October 15, 2013

MISSION MATTERS: Many Voices: The Mission Really Does Matter

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I joined the SLU faculty in the Department of Sociology and Criminal Justice in July of 2004. I was excited. Here was a university that was committed to teaching students to be men and women for others, that was committed to social justice. My heart and soul tell me that this is the place I need to be.

I often tell people that I am not a religious man. However, what I am is a man who sees the opportunity to fulfill my heart's passion every day through the work I do. I still believe strongly in the core values that our University Mission promotes. Engaging others and working in service to their vision of their lives is the foundation for human and social justice.

My belief in the Mission has been enhanced by two experiences I have had at SLU that strengthened my spiritual and work life. The first was a discussion about the Jesuit urban commitment at a conference of Jesuit colleges and universities in the heartland. The second was a Magis Retreat that provided an opportunity to experience Ignatius' spiritual exercises, the core of the Jesuit way of life. Both exposed me as a faculty member to a deeper understanding of the underlying philosophy of our Jesuit community.

I learned that Jesuit universities were intentionally placed in the hearts of cities so that they could connect to communities that were distressed. I learned that other men and women who worked at Jesuit universities struggled with the incongruence of gated communities in the midst of urban despair, just like I did. Through the exercises I learned more of the relationship my work had to the world around me. Both of these experiences enhanced my spiritual life and helped me to discern where my work fit as an expression of my life's passion. My work in the Greater St. Louis community is an expression of that passion.

As a criminologist, it is of the utmost importance that I not only understand the problems that contribute to criminal offending, but also that I prepare students who have identified justice careers as their life's passion. This requires, in my mind, the convergence of the streams of my academic life — teaching, research and service — into a single flow. A flow that creates opportunities for me and my student's to become a part of the community we reside in. By doing this they learn not only about the "other," but about the human aspirations of people who may be victims or offenders who will need them at some point. Many police departments inscribe the saying "to Protect and Serve" on their cars. I think our justice personnel would be even better prepared if that service was to a higher mission, a mission that matters so much to our spiritual selves.

Every year I meet with incoming students or walk into classrooms and am given the privilege of working with extraordinary young men and women who come to Saint Louis University precisely because Mission Matters. They come here to learn many things, but the one that makes my heart sing is that they come to become men and women for and with others, and to put the Mission of Saint Louis University to life. They believe they can become transformative leaders in the world they live in.

Recently we held an event titled Breaking the Bubble, my students' brainchild. The talk was the first in a series designed to expose students to the St. Louis community we live in. The event was a reflection of that special spirit that resides in the hearts of our students — it is the core of who they are. They yearn to reach beyond the ends of their fingertips and their imaginations to help people. I believe it is our task to help them do it.

Norman White, Ph.D, associate professor of criminology and criminal justice;
director, criminology and criminal justice undergraduate program

Higher purpose. Greater good.
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