The College of Arts & Sciences Blog

Category: Jesuit education

November – the Month of Remembrance

November is the Month of Remembrance in the Catholic Church. We may be feeling sorrow and grief not only because of the loss of loved ones but because the last two years have highlighted humanity’s collective loss due to the pandemic and racial injustices. Yet, this time also offers hope as we consider those who have gone before us, what they have meant for us, and how we can be good ancestors to others. Fr. Tim Clancy, SJ offers us a bigger picture about what this season can mean for us. And a thank you to Paul Manoguerra, Director of the Jundt Art Museum for sharing these pieces from the collection that may inspire us in our remembrance. – Dean Annmarie Caño.

Decorative image by Elizabeth Dove.
Remember When, Elizabeth Dove

November  reflection, Tim Clancy S.J.

As Fall moves into winter, and nature “dies,” religions around the world use this time of the year to remember their dead. From Celtic Samhain, (from whence comes our Halloween)  to Persephone’s kidnapping by Hades, King of the Underworld and Innana’s imprisonment by Sumer’s Queen of the Underworld, Erishkigal, Inanna’s own sister, agrarian peoples saw the death of their loved ones as an imitation of nature’s own cycle of life and death….and the promise of rebirth in the Spring.

Christianity is no exception. We begin with the feast of our heroic ancestors, the feast of All Saints, immediately followed by the commemoration of our own dearly departed in the feast of All Souls. Many parishes present a book of the dead during the rest of the month for parishioners to write down the names of those who have died in the past year for the congregation as a whole to commemorate.

Decorative image by Manuel Álvarez Bravo.
Votos, Manuel Álvarez Bravo

In Hebrews, Paul speaks of our life as a race in a sports arena and the dead as “a great cloud of witnesses” in the stands. I like to think of our ancestors near and remote cheering us on as we strain for victory, keeping “our eyes on the prize.” As a Jesuit here at Gonzaga I think particularly of our own recently departed Jesuits, Peter Ely, Mike Cook, and Steve Kuder in the celestial Kennel, leading chants and hopping up and down rooting us on to victory.

Founder’s Day Reflections on Freedom

I have to admit that I thought that Founder’s Day celebrated Fr. Joseph Cataldo, SJ, the Jesuit founder of Gonzaga University. But if you’re a savvier Zag than I am, you know that Founder’s Day actually celebrates the birthday of St. Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits.

One of the university’s savvier Zags reflecting on Founder’s Day

This Founder’s Day, I find myself reflecting on our Jesuit mission and the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola, specifically, the call to freedom. In the Spiritual Exercises, we are encouraged to be open to learning about and freeing ourselves from “inordinate attachments” to pride or power, honors, or riches (money or things). Seeking freedom is a foundational feature of the spiritual life across different religious traditions. It’s an ongoing process that requires keen listening skills and thankfully, it’s a process that can be learned. Allow me to share some ways we can practice this search for freedom as we journey through another academic year.  

Listening to ourselves

Academia is rife with assumptions and attitudes because it has traditionally been viewed as a meritocracy in which we earn privileges over time. If we do not also look at the evidence that there is inequitable access and distribution of opportunities to earn privileges, we may come to think we deserve certain things at the expense of others because of our status. Take for instance, an attitude that might be expressed like this: “I have earned the right to teach only what I want or to have my preferred teaching schedule every semester.” Understandably, we each have our own preferences, life experiences, and expertise, but let’s focus on that italicized phrase: “earned the right.” This attitude can convey an area of unfreedom that can limit our own growth as educators, and also adversely affect others such as students and other faculty. If you are upset or uncomfortable when someone challenges your assumptions about a practice that has benefited you in some way, it’s an invitation to listen in the Ignatian tradition to see if there is an inordinate attachment to power, honors, or riches that might undergird these feelings. (And I will add, no one is immune from attachments—not even the dean!—I sincerely see discomfort as an invitation for self-reflection and growth).

Listening to students

Dr. Jennifer Niven Shepherd holds a lab for students with proper social distancing.

Our students teach us as much as we teach them (and sometimes they teach us much, much more!). It is true that students haven’t earned a terminal degree in our fields, but they are experts in knowing what makes a good teacher and mentor. They know who engages them authentically and will take them seriously, who cares about their welfare, who motivates them to do their best, who knows how to set expectations for respectful dialogue and address disrespect, bias, or overt discrimination in the classroom. Students know when instructors behave as humble experts. In other words, they are “authenticity detectors.”

It is for this reason that I value student input in faculty hiring and when assessing how things are going in our programs. Do we listen only to students? No, but I think we could do a better job of being free enough to listen non-defensively (with greater freedom!) when they have something to say about what’s happening in their classrooms. Without their expert witness, our desire to create a transformative learning experience falls short.

Listening to our community 

Let’s now focus on the departments or units in which we work. We are sometimes overly committed (attached?) to seeing our units in the best positive light. It’s an act of freedom to take a closer look to see how people may have been marginalized or excluded in our units, especially when those with more power disregard their experiences or fail to act to change toxic environments. I have witnessed courageous work in the College yet we will see sustained and more widespread change if we also create healthy policies and accountability practices that build transparency and inclusion. I am excited that department chairs will begin learning ways to support their departments to create community agreements and eventually, by-laws to govern their work. If your reaction to this plan is “We’re doing just fine the way we are,” that’s great! Now is the time to codify and preserve your healthy department culture for future generations. I also ask you to consider that what seems healthy or normal to you may in fact be harmful to someone with less power or privilege. I know of colleagues who have thought about leaving Gonzaga or academia because of the departmental culture. “Seeking freedom,” asks us to reflect on the attachments that prevent us from hearing our colleagues and that lead to (often unconscious) exclusions. Community agreements and by-laws can invite colleagues into reflection and can help immensely to build a more inclusive and participatory culture by ensuring everyone has a voice in a consistent, transparent way. At a departmental level, this is what systemic change and freedom can look like.

Academic convocation outside St. Aloysius Church

At a Jesuit institution like Gonzaga, we are all called to seek greater freedom, not just as individuals but also as a community. This means we listen, have patience with ourselves and others, and have the courage to see ourselves in an honest light. Seeking freedom is not easy but I’m confident on this Founder’s Day that we can live in joyful hope by co-creating an environment and culture that St. Ignatius envisioned in developing the Spiritual Exercises.

More on Ignatian freedom:

Spiritual Freedom in an Emotional World

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

Committing to Inclusion

The College of Arts and Sciences continues intentionally and systematically to embrace principles of inclusion, equity, justice, and diversity throughout our departments, classes, and policies. One important step in this work will be to solidify our commitment to recruiting, hiring, and retaining faculty whose experiences and expertise will contribute to these ongoing efforts. My work as faculty fellow this summer focused on recruiting and hiring– specifically developing a recruitment ad that highlights Gonzaga’s values and commitments around diversity, equity, and inclusion and developing supporting tools for search committees to better evaluate a candidate’s experience and contributions (appropriate to career stage) in diversity, equity, inclusion, and justice.

Research shows that job postings that showcase institutional values supporting diversity and signal institutional commitments to inclusive hiring processes are more likely to yield more diverse applicant pools and hires. Therefore, we’ve developed a recruitment ad to highlight institutional values like inclusive excellence and cura personalis. The ad will appear in the Chronicle of Higher Education’s Back to School issue this September.

Following Sara Ahmed’s analysis of institutional DEI documents (On Being Included), the ad seeks to avoid the pitfall of sounding inclusive and welcoming while still communicating that diverse scholars are perpetual outsiders joining the people who already “belong.” Instead, the ad signals a different ethic of inclusion with more invitational language, attention to the many DEI efforts and initiatives already underway in the College, and an acknowledgment that we still have work to do. The ad explicitly invites and welcomes a diversity of scholarly perspectives and lived experiences to join as colleagues to collaborate on these efforts as we strive for inclusive academic excellence in the College.

Research shows that job postings that showcase institutional values supporting diversity and signal institutional commitments to inclusive hiring processes are more likely to yield more diverse applicant pools and hires.

Going beyond the Cover Letter

This summer Faculty Fellow work yielded preliminary guidelines for requesting, reviewing, and evaluating faculty statements on contributions to diversity, equity, and inclusion. Asking faculty applicants to address their experience with inclusion, equity, diversity, and justice work signals Gonzaga University’s commitments to these values. Such statements about diversity, equity, inclusion, and justice indicate to applicants that these values are important enough to our institution and the College to warrant deeper exploration than simply adding a few sentences to a cover letter template.

Statements on diversity, equity, and inclusion allow applicants to demonstrate commitments, capacities, and experiences related to Gonzaga’s mission-grounded projects of educating the whole person and fostering a mature commitment to human dignity and social justice. Dr. Tabbye Chavous of the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor’s National Center for Institutional Diversity writes, “It doesn’t quite make sense to affirm diversity as underpinning the institutional mission, while not giving candidates the opportunity to talk about and be credited for their efforts.”

To support search committees, the guidelines for statements on contributions to DEI provide numerous prompt options for soliciting such a statement. Additionally, the guidelines feature a sample rubric that search committees can use or adapt for their needs, as well as a wide range of example evidence that committees might look for that would signal a candidate’s knowledge, experience, and capacity to contribute in these important areas.

These efforts are just two stepping stones in our larger College and University efforts toward equity and inclusion. Yet we hope they will be important steps toward increasing diversity in the College and creating a work and learning environment that supports and includes all colleagues as whole people.

Professor Rossing studies the rhetoric of social justice, particularly in relation to race and racism in the United States. His primary focus is on the way people use humor to provoke conversations and to provide a critical education about race. He regularly applies theories of play and improvisation in teaching, leadership, and diversity training.

Reflections on the AJCU Leadership Institute

In early August, I returned from the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities (AJCU) Leadership Institute at Loyola University-Chicago. The institute focused on the Jesuits’ four Universal Apostolic Preferences: Showing the way to God through the Spiritual Exercises and discernment, walking with the excluded, journeying with youth, and care for our common home. It was an amazing experience to spend time with colleagues across the Jesuit network as we reflected and engaged more deeply in our work together to form “people for others.” 

I’m still pondering the lessons from the institute. In particular, the work of discernment, as it can mean so many different things to people. As pointed out in the institute, discernment is more than just making a single concrete decision. It’s about listening.

Many years ago, I was first introduced to the Ignatian way of listening and discernment at a Jesuit retreat house. Over the years, I’ve been drawn deeper into the Ignatian way, eventually completing a 2-year internship in Ignatian spirituality, co-leading discernment workshops with Jesuits, and writing about it for the secular press

Throughout this journey, St. Ignatius’ teachings on spiritual freedom, discernment of spirits, and discernment of God’s will have had an enormous impact on how I teach and lead, pay attention to what attracts or repels me, and how I make professional and personal decisions. You may have noticed this in my leadership when I survey people to get a sense of how they feel about a given problem or when I ask about what enlivens people about their work. 

It’s this kind of Ignatian listening that led me here to Gonzaga. Let me share how. 

Discerning the path ahead

After reading an article in America magazine about women leaders transforming AJCU institutions while remaining true to themselves and the Jesuit mission, I felt a deep sense of “rightness” and quiet excitement. These feelings of spiritual consolation were the nudge to start looking to see who in the AJCU network might be hiring. A month later, I saw the Gonzaga advertisement. As I read more about Gonzaga, I thought, I’d love to work at a place like this! The emphasis on educating the whole person, the close-knit community, the Jesuit commitment to justice, and the common good are just some of the characteristics that stood out for me.

A month later, I saw the Gonzaga advertisement. As I read more about Gonzaga, I thought, I’d love to work at a place like this! The emphasis on educating the whole person, the close-knit community, the Jesuit commitment to justice, and the common good are just some of the characteristics that stood out for me. 

Yet, when I expressed hesitation and dragged my feet about writing the letter of interest, saying, “This is really not the right time,” a friend looked at me with disbelief: “This is everything you are looking for, and they are looking for you!”, she said. What fed into my hesitation? My attachment to the safe and familiar—I knew everyone at my old institution, I knew how things worked, I knew where to grocery shop, I loved my child’s school, and he loved his friends and teacher (and I was worried about ruining his life!). I had never lived in the West and had no family close by. But, I came to see these feelings as they were—it’s normal to feel like this when confronted with change. At the same time, I was not feeling entirely free to choose the next right thing offered to me. Once I had worked through those feelings of resistance or desolations, I was able to write my letter. The search committee also discerned, and I accepted the position in December 2019 to start July 1, 2020. 

Being a people for others – in the College and beyond

I share this example to show that discernment is a listening process that takes time, can reveal where we are not entirely free, and requires that we consult with trusted others when possible. I see the fruits of discernment when I look at the amazing work we’ve accomplished together during the pandemic in the three priority areas of academic excellence, cura personalis, and building an inclusive community. I believe we have been able to do these things, in part, because we are each discerning our next right steps individually and as a College. As we enter the next academic year, I hope that we can more deeply embrace these gifts of Ignatian discernment to listen to each other and co-create action plans in the College to pursue the common good and prepare our students to build a better world. I am grateful that the AJCU Leadership Institute supports this collective work within and across our institutions and that it elevated the four apostolic preferences as key guides of our work together.

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

Beside restful waters

I recently returned from a weeklong vacation driving around the Cascades Loop, my first vacation away from home since the pandemic hit. I’ve enjoyed exploring Spokane this year and a half, but exploring a little more of Washington state was a treat: mountains, rivers, lakes, the sea. I didn’t realize how much my family and I needed this vacation until we set off—even my son (who is a homebody) was excited to set out on our adventure.

Methow River, Twisp, WA

Something I (re)learned on this trip is that I don’t need to be “always-on,” always trying to fix everything immediately. It is easy to fall into a pattern where everything is seen as equally important and urgent when we don’t step away occasionally. If we don’t take that time, we burn out, as many people experienced during this last year and a half.

A boy and his dog, Wenatchee River, Leavenworth, WA

Now don’t get me wrong, gaining perspective on work does not mean that I will slack off in my deanly duties. On the contrary, I am more committed to creating space to think and to be, which I know supports my creativity, leadership, and decision-making on the job and at home. In fact, St. Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits, speaks to the importance of rest and self-care in discerning the next right step forward. It’s something I usually take to heart as a trained spiritual director. But the non-stop activity and the never-ending stream of decisions to be made fatigued me and “made me” forget. Maybe this is true for you too.

Gratitude for the Gift of Time

I acknowledge that being able even to take a vacation is a privilege that not everyone has. Growing up, my parents had to plan around my dad’s bus driving schedule, his limited vacation days, and their budget for one annual family vacation, which often involved visiting and staying with family members. Some individuals and families are not even that fortunate. And even if we are granted vacation time, there may be reasons we can’t take it when we want. But carving out time to read and write, make or listen to music, create or view art, enjoy nature, exercise, visit with others (if you feel safe to do so) are like mini-vacations that can support a healthy outlook. If you are privileged to have days, hours, or even minutes when you’re technically off the clock, reverence that time as a gift from the Creator, a blessing to refresh your spirit.

Beside restful waters he leads me;

He refreshes my soul

psalm 23

My hope for this summer is that all of us, students and families, staff and faculty, and alumni and friends, can carve out some time to refresh, restore and rejuvenate, in whatever way we can.

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?

Welcome to Contemplating the College!

Portrait of Dean Dr. Annmarie Caño, photo by Zack Berlat.
Dr. Annmarie Caño, Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. Photo by Zack Berlat

When I was thinking of names for this blog, I had many words swirling in my head. How do I convey what we do in the College of Arts and Sciences in the fewest words possible when the College spans the natural sciences and mathematics, social sciences, humanities, and visual and performing arts? How do I also point out that our Jesuit heritage is integral to what we do across this broad range of seemingly disparate disciplines? It took some time but Contemplating the College fits because that is exactly what I was doing when I reflected on what we have to offer students and families, alumni, and our wider community. Staying true to our roots as a university founded by the Jesuits, who were in turn founded by St. Ignatius of Loyola, we regularly engage in thoughtful and intentional reflection about the work we have been missioned to do. Students, staff, and faculty in the College contemplate what it means to be human, what our place is in the world, and how we can better serve our communities.

In this blog, I will be sharing my contemplations about the College, its people, and our impact. Some of these reflections will be on the innovative work we’ve accomplished this past pandemic year, which is also my first year at Gonzaga. Some posts will be about hopes and plans we have for the future of the College. I hope that you will get to know our work better and find a home for yourself here, whether it’s as a student, staff, faculty member, alumni, friend, supporter, or partner. Welcome and happy reading!

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