Message from the dean and executive director
I am writing to you during a weekend when I am preaching on the Gospel concept of metanoia. Jesus calls us to repent, although the word repent doesn’t quite do justice to metanoia, a Greek word, and the word the author of the Gospel uses. Metanoia means to change our minds; to see reality in a different way. Further, metanoia can mean a change of heart, leading to a new way of life. The point Jesus makes in the Gospel is that God’s kingdom demands a reorientation of life, a metanoia.
I am also writing this message to you during a weekend when one of my colleagues at Arrupe College, Dr. Minerva Ahumada, organized a Friday evening presentation of the film Hidden Figures. Minerva is one of our committed and gifted instructors, and her academic discipline is philosophy. Like students at Jesuit colleges and universities around the country and the world, Arrupe students are required to study philosophy as part of their requirements to attain their degrees. Minerva is a member of our founding faculty, and since we began enrolling students in 2015 she has organized films on Friday nights to emphasize and reinforce what students are studying in her classes.
Hidden Figures, a 2016 Oscar-nominated film, details the lives of the three, African-American female mathematicians who worked at NASA during the Space Race in the 1960s. I saw the film over a year ago with friends and enjoyed it. I looked forward to sharing the experience again with the students who attended Minerva’s Friday night movie event at Arrupe.
Over twenty current Arrupe students and one of our graduates gathered for pizza, the film, and conversation afterwards. Joining them were Minerva, two other faculty members, and yours truly. At the film’s end, Minerva facilitated the conversation.
Everyone laughed when a freshman named Mohammed asked if anyone understood the math equations the film’s characters reckoned with, and we turned to the Math Fellows, Arrupe students who serve as peer tutors, for guidance.
Brian, our graduate attendee, observed that while the white characters in the film wore white shirts and white or off white dresses, the three African-American women protagonists were depicted wearing bright, at times loud, colors. He explained that they are women of color, and their clothing stands out and reinforces the underlying tension of the film: women didn’t belong in STEM careers in the 1960s, and women of color did not belong at the segregated NASA.
Freshman Christine was moved by the sight of the women who marched through the hall of NASA in solidarity in various scenes in the film. A discussion ensued about community, and how sometimes community is found in protest movements.
We also focused on a scene when one of the mathematicians, portrayed by actress Octavia Spencer, was a passenger on a bus with her two young sons. They sat in the back of the bus. The bus ride included passing by a civil rights protest. The mathematician mother shared the wisdom of her experience with her sons. She explained to them that separate does not mean equal, and, as some of the protestors were assaulted by the police, she encouraged her sons to exercise caution in a world of segregation.
I sat back, listening to the conversation. My experience of Hidden Figures was changing. I saw the film through the lenses of our students and their perspectives, which reoriented mine. What’s more, I reflected on our students' feelings about belonging at Arrupe College and in Jesuit higher education—like the mathematicians in the film, our students are people of color. I wondered about their experience of community, and I was grateful to experience community with them on a Friday night over pizzas while watching a movie. I thought of faculty like Minerva imparting her experience and her wisdom with students, while they in turn inform and influence the ways we are delivering a liberal arts education.
In this newsletter, you’ll read my colleague and brother Jesuit, Eric Immel, S.J.’s reflection on our work at Arrupe College, which was recently published in Conversations on Jesuit Higher Education. Eric said to me last week, “Working at Arrupe is changing how I see just about everything.”
Jesuit higher education is changing and undergoing a metanoia at Arrupe College. Students like Mohammed, Brian, and Christine often don’t attend our Jesuit colleges and universities. When they do, however, metanoia occurs—for the students, for the institutions, and for our perspectives.
Thanks for being part of this metanoia. Thanks for your support of Arrupe College. Thanks for your interest in our students.
Steve Katsouros, SJ
Dean and Executive Director
Loyola University Chicago