Reflections from NJSLC 2016: Building bridges, not walls


The NJSLC ’16 banner depicting the conference theme, Peace by Piece.

Georgetown University is the 2017 host for the National Jesuit Student Leadership Conference: Set the World on Fire, July 19 to 23. (Conference details are available online).

Our third post in the series of student reflections about 2016 National Jesuit Student Leadership Conference (NJSLC), is by Clara Cecil. In it, she reflects on the refugee crisis and how her NJSLC experience taught her that peace is rooted in developing meaningful relationships.

I was lying in bed at my host home in Paris. I was pouring over the many reports about the then terrorist attacks in Nice, France. I had received a flood of messages from concerned family and friends. I was struggling to sleep as I attempted to wrap my mind around the acts of violence and hatred that plagued so many parts of the world.

The next day, I tried to start conversations with my program professors and host family about the root causes of the terrorist attacks and about ways to promote peace in the future.  My efforts were met with responses such as, “Well, there isn’t a lot we can do about it” or, “We just have to keep going on with life.”  As a Jesuit-educated student accustomed to peers and professors readily confronting questions of conflict and interreligious understanding, I was unhappy with these dismissive responses.

Less than two days after returning from France and still recovering from jet lag, I hopped on a plane to Denver, Colorado for the National Jesuit Student Leadership Conference. It turns out, the conference was much needed. It gave me an opportunity to reflect on my experiences in France, as well as a timely reminder of the importance of my Jesuit education.

Naomi Tutu, daughter of Archbishop Desmund Tutu, delivered the conferences closing keynote speech. She spoke of cooperation among individuals and groups and highlighted the choices we all face; whether to build bridges or walls, to choose service over self-centeredness or to create interpersonal connections or divisions.

Citing an African proverb, Tutu said, “In the moment of crisis, the wise build bridges and the foolish build walls.”  To me, this quote represents a path to peace, something that I struggled to find in France.

It also came to fruition during the conference’s Service Day. My service location was Growing Colorado Kids, an organization that provides leadership and growth opportunities to refugee children through organic farming.  Volunteers personally connected with the children, who joyfully taught us how to work on a farm. They showed us how to harvest, paint and pull weeds. Seeing the children’s happiness while swimming in a kiddy pool or having an ice cream party with new friends, filled my heart with joy and gave me a sense of hope in the face of the refugee crisis.  The experience of attending NJSLC taught me that peace is rooted in taking the time to develop meaningful relationships and to understand different perspectives. A lesson I hope we can foster when Georgetown hosts NJSLC 2017.

Written by Clara Cecil, C’18.

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Reflections from NJSLC 2016: Fellowship and engaging with others


Hoyas hiking Red Rocks on excursion day, NJSLC’16.

Georgetown University is the 2017 host for the National Jesuit Student Leadership Conference: Set the World on Fire, July 19 to 23. (Conference details are available online). 

Leading up to this year’s conference, Campus Ministry will be sharing reflections from students who attended the NJSLC last year. In this, our second post in the series, Ally Pfotzer writes about engaging and connecting with others at the NJSLC. 

My experience at the 2016 National Jesuit Student Leadership Conference (NJSLC), held in Denver, was a wonderful mix of service, personal spiritual growth, learning, and bonding with others. There were several moments and key takeaways for me from the conference. For example, the service opportunity, exploring Downtown Denver, plus getting to know the Georgetown staff and the other Hoyas on the trip.

The fellowship of the Jesuit university system was an incredible thing to see and be a part of—it had the glorious feeling of family and connection beyond academics and buildings.

The service day was a fantastic time to get down in the mud on an urban farm and hear about the way the farm creates a fiscally sustainable livelihood in order to support the low-income communities around it. Working in the dirt and seeing the physical fruits of my labor is one of my favorite things to do. I was paired with another Georgetown student I’d never met before and we had a wonderful time working together and with other students from different universities.

The time spent touring Downtown Denver was another great opportunity to bond with the many different people in my group. Our guide from Regis, the host university, was a lot of fun, and really engaged with us as we explored the City. As we walked around Denver, I was able to move and mingle, and really talk and connect with the students and staff on the tour. The Georgetown staff —Jake, Lisa, and Lauren—were friendly, open, authentic, and a great source of support on the trip.

To me, the conference experience provided participants with a safe and open environment so they could engage with others in vulnerable, authentic, and friendly ways. It also allowed us to build personal and group skills, reflect on change, the things we love about Georgetown, and challenged us to take what we learned back to the Hilltop.

I am incredibly grateful for the opportunity to attend the conference, and I’m especially grateful for being  part of the group that attended NJSLC 2016.

Written by Ally Pfotzer, F’18.

Read the first post in this series by Aaron Bennett.

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Pow Wow: A Place for Celebrating and Learning


On April 23, Copley Lawn was transformed into a ceremonial site of Native American culture as Georgetown University and the GU Native American Student Council hosted the 5th Annual Pow Wow.

A pow wow is a social gathering of Native Americans from various tribes and First Nations. This year, Georgetown welcomed individuals and families from more than 30 tribes.

Pow wows are considered sacred spaces and follow their own etiquette and traditions. For example, some pow wows will open certain portions of the ceremony, such as roundtable dances to the public for viewing, however, photography is often forbidden to ensure the space and participants, including young children, are respected.

The Georgetown ceremony began with an invocation from Ralph Zotigh, leader of the Zotigh Singers and a respected voice in the D.C. Native community, followed by the Grand Entry.

During the Grand Entry, everyone stands as flags and Eagle Staffs are carried in, usually by veterans, followed by special guests and a procession of dancers signifying the ‘bringing together of the tribes.’ Once everyone was in place; the American flag is placed at the top of the circle and a song is sung for the flags.


While religion and spirituality varies among tribes, First Nations and individuals, animals have always been part of Creation stories. Zotigh said it is commonly misunderstood that Native Americans worship animals.  This is not so, he explained. Native Americans do not worship animals, but honor and respect their sacred nature, often depicting them as messengers between ancestors and the Creator.

This clarification highlighted the importance of such events like the Georgetown pow wow, where both ceremony and learning can take place and is done by listening to and interacting with Native Americans – an underrepresented identity and history here on campus.

As a pow wow coordinator, my own experience was characterized by an immense appreciation and gratitude of the community formed as our Native American participants, guests, and sponsors, such as Campus Ministry came together to make this significant event and ceremony happen right here at Georgetown.

Written by Becca Yates, C’17.


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Reflections from NJSLC 2016: Jesuit Values, words to live by


Hoyas at NJSLC ’16

Georgetown University is excited to host the National Jesuit Student Leadership Conference: Set the World on Fire (NJSLC) July 19 to 23. Leading up to this year’s conference, the Office of Campus Ministry will be sharing reflections from students who attended the NJSLC last year.

In this, the inaugural post of the series, Aaron Bennett, C’19 writes about a “paradigm-shifting revelation.”

In the daily hustle and bustle of student life, it’s easy to miss the blue banners hung around Georgetown’s campus.

I’ll be the first to admit it: my freshman year, I rarely gave those phrases—Men and Women for Others, Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam, among others—a second glance. Considering the concept of cura personalis took up more mental energy than I could spare; it seemed too vague to actually be able to implement and too complex to actually live by. In such an academically rigorous and involvement-heavy campus culture, I found myself too rushed, too busy and too ambitious.

The 2016 National Jesuit Student Leadership Conference changed all that.

One of the biggest takeaways from the conference, in my mind, is the paradigm-shifting revelation on what it means to live in service to others. A popular perception of service is a large, overt, organized endeavor—projects that are often judged by how many hours were logged or number of people who benefitted. While these are certainly noble and consistent with the Jesuit ideals, discussions at NJSLC turned this notion on its head, revealing to me that we can do good in the world by instead putting people first.

In my mind, this is the most important element of service. Adopting this philosophy allows you to see the impact of your actions on a personal basis and truly improve someone’s life. Taking the time to engage others in dialogue about issues important to them, listen to the stories that define them, or simply just smile and make small talk with a stranger is truly serving others every day and having a powerful impact. The world is one big community—strengthened by our differences and united in humanity—and, as a leader, the more we can do to bring people together every day, the closer toward peace we strive.

For example, I have committed myself to slowing down life on the Hilltop, and setting goals to work towards this new lifestyle. I planned on engaging with someone new every day—and doing it with a smile on my face. Over the course of the conference, I discovered that I wanted to be the kind of person that brings fresh, positive energy into every space I enter. Emphasizing these micro-scale acts of kindness and peace allows me to be of service to anyone at any time and in any way. That, to me, is leadership, and with this attitude and optimism, I truly believe I can take the first concrete step in fighting for a more peaceful world.

With a reinvigorated comprehension of what it means to be leader in the Jesuit tradition, I was excited to return to campus and share this new perspective through conversations and action. I now understand that Jesuit principles are more than just words on a banner; they are a way of living a life dedicated to service for others. Although the world seems to be descending further into chaos with each passing day, NJSLC inspired me to raise my voice and be an agent for peace, one interaction at a time.

Written by Aaron Bennett, C’19.

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Deconstructing Islamophobia and Religious Discrimination: A Domestic Immersion Experience

We visited the Diyanet Center as a part of our trip, which is the site of the largest mosque in the US.

Students visited the Diyanet Center, the site of the largest mosque in the US.

The popular assumption about Islam in America is that it is a predominantly Arab, immigrant identity. However, the experience I gained from my Alternative Break Program (APB), Deconstructing Islamophobia and Religious Discrimination fully dispelled that idea.

Another important lesson I learned from meeting and talking to members of the Muslim community in D.C., is that, although facts and figures are important, an even more powerful tool for fighting Islamophobia is storytelling. Until now, I underestimated the power of stories to convey the nuances and diversity of Islam, and the lasting impact they would have on my heart and mind.

Over the course of the week, my fellow students and I visited mosques, community partners, advocacy organizations, and government officials. I learned that all the Muslims we met that week drew upon their faith in a way that was unique to their identity and experience.  I began to realize that Islam is comprised of people from a wide variety of identities, and that intrafaith conversations can sometimes be even more difficult than interfaith conversations. Like many other religions, Muslims also debate the meanings of scripture and disagree on practices. I realized that in order to understand the ways in which Islamophobia manifests itself, I first needed a stronger personal understanding of the lived experience of Islam.

One of meetings that affected me most was with Congressman Keith Ellison, the representative of Minnesota’s 5th District. Ellison is also the first Muslim member of Congress. He told us that some people were upset by the fact that he took the oath of office with Thomas Jefferson’s copy of the Quran. I thought this was incredibly interesting in how it problematizes the all too common idea that being Muslim is somehow opposed to being American. Ellison spoke about how faith plays a role in his work. For him, faith is important but it does not dominate his decisions. Ellison said, that while there is an institutional network that propagates Islamophobia, we as individuals can compel political change by sharing stories and appealing to common values. An example of what Ellison meant by appealing to common values came when we met with the members of Islamic Relief.

Islamic Relief is an organization that does charity and emergency response work. A few years ago, they were an essential part in providing residents of Colorado Springs with the resources they needed when they were displaced by a wildfire. Local Christian organizations were so impressed by their work, they asked Islamic Relief to help train them in disaster relief efforts. Growing up in Colorado, I was immediately struck. I wouldn’t have expected a center of Evangelical Christianity to welcome a Muslim organization so readily, but in moments of need they were able to see how people can – despite and because of their faiths – bridge the gap and help each other.

These moments gave me tremendous hope for the future. We may face tremendous obstacles overcoming Islamophobia in our current political and social climate, but there are people out there tirelessly helping to build bridges. In times of need, we share more in common than we might realize. I have resolved to be an ally that amplifies the multiplicity of Muslim voices and stories who is also willing to engage in hard conversations with people. I am grateful for my ABP experience and that it opened my heart and mind in ways that I did not anticipate.

Written by Bailey Bradford, C’19

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