters, or should matter, I believe that the root of that question is why justice is important to those who are not suffering. It is easy for a school like Loyola to trumpet justice because most of the students who attend the college have never experienced poverty first hand. In order to even comprehend what justice really is, the students must see and feel the emotional and physical drains of material poverty. It is difficult to imagine the kind of pain that comes from not being able to provide for one's own child and the service opportunities at Loyola may help to expose students to the reality of the struggle of impoverished people. Loyola has a strong record of helping the community but perhaps the students do not have such a clear idea of what that sort of life is like. Regardless of how much good Loyola students do, it is fairly obvious that they do not always bring those experiences back to the decisions they make. Perhaps if the college encouraged students to shed certain luxuries and excesses it would be easier for students to relate to the greater Baltimore population. An excellent start would be to not start extensive landscaping projects aimed to beautify the campus during a year devoted to recognizing the very basic needs of others.

The Year of the City, however effective, comes from a deeply rooted Jesuit tradition of service. As a Jesuit institution, Loyola strives to impart an idea of the value of justice onto its students. During the orientation period freshman year, I heard the phrase "men and women for others" more times than I could count. I was proud to be part of a school that includes a sense of purpose and generosity in its core educational philosophy. Upon reading 'Landmarking', it became clear that the Loyola College mission came out of hundreds of years of strategic efforts to improve the lives of others, particularly in communities, through education. I found in interesting that the churches and schools were planned to be a central part of a community in the early days of the Jesuit mission. As it was mentioned in class, the idea that there is the Year of the City may take away from the traditional plans of the Jesuits that every year and in fact every day be about contributing to and serving the surrounding community. The Year of the City is important in this way in that it acts as a reminder to what we should all know from those first few days on campus: we are here at a Jesuit institution to learn how to serve the world.

The Danticat reading takes this general philosophy to a more personal level. We experience the pain and the suffering along with the values and the pride of these people who, despite lacking material goods, demonstrate great courage and see many parts of life that elude the more fortunate. She also shows us the horrors of socio-political injustice in the violent treatment of the people at the hands of the soldiers in the first half of the book. By allowing us to tap into the fear and the determination of the suffering poor, Danticat can help students to understand the importance of justice on an individual level. The Year of the City is not important in that we can save the city of Baltimore. Such an effort would be impractical and merely temporary. What the Year of the City really provides is an opportunity to reach out and help individuals. By serving a meal or encouraging a child, students can impact the life of another person one-on-one. The chance to do justice in this way should not only be thought of as important, it should be considered an invaluable part of an education for others.