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Dominican Higher Education Colloquium 2018




 Concurrent Session II


A.  Disputation as Play:  ‘Reacting to the Past’ and Traditional Dominican Pedagogy”
         Richard Barry, Providence College

In this presentation, I will suggest that a recent and widely-celebrated pedagogical movement, entitled “Reacting to the Past,” corresponds in many fascinating ways with the classic pedagogy of the Dominican order, the disputatio. “Reacting” highlights the advantages of “role immersion games” in creating lively and intellectually stimulating classrooms where students have an opportunity to embrace a “subversive play self” (allowing them to explore issues from other people’s perspectives), and where they practice their critical thinking and communication skills in an atmosphere of friendly competition. In many interesting ways, this pedagogy recapitulates the strengths and insights of the medieval approach to learning, which prioritized bringing students into the great debates of the day through weekly disputation games. I will consider the ways in which we can learn from the success of “Reacting to the Past” to embrace and update traditional Dominican pedagogy for the 21st century. I will especially focus on how such “games” help students develop the intellectual skills needed to effectively purse truth in every field.


      “Torchbearers:  How Siena Heights is Actively Promoting its Dominican Heritage Throughout the Institution”
          Andrew-David Bjork, Siena Heights University

One of the big challenges a small Dominican university faces in the face of retiring sisters from her sponsoring religious community, is a fading understanding of her roots. In order to stimulate a campus wide conversation and reflection on what it means to be a Dominican university today, Sister Mary Jones put together a Dominican Heritage Project at Siena Heights University. For the past year I have been a part of her second cohort of Torchbearers, handpicked employees of the university who grow together in the pursuit of a communal understanding of who we are meant to be as a Liberal Art university formed in the tradition of and sponsored by the Adrian Dominican Sisters. This talk is about sharing my experiences and inviting a conversation about what you are doing in your schools to connect with your Dominican Heritage.

B.  “The Albertus Magnus College Community Garden:  Experiential and Community Engaged Learning as Mutually Reinforcing Objectives”
          Dr. Ross Edwards, Dr. Hilda Speicher and Dr. Bonnie Pepper, Albertus Magnus College

This year, Albertus Magnus College is moving forward with an on-campus community garden. The garden steering committee has emphasized that this project has two dynamically interrelated objectives. The first is for the garden to serve as a means and vehicle to inject high-impact practices and experiential learning pedagogy into our curriculum. By ‘extending’ the classroom in this way, we are able to challenge and broaden standard pedagogical assumptions and techniques; infusing our educational mission with innovative practices to achieve deeper learning and engagement with our students. Secondly, the garden will also serve as a means for Albertus to connect to community partners in the New Haven metro area that are working on issues of social justice, urban food policy, urban health, and city livability more generally. By tapping into these resources and engaging with them as a committed community partner, we offer our students educational and experiential opportunities to work with theses partners in a real-world setting in order to more deeply understand the complexity of these problems within the contemporary urban setting within which Albertus Magnus College finds itself. Moreover, by establishing these relationships with the greater New Haven community, we hope to model a set of practices that illustrate the meaningful ways in which colleges should strive to become an active and committed part of the community in which it is located, and not simply a guest, visitor, or outside observer. It is our firm belief that BOTH of these commitments reinforce one another: experiential learning can forge a greater understanding of these pressing social concerns, and the ability to work WITH other community partners in tackling these concerns further reinforces the ‘classroom’ learning in deep and profound ways.

As an illustrative case of just how these objectives can be achieved in tandem in action, we will conclude with a discussion of the garden’s place in our soon to be unveiled Urban Studies minor, which we feel is a clearly demarcated example of those principles and goals, and serves as a guide for similar project that want to strive for both experiential AND community engaged learning.


       “Religion and Science:  Engaged Learning in Seeking Truth”
            Dr. Margaret Mary Fitzpatrick, S.C., St. Thomas Aquinas College

 I teach a course entitled, Science and Religion.  The course addresses the question:  “Are Science and religion compatible?”  During this Session, I will describe the content, methodology, and learning outcomes for this course.  We will discuss, as a group, how this type of engaged learning is foundational to the seeking of truth.  The Google slides will be available for participants’ use.

C.  “Providence as Care for the Earth:  Reimagining Higher Education in Light of Laudato Si”
          Ellen McManus, Dominican University

 In his address to the United States Congress in the fall of 2015, Pope Francis made a direct call on American institutions of higher education, though he made this call in his characteristically collegial way. Calling for “courageous actions and strategies” to combat poverty and restore dignity to the excluded, while also protecting nature, Pope Francis said, “In this regard, I am confident that America’s outstanding academic and research institutions can make a vital contribution in the years ahead.”

Not everyone who has given extended attention to this matter is quite as optimistic. In his recent book Defiant Earth: The Fate of Humans in the Anthropocene (2017), Australian philosopher Clive Hamilton employs much more critical language in discussing the reluctance of academics to face for themselves, and to help students grasp, the profundity of what lies ahead, using terms like “a failure of reason,” “intellectual surrender,” “silence at the edge of the abyss,” and “the tragedy [of] the absence of a sense of the tragedy.” In another recent book, The Great Derangement: Climate Change and the Unthinkable (2017), Indian novelist Amitav Ghosh provides an extended comparison between Pope Francis’s 2015 encyclical Laudato Si’: On Care for Our Common Home and the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Agreement, showing how, in comparison to the vague, bureaucratic, passive, and status quo-preserving language of the United Nations agreement, the Pope’s encyclical uses concrete and vivid language; identifies the actors and values behind climate change, environmental destruction, consumerism, growth fetishism, faith in technology, and the isolation and exploitation of the poor, connecting the dots between them; calls for specific actions by individuals, institutions, and countries to care for the Earth and all its living beings; and invokes specific values and principles that require these actions.

This paper will use the concept of providence—which holds in tension the idea of being bountily provided for and the idea of husbanding resources to provide for the future—to explore the tensions between the belief in human exceptionalism at the heart of traditional liberal arts and professional education and the moral imperative expressed in Laudato Si’ that we must learn, and teach the next generation, to live more lightly within the limits of the Earth’s resources.  In light of this exploration of the concept of providence, the paper will then examine traditional liberal arts and professional curricula in the context of the 2016 Land Stewardship Plan of the Sinsinawa Dominican sisters.

D.  “Circle Practice for Connecting Learning, Beliefs, and Action”
          Roderick Bankston, Donna Vuklich-Selva and Susan Kaye Pastor, Edgewood College

Circle is an ancient human practice and a contemporary technology for relating, problem-solving, and restorative work within a community.   Participants are invited to listen with the heart and speak with the heart.   The presenters find that this approach allows students to access both course material and their own connections to it and each more deeply, building a more authentic learning community and fostering deeper learning.  It is especially valuable for encouraging reflection and where topics may be emotionally charged or otherwise difficulty to confront.  This session will provide an introduction to circle practice as well as presenters’ experience with using in the classroom – including with themes of race and identity, and community work.

E.  “Bigger than Graduation Rates:  Measuring College Influences on Students’ Spiritual Wellbeing”
           Michael Orlando, Siena Heights University

 While higher education leaders have been increasingly dominated by headline-grabbing issues like funding dilemmas and struggling enrollment issues, we must remain focused on the reason we overcome these challenges. We are here together in mission to foster students’ growth in mind, body, and spirit so they may develop their potential and embrace their purpose. Fostering growth in the mind through intellect and the body through daily college activity is easier to examine than the wellbeing of the spirit among students in most circumstances. Even at our Dominican institutions, we cannot assume our students are consistently growing, let alone thriving, in their spiritual wellbeing. Yet when we become aware of the issues, we can use our Dominican Charism in our game plan to build spiritual wellbeing among students so they can go out and set the world on fire!

The 2014 Gallup-Purdue Index Report defines holistic well-being into five areas: purpose, social, financial, community, and physical. While spiritual wellbeing is not a specifically included area, it can drive or deteriorate the wellbeing of these areas. Over 100 research references point to spiritual health and wellbeing as a fundamental dimension of wellbeing permeating and integrating the other dimensions of health (Fisher, 2009). When it comes to wellbeing, we have a bigger problem than graduation rates. Only 11% of college graduates are thriving in all five of these elements of well-being and over 16% of college graduates are not thriving in any of these elements (Gallup-Purdue Index, 2014).

Join a Senior Student Affairs Administrator to discuss why this might be the case and create some serious resolutions to better foster spiritual wellbeing within students while in college. We will look at some religious and spiritual variables among students before and during the college experience in today’s higher education. We will take time to explore what our college campuses are doing to create “upstream” approaches to (e.g. preventative, everyday healthy practices) spiritual wellbeing. Next we will look at intervention strategies by Student Care Teams at critical points in their college experience where they need behavioral intervention and/or experience trauma-induced gender based violence. Finally, we will explore how we intentionally assist students in their spiritual wellbeing in the long-term with peacemaking, forgiveness, and resiliency.

F.  “Adulting in Christ: Encountering God’s Providential Care in Emerging Adulthood”
          Robert Pfunder, Providence College

 This presentation will reflect on current issues in college faith formation in three distinct parts. First, it will selectively review insights from the disciplines of sociology and psychology on the Emerging Adults demographic, especially with regard to questions of faith and religious identification. The findings will isolate some of the important qualities of this generation of young adults that produce distinctive spiritual pressures and desires in this phase of life. Using this background, the presentation will next engage with a theology of Divine Providence to contextualize the insights from part one and to illuminate important aspects of faith formation in this current context. The presentation will then conclude with a discussion of concrete considerations for faith formation practices at Catholic and Dominican colleges. The presentation will be structured to allow sufficient time for discussion and participant engagement on these important questions.