Since I arrived at the University of San Francisco in August, I have been pleased to find that this university really lives up to its Jesuit ideals. USF’s website states that we are, “educating minds and hearts to change the world.” But every university has a catchy slogan and most universities claim to be “the best” educators, when they really are not. USF is different though. In my short time here I have realized that a Jesuit education really is incredibly different than any other. I credit this to USF’s acceptance of both religious and non-religious students and its focus on ideals that transcend the boundaries of all religions and cultures.
At freshmen convocation, Father Privett’s speech made it clear to students and parents alike that all motivated students interested in changing the world for the better were welcome at USF. Students did not need to be Catholic; they did not even need to believe in God. What mattered was that each student had a desire to be a part of something bigger in this world. Not something religious or even, necessarily, spiritual, but a part of a movement to help those who cannot help themselves and part of the fight for social justice around the globe. This is what a Jesuit education means to me. When walking around campus, I never feel pressured to abandon my agnostic religious views, but I do feel welcomed by the Jesuit community. In talking to University Ministry, I feel inspired to do service and help others, but never compelled to attend church. In addition, my friends with strong religious beliefs are never disparaged for their faith or judged for attending mass.
In a country so torn by religious ideology and influenced by fundamentalist faith and in a world where religious violence rages, how can Jesuit ideals prevail? How can people with and without faith manage to coexist so well? The answer is simple. The Jesuit community, specifically the one at USF, shows us that there are more important things in life than blind faith in a deity. Believing in the greater good of humanity is more valuable and, in today’s society, more applicable. This past summer I attended a gay pride festival in Arizona. Outside of the festival there were lots of people protesting the event, citing the Bible and their religion as grounds for hatred and violence. I approached the protesters, interested in what they had to say, and asked them why they had trouble accepting people who were different than themselves. Immediately several of the protestors explained to me that acceptance is the downfall of my generation. One man said that the willingness of this generation of young people to accept others and coexist was abhorrent. Complacency and tolerance, apparently, were man’s greatest sins. Quickly, I realized that this particular group of people was not to be reasoned with and I walked away. Aspects of the conversation stuck with me, though. In the following months I have come to a few conclusions, and this Jesuit institution has greatly influenced them.
First, the Jesuit lifestyle shows us that peace is inherently possible. We have brought together people from different countries, religions, political parties, sexual orientations, and ethnicities at USF and somehow we have managed to prevail. Our differences are not enough to keep us from embracing our shared belief in humility, respect, and cooperation. As a small community, we are setting an example for the rest of the world.
Second, those people who wish to continue religious violence, hatred, and degradation are not to be demeaned. As members of a Jesuit institution we must respect our adversaries, while constantly fighting for change. Nothing will be done if we refuse to accept the intolerant. Instead, we must exemplify compassion in our efforts to create social change. With this in mind, USF is truly educating minds and hearts and, surely, its students and community will change the world.
Eventually, the hateful words of the protestors I talked to will fade into the background and acceptance will be the truth of tomorrow. Until then, it is all of our jobs to better the world around us and USF has given us the tools to do so.