The College of Arts & Sciences Blog

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Faith that does justice

“Being a disciple of Jesus is taking up the battle against evil. It is more than avoiding sin. It is helping to create a new world.”

Fr. George M. Smiga, STD (From Give us This Day, March 2022)

I began writing today’s blog on Ash Wednesday, the day in the Christian liturgical calendar that marks the beginning of the reflective and penitential season of Lent. As a family, we’ve been discussing how we want to honor this season. When I was a child, it was the custom to give something up. For me, it was usually chocolate, which was HARD! As an adult, especially after I started participating in Jesuit retreats, my practice developed into adding something to rather than subtracting from my daily routine. Over the last few years, my practice shifted again, with a focus on ways to do justice in the world, including at work.

Let me share a recent key shift in my perspective. In 2016, I was a parishioner at a suburban Detroit Catholic parish. It was near our home and a friendly place. As racist and xenophobic rhetoric in the public sphere increased, I became increasingly uncomfortable with the homilies preached by the pastor. They were not “wrong” but they always focused on personal sin and salvation, personal piety. Not once did he talk about the world around us, our local communities, or the moral imperative of a faith in service of others. I had noticed this pattern before but it created a strong dissonance in my spirit that year that moved me to search for a different worship community. I started attending a Jesuit parish in the city and later became a parishioner there. What a difference! The pastors did not neglect personal holiness but linked it directly to our life in community with others. They talked about our responsibility to see Jesus in others and to live out our faith in concrete ways. Faith and justice were naturally intertwined. As a community, the parish really took to heart St. Ignatius of Loyola’s command to “Go and set the world on fire!”

This Lent, I can’t help but think about what this means for our Catholic, Jesuit, and humanistic educational mission and practice at Gonzaga. We can focus on what we as individuals do in the classroom, or how our disciplines have always been taught. In some ways, this is like that sole focus on personal piety that does not attend to the cries of the poor (in this case, our students or the wider world). Alternatively, we can look around and really investigate (interrogate!) what and how we teach. No matter your religious or spiritual tradition (I recognize that people can be atheists and still spiritual), are you focused only on yourself, or do you enact a belief system that does justice, in service of your students? If we stick to our old way of doing things, we may miss opportunities to connect with students in a new way that may also change us for the better.

To be clear, personal piety is not a bad thing. Striving to be in a deeper relationship with Divine Majesty, however you define it, is healthy. It’s when we neglect the call to service and just or right action, that I think we’ve missed something. That service can look different for different people at different times of their lives. This Lent might be a great time to consider how your faith or belief system can be translated into justice for our students and colleagues.

Office of Mission Integration Lenten Resources: https://morningmail.gonzaga.edu/article/show/100582

Information on what it means to have a faith that does justice in the Catholic and Jesuit tradition:

https://www.usccb.org/offices/justice-peace-human-development/catholic-social-teaching

https://www.ncronline.org/news/opinion/how-be-ignatian-anti-racist-lent

Fundraising or Fun-raising?

#ZagsGiveDay is coming up March 3, 2022, and I’m excited about it.

Why?

Because it gives us another chance to share the wonderful work you are doing with the world!

Since joining Gonzaga, I’ve been listening to learn what you need to be successful, whether it’s in your discipline or career stage. Some of these needs require financial resources that cannot be satisfied from the College operational budget, most of which is used for the salaries and benefits of over 300 people. This is not unique to Gonzaga and is often why deans are expected to be fundraisers.

I know some people back away from leadership roles because they perceive fundraising to be unpleasant, but I enjoy it because it taps into my love of serving as a “matchmaker.” I find it personally fulfilling to connect people with shared interests and watch what they achieve together. In this case, it’s matching people who have resources to people who have great ideas. One visible way I do this is through social media (take a look at how I use Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram, and it is very much about elevating the College and our shared vision, even when I post personal things). I also work behind the scenes with University Advancement to align potential donors’ desires or interests with the needs of a department, project, or person. We have recently been blessed with sizeable gifts to several departments like Political Science, Mathematics, and Biology. More are in process. These gifts will help departments do things they always wished they could do like provide summer stipends to faculty-student teams, host visiting speaker series, and more. I’m also working on broader College fundraising to show how gifts help us recruit and retain outstanding faculty and staff through startup funds and mini-grants, as well as support our student groups such as Model UN, Ethics Bowl, Debate Team, SACNAS, choirs, and other performing arts councils, and more. This is why fundraising is more like fun-raising to me. Each gift makes it possible to do something we couldn’t do before and brings more people into our collective work. Zags Give Day is a fun and meaningful Zag-sourcing (think, crowdsourcing) event to support your work.

Choir members sing for “Hold Fast to Dreams: A Social Justice Concert for Resilience, Remembrance and Responsibility.” Photo by Isabella Stout

If you would like to join in this effort, consider following the College on social media and re-sharing our #ZagsGiveDay posts on Thursday, March 3, 2022. We’re focusing on the CAS Dean’s Excellence Fund to support faculty, staff, and student work as described above.

Twitter: @GonzagaCAS

Instagram: @GonzagaCAS

Facebook: Gonzaga University – College of Arts and Sciences

Go Zags!

Low visibility

I don’t know about you but the “ice fog” we’ve been experiencing in Spokane is fascinating to me. It can be treacherous, coating the roads with a thin layer of ice, and it can be beautiful, creating frost-flocked landscapes. Fog is also a great metaphor for how we’re navigating through this phase of the pandemic. We’re trying to make our way on paths that were once familiar but now obscured. We’re not sure when it will lift or what’s ahead.

I am reflecting on this as we head into the third week of the Spring 2022 semester, with the omicron variant tearing through communities. Many of you are frustrated and disappointed about the no-win situation of wanting to provide a quality educational experience to your students while also staying safe. And there seems to be no end in sight. Our path is obscured by uncertainty.

Yet, if I can share one thing, it’s to consider who is with you on this foggy journey. It might be the loved ones or friends you live with, your pets, your colleagues, your students, or others who are far away but close in spirit. In addition to my family and friends, I can’t think of better company right now than faculty and staff in the College of Arts and Sciences. I have seen how you’ve creatively pulled together to create community in your remote and in-person classrooms, support and encourage each other, and take care of yourselves. It’s truly amazing! For my part, I will continue to work to support what you love to do at Gonzaga, no matter the weather. Stay tuned for future blog posts that will share some of the bright spots in this work.

Replenishing the tank

This past weekend, I was able to experience my very first Fall Family Weekend. OK, so I missed Kraziness in the Kennel, but I did enjoy seeing the fruits of faculty and student labor and learning more about what excites and animates our students. What I experienced gave me a much-needed jolt of inspiration and energy when I was beginning to feel a bit stretched. From my conversations with faculty and staff, I don’t think I’m alone in finding October both exhilarating and exhausting.

Woman with mask and garland on her head, holding book and speaking into microphone.
Amy Pistone kicks off the 12+ hour reading of Homer’s Odyssey

My weekend started with attending the Homerathon, billed as the “most epic tradition at Gonzaga University.” I didn’t stay for the entire 12+ hour epic reading of Homer’s The Odyssey, but I did stop in with my 10-year old sidekick, who was off from school that day. It was so inspiring that he committed to reading a little bit next year if someone could help him with the Greek pronunciations (and wear some cool ancient Greekwear). Classics for the win!

Showcasing Undergraduate Research

Saturday, I visited several College of Arts and Sciences students at their posters, during the Undergraduate Student Research Showcase, which represented the culmination of their scholarly and creative work in their majors. I learned about patterns of racial segregation in the Midwest, the representation of political and cultural themes in Milton’s Paradise Lost (which still resonate today), the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on older adults living in assisted living facilities, music and dance as a manifestation of the varieties of the immigration experience. I also learned more about neofascist behavior in social media networks, intravenous drug use patterns among incarcerated people, algorithms to solve equations related to chemical energy more efficiently, and behavioral signaling and competition in insects.

Poster showcasing student research in background as female student explains her work to another woman.
Cintia Murillo shares her research at the Undergraduate Student Research Showcase

But what was truly inspiring was how all of these students were able to share their knowledge and passion for their topics. As a long-time mentor of doctoral students, I had to keep checking myself: “These are undergraduate students!” I enjoyed hearing what they hope to do next. Among this group of students are future K-12 teachers and professors, doctors, attorneys, public servants, researchers, and therapists. And to see family members’ beaming with pride about their students’ work was a treat.

Music makes the soul

Lights shine above a group of choral students as they sing at a concert. Piano and choral director in foreground.
We’ll All Rise Together led by Dr. Amy Porter and Dr. Jadrian Tarver

Later in the evening, I attended the Gonzaga University Choirs concert We’ll All Rise Together, led by our amazing Department of Music faculty, Dr. Amy Porter and Dr. Jadrian Tarver. How uplifting it was to enjoy the voices of our students, and after only about six weeks of practice! Compositions varied from traditional to contemporary and included African-American spirituals and Spanish choral pieces, showcasing that choral and musical excellence requires diversity. I hope the rest of the audience was uplifted and transformed by what they experienced. I can’t wait to see what our talented conductors and students bring to us next!

Fall Family Weekend is not just for students and families. As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, October is often when we begin to feel depleted, but Fall Family Weekend revived my sense of wonder and instilled new hope even as we still move through this pandemic. And looking even farther into the future, I know we’re going to be OK because we’re launching thoughtful, compassionate, and curious students into the world.


Learn more about the College here and here.

Celebration of Whistalks Way and Warrior Women

On August 20th, Toni Lodge (Turtle Mountain Chippewa), CEO of the Native Project, and Margo Hill (Spokane), Associate Professor of Urban and Tribal Planning at EWU, co-hosted an event celebrating the recently renamed Whistalks Way.

The event also celebrated the woman who inspired the name, Whist-alks, a Spokane woman, warrior, and wife of Yakama sub-chief Qualchan. She fought in Plateau War battles alongside her husband and, upon his hanging at the hands of Colonel George Wright, rode into Wright’s camp and threw her spear into the ground in front of him. Her defiant challenge asserted that Plateau Peoples would not be defeated and her courage made the U.S. Army see Plateau women. Whist-alks personified Plateau women’s commitment to community, culture, family, and homelands.

A certificate of appreciation and a scarf were offered during the ceremony. To the right, black gloves featuring the author’s grandmother’s beadwork.

Ms. Lodge and Professor Hill, a Gonzaga Law School alumna, joined with other leaders in the community to identify contemporary women who inherited the legacy of not only Whist-alks but of generations of grandmothers. More than 70 Native women and allies from fields including health care, education, law, Indigenous language preservation, community organizing and activism, and more were honored as Warrior Women. I am humbled and grateful to be among them, and proud to see Gonzaga recognized for the contributions of Wendy Thompson (Salish Kootenai), Director of Tribal Relations, and Rachelle Strawther, Director of Leadership Training and Development.

People have asked what specific action or accomplishment garnered recognition, but there is no single reason, no formula. While our names were read individually, in that setting we stood side-by-side as part of the whole. We each serve our communities in our own ways, and we do so as people raised with Native American cultural and kinship practices. We are responsible to this place and each other.

Centering Native-based Knowledge

My academic work is one way I contribute to the Plateau and my communities. This year marks the ninth year of the Native American Studies (NTAS) program, a minor established to embed Native content in the curriculum and to reinforce Gonzaga’s responsibility to place and community. Faculty who teach Native American Studies invite Native knowledge holders into classrooms and campus events because we want this campus to hear Native people speak for themselves and center Native-held knowledge. Approximately 40 guest speakers from the region and 20 speakers from Indian Country have shared our campus spaces, participating in conversations about tribal sovereignty, Native arts, Plateau health, Indigenous architecture, film, theatre, politics, Indigenous science, TEK, MMIW, and more.

While our names were read individually, in that setting we stood side-by-side as part of the whole.

NTAS students engage in research projects that advance Native-centered knowledge. This fall, the Introduction to Native American History course will work with Plateau knowledge holders to create digital interpretations of canoes and sn̓k̓ʷul̓mn̓ (things we use) as part of a larger digital humanities project. One year, students worked as “historical consultants” in the Jesuit Oregon Province Archives, researching tribal materials held in the collections, then preparing reports about the contents. At the end of the semester, one group’s report resulted in members of that community visiting the archives and reproducing materials to bring home with them. This kind of work connects students and community members in shared pursuits of knowledge and interpretation. 

Research is part of my academic practice as well, and I’m lucky that I’ve been able to co-author scholarly articles with Indigenous women including Shelly Boyd (Sinixt), Emma Noyes (Sinixt), and Miki’ala Pescaia (Native Hawaiian). According to The Chronicle of Higher Education, in 2019 approximately 457,000 women taught at four-year private institutions. How many of those women were Native? 550. How many Native women were tenured? 136. I am the second Native person and the first Native woman to be tenured at Gonzaga—and I have only held tenure since 2020, 133 years after Gonzaga was founded. Institutions must do better. If we want to achieve equity, we absolutely must do better.

Standing on the shoulders of ancestors

Toni Lodge and Margo Hill reminded honorees and attendees that we stand on the shoulders of our grandmothers and walk the paths they blazed for us. My grandmother was with me that day in the roses she once beaded for my moccasins. The moccasins don’t fit anymore, but I moved the roses to a dress and a pair of gloves—I know she would be happy to see I still carry them with me as I travel some of the same Plateau paths she did.

Laurie Arnold, Ph.D. (Sinixt Band Colville Confederated Tribe) is the Director of Native American Studies and an Associate Professor of History.

A Look Behind the Curtain

I fill various service roles as a Communication Studies faculty member, but I had not joined the Dean’s IDEAS in Action Committee, a group dedicated to enhancing the College’s diversity, equity, and inclusion [DEI] efforts. This committee, I later learned, has been remarkably productive, and the dean supported training for faculty members needing targeted skills to fulfill particular roles. I’ll admit, I felt some FOMO. When I saw Dean Caño was launching a summer faculty fellowship, I was elated to have a chance to learn more about her commitment to DEI.  

In addition to asking fellowship applicants to propose a project focused on one of three areas (I chose hiring), Annmarie’s email promised lessons in leadership and higher ed administration. I have been serving on the Faculty Senate for five years, which lends me a partial view of how our university’s commitment to shared governance operates. In its best moments, the Senate demonstrates profound commitment and collaboration among the faculty. Sometimes it also exposes ruptures, and in a spirit of goodwill, I’m always looking to bridge the gaps in trust, time, and willingness. One of those areas of potential rupture is hiring.  

Focus on Hiring

Hiring is a leap of faith. Despite the many hours of service on job search committees, ultimately, we never really know if a hire will find success here, particularly in the long term, and this can be only more pertinent for colleagues from under-represented backgrounds entering a predominantly white institution in a mid-sized city. One part of this fellowship has involved reading and discussing scholarship about creating a more inclusive university, and I am reassured by the fact that the resources exist to do the work of hiring better.  

Inspired by the work begun by the IDEAS in Action committee last year, I am working with Vince Velonza in the dean’s office to design a website that will host resources for a range of stakeholders, including faculty, staff, students, and job applicants. The site will assert the fundamental connection between our mission, Vision 2024 priorities, and Dean Caño’s call to strive to be more equitable in hiring and at all levels of our professional and personal lives. 

Bringing Students into the Process

I also have been charged with developing guidelines for hiring committees inviting a student member to advance their efforts this year, an inclusive practice that I learned is not uncommon across peer AJCU institutions. As a faculty advocate, I am creating a set of options that deliver flexibility for departments determining how to include students in their own hiring processes—including the option for students to earn internship credit by serving on a hiring committee.   

My project work is satisfying, but I did not anticipate the broader benefit of the fellowship was about relationships. I have enjoyed the simple opportunity to chat with Annmarie, hear about her daily schedule, and gain insight into how administrators often function as professional problem solvers. This look behind the curtain of being a dean has been inspiring and invigorating. 

Karen Petruska, Ph.D., is from St. Louis, MO, and is a graduate of a Jesuit university. Incorporating a wide range of media into her classes, Karen gives students the tools they need to successfully navigate a world dominated by screens. In her research, she studies the past and present of television, focusing in particular upon the business models that drive the industry. 

A Learning Community for All

The promise of the John and Joan Bollier Family Center for Integrated Science and Engineering is a learning community for all.

Deans often dream of being able to have a hand in building new facilities to support and grow the work of their faculty, staff, and students. I was fortunate enough to step into my role as dean with this dream already hatched, and I’m grateful for the groundwork laid by Associate Dean Matt Bahr, who served as Interim Dean before my arrival.

The Joan and John Bollier Family Center for Integrated Science and Engineering is a state-of-the-art facility that will foster innovative and collaborative STEM research and teaching in the College and the School of Engineering and Applied Science. You can read more about the Bollier family’s sense of purpose and generosity here. I am especially taken with Joan Bollier’s experience of being the “only one” in her engineering classes and her desire to create a space in which anyone who wants to pursue STEM studies can do so, and in fact, encouraged and nurtured to be successful. 

Dean Annmarie Caño taking a tour and learning more about the Center

A Space for Everyone

The College‘s faculty, staff, and students share this vision. For example, faculty have established a SACNAS chapter to mentor students who identify as Native American, Latinx/Chicanx, other underrepresented groups, and their allies in undergraduate STEM research. Students Andrew Jimenez, Ana Reyes, Cassidy Sebastian, Emiliano Soto-Romero and their faculty mentors, including Carla Bonilla, Amanda Braley, and Laura Diaz Martinez in Biology, are dispelling myths about STEM careers. They’re also having frank discussions about being the “only one,” educating faculty and staff about the strengths that BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) and underrepresented students bring to the research endeavor, and supporting each other in their work.

Gonzaga’s new SACNAS Chapter.

I am excited that the Bollier Center will support our collective work as a Catholic, Jesuit, and humanistic institution in pursuing academic excellence, caring for the whole person, creating knowledge that can improve society’s health and our planet, and offering a learning community for all.

Dean’s List…Of Summer Reading

I binge-read every summer. It could be the warmer weather or having more daylight hours (especially in Spokane!). The (slightly) slower pace of the workday might also mean I have more energy to focus on a book in the evenings. Whatever the reason, I just read more during the summer. 

For those of you who might ask, “How can a dean have time to read?” I answer that I wouldn’t feel like I’d be a good dean of a College of Arts and Sciences without time to read, especially novels and fiction (the humanities!) and non-fiction (about diversity and science!). And the social scientist in me revels in the psychological and social dynamics at play in fictional and real life. Reading also re-charges my energy and has expanded what I think is possible in life, including my own life as a mother, wife, daughter, friend, colleague, and citizen. 

But I didn’t always love reading. After a childhood filled with many trips to the public library (my parents were thrifty and would rarely spend money on books unless they were reference books I’d use over and over again), I lost interest in college. I did not perform well in my initial literature and poetry classes, and it felt punishing to read: Clearly, I was doing it all wrong, I thought. It was only later that I was able to see that my peers were more prepared to read critically and write the kinds of papers that earned As. I discovered how to write well in graduate school, and shortly after that, I began reading again. I am heartened by CAS faculty and staff who work closely with students to recognize their potential and nourish their curiosity so they can thrive in college and beyond. 

So, what are some of the books on my summer reading list? 

Fiction

The Deep by River Solomon – A powerful Afrofuturistic tale about the transformation of grief and the loss of life of enslaved African people.

Sharks in the Time of Saviors by Kawai Strong Washburn – How the power of the land beats on in a Hawaiian family as told by each family member.

Pigs by Johanna Stoberock – This was recommended to me by a fellow Humanities Washington board member; a dystopian tale that weaves together themes of childhood innocence, adult greed, waste and sustainability.

Weather by Jenny Offill – A university librarian who gets roped into answering an advice column and learn more than she wants to know about human nature.

The Bird King by G. Willow Wilson – Map-making, monarchy, jinn, and power struggles on the Iberian peninsula during the last sultanate. Intriguing, right?

Non-Fiction

The Alchemy of Us by Ainissa Ramirez – Hidden stories of the scientific discoveries that have shaped us as a species, written by a Black materials scientist who left academia and now engages in science communication.

Once I Was You by Maria Hinojosa – A Latina journalist’s memoir of straddling two worlds, working on imposter syndrome, and taking ownership of her talents

The Disordered Cosmos by Chanda Prescod-Weinstein – A non-binary Black astrophysicist explains the order and disorder of the universe

How to do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy by Jenny Odell – A biracial (Filipina/white) artist describes how being too attached to a capitalist, digital economy can harm our being. I selected this one because I tend toward overcommitting myself and I’m always looking for ways to live a more balanced life.

Lessons from Plants by Beronda Montgomery – A Black plant biologist draws parallels between the health of plants and what we need as humans to thrive.

What are you reading or listening to?

What is the College?

When people ask me what I do, and I say I am dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Gonzaga University, I initially get some impressed looks. (Wow, a dean!) But the next two questions are “What does a dean do?” and “Arts and Sciences? What is that?” Both are good questions but let’s start with the second (I’ll answer the first question in another post). The College is home to a range of disciplines spanning the fine and performing arts, humanities, social sciences, and natural sciences in 23 departments. With 33 majors and 48 minors to choose from, it may seem like the College is just a hodgepodge of disciplines with no relation to each other. But nothing could be farther from the truth.

Beautiful day outside College Hall, former home to the College.

This collection of disciplines is the core of a Catholic, Jesuit, and humanistic education. Each component helps us reflect on ourselves and our place in the world, appreciating and celebrating our differences and uniqueness, whether at the atomic, cellular, individual, interpersonal, or societal levels. In the College, we ask fundamental questions: What is the meaning of life? Why are we here on this Earth? and How can we use our knowledge, skills, and creativity to work together to solve life’s great problems? What sets Gonzaga’s College apart is that faculty, staff, and students have the opportunity to explore and learn together in a community that values the whole person—body, mind, and spirit. Each student is more than their grades or what they produce. This means that the education we offer in the College is limitless and can transform how we interact with others and build a better world. In two recent interviews, College of Arts and Sciences faculty and students shared their perspectives about what they are learning. As you will see, a College of Arts and Sciences education is more than meets the eye.

Collection of art objects at the Gonzaga University Urban Arts Center.
Artwork from the senior art show, April 2021.

Almost all Gonzaga undergraduates pass through the College as they journey through the University Core. It is here they gain skills that will support success throughout their lives, including ethical decision-making, critical thinking, self-reflection, and the ability to work effectively with people from diverse backgrounds. I have been impressed with how well our students can articulate how courses across the College foster a growth mindset that will serve them well into the future whether they pursue careers in health care, research, art and performance, education, public service, ministry, or business and industry. For instance, in this interview, students with a range of majors including Biology and Environmental Studies, describe how printmaking (Art) and creative writing (English) classes helped them develop their self-reflection. These creative problem-solving, and reasoning skills have served them well in other classes and will come in handy in their career and in life.

“These lessons will take them far in fulfilling career paths where they can also enjoy themselves and create lasting friendships.”

In the College, we apply this sensibility to our work outside the classroom too. I recently had the pleasure of interviewing students and faculty who participate in Model UN program and Debate teams and was inspired by their knowledge about current events and issues facing people worldwide but with their ability to see how they valued being part of a team. Supporting their colleagues in honing their arguments and having fun as they practiced their written and oral reasoning skills was as much a part of the learning process as their research. These lessons will take them far in fulfilling career paths where they can also enjoy themselves and create lasting friendships.

I hope that this small introduction to what we do in the College provides some initial answers to “What is the College of Arts and Sciences?” I’ll share more about individual departments and degree programs in future posts to provide a deeper understanding of how each program develops students in the Jesuit, Catholic, and humanistic traditions.


Annmarie Caño, Ph.D. is Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences and a Professor of Psychology at Gonzaga University.

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