Seeking Common Ground for the Common Good
“But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” –Amos 5:24
In Spring 2019, the Center created its Civic Engagement and Ethical Leadership [CEEL] Initiative CEEL serves to cultivate civic partnerships in which students can analyze root problems through the cooperative lens of Catholic Social Teaching [CST], joining a growing movement across universities for civility in political discourse. CEEL promotes the engaged citizenship through community-based learning focused on public problems, their root causes, and sustainable solutions. These high-impact practices correlate positively with academic persistence, graduation, and employment. Together with STU’s Human Rights Institute, Human Trafficking Academy, and Ethical Leadership programs, the CEEL initiative offers real-world learning experiences in which students can consider solutions and find common ground on social issues from a nonpartisan and Catholic perspective.
Learning and leadership experiences for St. Thomas students via the CEEL Initiative involve multiple entities that can overlap students career or personal interests. They include the City of Miami Gardens (civic engagement), Live Healthy Miami Gardens (community health & wellness), PACT (grassroots advocacy for policy improvements), OLCDC (community support services and education), CIW (economic justice and rights/dignity of laborers), and Catholic Relief Services (global solidarity). You can read more about these phenomenal entities and St. Thomas engagements with them on our Community Partners page.
Faces & Stories Series
This interactive, panel experience was launched in Spring 2019 to address the gap in civil discourse prevalent in a partisan and uncivil political environment. Part of an emerging, student-driven trend, the Faces & Stories speaker series creates a nonpartisan space for St. Thomas students to engage in political discussion and understanding. Panelists share their personal experiences, which students then process together, ultimately to integrate into their personal worldview. All is guided by and grounded in principles of Catholic Social Teaching and civil discourse, ‘seeking common ground for the common good’.
The format for a Faces & Voices civil discourse experience begins with a welcome and review of the assumptions and norms for group participation (see below). This is followed by panelists sharing their own personal experiences with the topic at hand to humanize and add complexity to a discussion on community problem(s) that, in other settings, might otherwise devolve into partisan/party line positioning. The moderator asks audience-participants (students) to reflect on what they’ve heard and share in small groups how that compares/contrasts with their own experiences. Audience-participants and panelists then synthesize together the multiple experiences shared (both by the panelists and in the small groups), challenged to look for new insights and meanings for the community. Each experience concludes with next steps– additional learning or action opportunities.
Assumptions & Norms
Group participation in the Faces & Voices series is guided and grounded in themes from Catholic Social Teaching. A review of these assumptions and norms begins each gathering and precedes any formal sharing among participants:
- We all seek the “greater” and “common” good and we will not always agree on how to achieve it.
- We all value life and the dignity of the human person and we will keep that at the forefront of our discussion.
- We all support the right and responsibilities of each individual to participate fully in the community and so respectfully support opportunities for others to share, even if we disagree with them. We look for areas where our experiences may overlap and focus our discussions there, whenever possible.
- We all strive to be ethical leaders for life, so we listen to understand nuances within public issues, especially as they relate to human suffering and the human experience. We expect some elements of personal stories might contradict our own beliefs, values, or political inclinations, yet we still listen with a growth-mindset, unafraid of moving towards the margins as we better understand the experiences of people at the margins.
- We are not here for a debate; there are other spaces for that. This time is set aside for us to hear others, and to reflect on what we hear as we move forward in our work, courses, or community life.
- Please silence any electronic devices and take a moment to appreciate each and all gathered here today.