Privilege in the Sea of Injustice: Campus Ministries as places of Intention and Process

25 Jul

From my experience with Campus Ministry, I know two things to be certain: One, a lot of young people care a whole hell of a lot about making a difference in their community and in the world. Campus Ministries are full of people with fresh ideas, high energy and immense capacity for changing the world. I also know that Campus Ministries are different than other organizations that focus strictly on social justice organizing because they create a space for young people to take pause with intention. Whether in our buildings or outside them in groups, Campus Ministries challenge us to take the time to check in with ourselves, to take care of ourselves and to connect our spiritual/emotional journey to the work we are doing. I think of the metaphor of scuba diving; in this metaphor we are all approaching a sea of social injustice. It holds everything that is wrong with the world. It is tempting to dive right into those high pressure zones and stay there until we can’t take it anymore, because there is so much wrong in the world that if we don’t keep on and keep on until we burn out we won’t be good enough, we will have not done enough.

 

But we can’t dive in unless we know how to work the equipment, and take care of it. We approach social justice with the equipment of knowledge, spiritual growth and the support of community. Like scuba diving, we can’t stay down in the depths forever, going into the deepest trenches and not coming up for air. Sometimes we need to come up for air, to revive. We need to connect with community members in spaces where we can process our experiences, renew our spirits, strengthen our resolve and dive back in.

 

I think that Campus Ministry provides us with the space to be intentional and whole about taking care of ourselves as we dive in and out of the sea of social justice work. Scientifically speaking, we know more about outer space than we do about our world’s oceans. So metaphorically, the sea is a good fit. We don’t know what we will find there. Sometimes in our work with social justice we might find we encounter something we just can’t handle; it may be something that devastates or infuriates us, and this might be a case where if we want to make a difference on that issue and for the people it affects it is best that we come up for air. If those of us with privilege, from largely white denominations and from the higher education /campus ministry world try to engage with difficult issues of injustice at times when we are emotionally vulnerable and do not allow ourselves to address it emotionally or spiritually within ourselves, we may end up doing more harm than good. Campus Ministries provide us with the space to process and to make sure we are whole and healthy so that we can be true allies in social justice.

 

In closing, it is very important to emphasize that I recognize the ability to stop and worry about “am I taking care of myself so I can be the best ally possible” is a privilege.  But I think realistically when we look at the demographics of liberal religious communities (and I am writing as a leader in a Unitarian Universalist Church) there is a lot of privilege. And oftentimes those of us with privilege will struggle with processing injustice because it is not the norm for us — we are making a choice to dive in and engage with it. Therefore we might find things shocking, we might react out of guilt, fear, and anger. If we just jump in to other people’s struggles and then bring those feelings with us, bring that privilege with us without processing it; we surely will not be the best allies. We will get lost in the sea, and we might bring others down with us. In this way, I think campus ministries serve a vital role. They create intentional spaces to process and create balance in our lives as we delve into that sea of injustice. They help us to come up for air and not burn out, but they also help us to bring a whole and intentional perspective so that we do not do more harm than good to communities we hope to stand in solidarity with.

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Teresa Zaffiro is the Director of Religious Education at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship  (UUFT) in Topeka, KS. She is the former development coordinator at the Ecumenical Campus Ministries at the University of Kansas and continues to serve on the “Envision ECM” committee for long-term campus ministry vision and planning as well as has continued involvement in ECM programming and Leadership Team.

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One Response to “Privilege in the Sea of Injustice: Campus Ministries as places of Intention and Process”

  1. Christopher Eshelman July 25, 2012 at 11:36 am #

    Reblogged this on Campus Ministry @ WSU Official Blog and commented:
    “Pause with Intention” – great post on the role of Campus Ministry from a Peer. “Privilege in the Sea of Injustice”

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